Attic Man’s been having some fun over at Cafe Press.
Also, Boomer’s first history lesson.
Recently a number of birthmothers (or natural mothers, or first mothers, or just plain ‘mothers’—it matters not to me, but it matters to some of them) have come into the web of adoptive parent bloggers and are doing a helluva job mixing it up. I think Dawn’s discovery of Birthmother: Reprise and Barb’s brave foray into the world of commenting, as well as Aimee’s establishment of the birthmother blogring have really gotten the ball rolling. Of course, Kateri has been around for awhile stirring up some good conversation. I’m glad she has company.
But I don’t really want to talk about birthmother blogs per se, only to say in passing: adoptive parents and future adoptive parents need to read them. These are first-hand accounts of what it means to surrender a child for adoption, whether freely by choice, by coercion, or something in between. It’s HARD to read them, especially at first. It sucks to be planning the most wonderful event of your life and to find out that there are lots of painful things about that event that aren’t true in just some cases, but in every case. Obviously not every birthmother’s feelings are going to be the same, and not every birthparent is going to have the same position regarding adoption. Many change positions over time, as we all do. But they should be read, 1) because their voices should be recognized and respected, 2) because they have insights into how children experience adoption, and 3) (and this is where I move from this ‘in passing’ to what I really want to post about) birthmothers are part of adoptive families.
Yes. You read that correctly. What I have grown to believe, through the process of thinking through the implications of my future children’s adoptions, and through hearing the voices—sometimes angry, vehemently—of birthparents, is that adoption is not just the joining of adoptive parents and adopted children. Adopted children come with a history, even if they are adopted as infants. By the time they come to their adoptive parents they have spent at least nine months with their birthmothers and hearing the voices of birthfathers and grandparents, and they have shared the traumatic and miraculous experience of birth with them. Children may not have a conscious memory of this experience—and I think if they go quickly from the birthparents’ arms to the adoptive parents’ and are well nurtured, there aren’t the kinds of life-long psychological damages Verrier shakily claims—but it is part of them.
Let’s forget the children for a moment. Birthparents go through this whole process, too, and will remember. Always. Most will not spend a day without thinking about their children. Adoption does not sever this bond, and this simple fact is something I’ve really been hearing on birthmother blogs. They are their children’s mothers from the moment of conception (yeah, I’m prolife), and continue to be their mothers after relinquishment.
So when you decide to adopt, you are adopting not just your child, but in a sense, your child’s birthparents as well. You cannot adopt without bringing birthparents into your family. They are there with your child, in your child’s history. This is true of every adoption, even ones in which there has been abuse. The child may reject the birthparent, and there may not be contact because of safety reasons (which I wholeheartedly support, when it is in the best interests of the child), but their birthparents are with them not just in their genetic material—which doesn’t overwhelm nurture, of course—but in the whole story of how they came to be and who they will become as they grow up.
I don’t believe, like Claudia, that biology defines family, and that family is not by choice. Adoptive families are all about families being created by choice. A family, in my opinion, consists of two or more people who love one another and are willing to commit to one another for life. And when you invite an adopted child into your family, when you sign those papers, the child’s birthparents come with that child. The original birth certificate may be gone, but the history is not. The story is the story whether you pretend it didn’t happen or not. Even in the case of many international adoptions, in which the birthparents are normally not known, the birthparents were there in the story at some point. And they are there in the child’s smile, eye color, height, and all other physical and sometimes mental characteristics. And you know what? This is a good thing. What a marvelous and beautiful thing to recognize bits and pieces of a child’s birthparents as they grow and develop!
What a marvelous thing, too, to bring into your family—and to be brought into the family—of the person who gave your child life. See, families are not these neat little self-sufficient systems. They are little networks that connect to other little networks, which connect to others…and on and on. Like other family members, adoptive parents may ‘click’ with birthparents or may be annoyed with them from time to time, or both. They may have conflicts, serious ones; but that comes with family, too.
In my mind a person who does not consider birthparents as part of his or her family when he or she adopts—even if that consideration doesn’t involve contact—is not ready to adopt. If you are on the adoption path and find yourself wanting to fold in on your little family, to love and appreciate your child’s birthparents but not accept them as forever a part of your life, your heart, and your family, no matter what their story, no matter if they have done awful things, please seriously consider taking a break and working things through in counseling. I think that one of the dangers of adopting from infertility is the temptation to want to make your family be just like the one you would have had from your loins. But adoption is different, fundamentally. You cannot make a family by yourself with adoption. You cannot simply cut birthparents out with the umbilical cord
Am I advocating some kind of co-parenting or guardianship? Absolutely not. Adoption has to be the permanent establishment of adoptive parents as the full-time, everyday parents of adopted children. Adoptive parents are REAL parents. And adoptive families are real families, but they have unique features, and one of them is that there are more than two parents; there are four. And you know? That’s OK. And even if you don’t think it’s OK, it’s the truth. If you don’t like that truth, you should think about other means of becoming a parent, or resign yourself to not having children at all (hard, hard…but adoption is hard, yo).
It’s the third week or so of our whole grains/no refined sugar campaign, and things are going well. I don’t believe we’ve ever eaten this well. I suppose although I knew this way of eating is better in all kinds of ways–more consistent energy throughout the day, reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes, supportive of a more ethical system of food production–I was afraid we’d be in diet-land, where we would resign ourselves to dry, sandy desserts and scoop after scoop of bland rice/beans/veggies combos. Last time we tried to make the whole grains move this is exactly what happened.
This time, however, mama wasn’t having any truck with gritty desserts and boring entrees. So she set out to revolutionize the Boomerific family diet while maintaining only the highest standards for taste and pleasure. What could be better than a beautiful diet of fresh, colorful veggies and nutty grains?
Nothing, it turns out. What I did differently this time is what I have gradually learned to do as a(n) (almost) vegetarian. At first I tried to be a veg on the same model as I was an omnivore. That is, every plate of food had to have a starch, a super protein, and a vegetable. Cassaroles, rice and pasta dishes, and other one-bowl dishes were side dishes. They could be placed in the ‘starch’ section of the plate. The result at first was a relatively boring meat-replacement diet, with soggy tofu and Morningstar Farms substitutions making frequent appearances.
Eventually, as I learned new recipes and became familiar with new foods (like the hundreds of varieties of beans; the wealth of leafy-greens; soy products like tempeh; and my nectar, coconut milk) my plate stopped looking like a sad, meatless excuse for a meal and started bursting with colors and flavors unknown to most meat-eaters. It became fun to cook and eat again, especially because the number of new ingredients simply begged for experimentation and innovation. I had a number of spectacular flops, but over time I developed a solid repertoire of easy, delicious, scrumptuous vegetarian dishes. In this pursuit I was helped enormously by the authors of the Moosewood cookbooks, but most especially by Laurel’s Kitchen. My mom had this book when I was growing up so it has a lot of sentimental value to me, too. When she cooked from it she was loving us through food, because she knew she was making healthy stuff. Too bad we were bratty and screwed up our faces whenever she tried to make brown rice. Poor woman.
I face the same quandry with whole foods. Do I simply replace the refined grains and sugars in my usual recipies with whole grains, or do I embrace the possibilities of my new ingredients and see where they take me all on their own? This time, I have learned from my past mistakes. I have begun to move beyond whole wheat flour (which has its own unique properties, so don’t merely replace; use a recipe that specifically calls for it) to cornmeal, chick pea flour, spelt, quinoa, and brown basmati rice. It is SO much fun.
Right now I’m working through an amazing cookbook, The Healthy Hedonist by Myra Kornfeld. Let me tell you: it is both. And how! Attic Man and I stayed in our own little home for Christmas Eve, so I thought I’d be ambitious and try the Pomegranate-Pear Cornmeal Tart. The crust and cake parts are made with cornmeal, toasted almonds and just a little while flour, and the pears are poached in a lovely port wine and pomegranate juice sauce with cinnamon and a touch of anise. The poaching sauce becomes a glaze after being reduced. At my first bite I thought I might perish, it was so good. And as for sugar? None. It was sweetened with maple syrup–just a touch–and the pomegranate juice. Perfect. We also had a risotto made with spelt and wild mushrooms, which was absolutely divine. And absolutely heart-healthy. This week I’ve also made the peanut butter and the chocolate chip cookies, and I’ve just been bowled over by how good AND healthy they are.
And I have to say, our quality of life has improved dramatically over the past few weeks. It feels good to be able to get up in the morning, and to not have the mid-afternoon doldrums (on good days…on bad ones, a two-hour long depression). It’s nice to be full on less and to feel energized, not weighted down, by a meal. Cooking has become exciting again.
Here is my Christmas Eve present to all of you:
We have news.
A woman who is in a difficult situation wants to place her baby with us. She is due in mid-February (was 28 weeks on Nov. 30–haven’t done the math yet). I won’t share her name or the particulars of her situation, which we just learned this morning, but she is in a very difficult spot, and not just temporarily.
We are happy that she has chosen us but sad that she has decided that not only does she not want to meet us, she does not want any contact. She wants an essentially closed adoption. We are hoping she changes her mind. I know she might think that in having no contact she will be able to put this all behind her, but it won’t. If she places with us we’re going to keep a picture album through the years and maybe a little journal. That way if she ever wants contact we’ll have something to send her and she won’t miss pictures for whatever time she wasn’t in communication. We’ll keep our information current with the agency.
Our prayer for her is that she finds resources she didn’t know she had, or that someone in her life steps up and helps her so that she can keep her baby. If that doesn’t happen, we’re here.
I hope you all have beautiful, quiet weekends (or crazy and fun ones, if that’s what you like) and that you and everyone you love is happy and safe.
EDIT: SEE BOLD BELOW
I thought I’d start on Word Press with as treacherous a topic as I could muster. Actually, I would like this blog to be a bit more ‘serious’ than the one on Blogger, not without the occasional joke or wry turn of phrase, but with a bit more thought and consideration than I have been blogging with of late.
So. Birthmothers. Birthparents.
It’s a hard thing for a future adoptive parent to think about what it means to be a birthparent. I’m thinking about something more than just the cliched act of imagining what it’s like to be in ‘someone else’s shoes.’ To attempt such an incredible feat of identification one would have to ignore layer after layer of inbetween matter: your child is my child. you nurtured (our?) child for nine months, then underwent/accomplished the incredible act of delivering that child. against a culture in which a child has only one mother we are both mothers, fully. yet you will sit alone and I will answer our child’s cries. we will set up an agreement, but I can decide for whatever reason I choose that our child will not know you or even know of you. you can leave phone calls and letters unanswered. we will be inextricably linked to one another in a complicated system of powers and powerlessnesses, of privileges and prohibitions. it is a marriage of sorts, but we will not know whether to celebrate it or mourn it, or both, and our families will be at even more of a loss. our relationship will be everything at once: a loss and a gift, a tragedy and a miracle, a lifelong pain and a lifelong joy; and you will not lose everything and I will not gain everything; we will both suffer, and we will both sing.
I’ve been reading birthparent blogs for a few days, rather seriously. When we first decided to adopt domestically through an open adoption, I eyed birthmother blogs and ‘natural mother’ sites rather skeptically; well, OK: quite defensively. Many of them assert what I know not to be true, that families are made of genetic material (the metaphor of ‘blood’) and that adoptive families are inadequate and unnatural. Families are made of people who love one another and who have committed to staying together through the trials of life. The natural family argument to me falls along the same lines as the nuclear-family one; if it takes one man and one woman to make a baby, and the only legitimate family is one in which said parties raise that baby, then single-parent headed households aren’t families, nor are gays and lesbians able to have families. It means that love, time, attention, and committment are meaningless in the face of genetics. To me, the idea that the genetic connection constitutes family on its own is the same logic that eventually leads us to racism: that people who share a common ancestry necessarily belong together. Do I think anti-adoption advocates are racists? Nah. But I’m trying to lay the logic bare and bring it out to its conclusion. To me it’s the wrong argument to be having. What it should be about is whether or not it is an ethical thing to separate a mother and child at birth or after. Primal Wound aside (because I have written about this before), there are times when a mother cannot or will not take care of the baby she has carried. Whether this decision is a matter of material circumstances (which we all should be working to fix, constantly) or simply of choice–some mothers are not ready, willing, or able, and they should be able to determine this for themselves–babies will need to be raised in adoptive homes. And just because it is a relationship predicated on loss it cannot be defined solely by that loss; families are miracles, and beautiful things happen in them. Beautiful things happen in families made up of birthparents, adoptive parents, and adoptive children. The losses are there, probably to a greater extent than what I can presently imagine. They must be acknowleged and honored by all participants. But they do not overwhelm the entire relationship.
It took working through the intertwining of loss and joy for me to get to the the point of being able to read some of these blogs and sites again with a more measured emotional response. So, for instance, the other day I read this on a natural mother blog:
I think that must be really scarey to an adoptive parent. For the natural parents have the one thing that they cannot ever have..the true cognitive bond. No matter what they do, how many years, how many boo-boos they got to kiss, butts to wipe, diapers to change, sports events to attend..they can’t get that genetic mirroring and continuation, that deep understanding that comes from knowing a person because they are part of you.
You can know a person very well because of years of contact, love, and shared lives. I mean how many of us know what our spouse will say before they say it..or how our best friends will react to something. You can understand that reaction because you love them and desire to understand, but it is very different then understanding because they are doing the same thing that you would do. Not because of learned behaviors, but because of our inherint nature as humans. It is a deeper understanding..not just logic, or intellect, or emotions, but on all levels.
So the adoptive parents cannot get what we naturally have. Now granted they have had what we lost…all the years, the memories, the shared history, the stories, the boo-boos, the diapers, etc. But that desn’t wipe out the inital bond, and upon reunion, the initial bond will try to take up again where it was lost on birth and placement: hence, the intensity of beginning reunions, the obsessions, the falling in love, just like a new baby. So in essence, the bond is able to disregard what the adoptive parents have. The years lost almost don’t matter in the whole scheme of things when our children can be returned to us…we are still their mothers and they are still our children.
So how frightening is THAT..to think that no matter how great of an adoptive parent one might be, no matter how many years and tears and joys invested, it will almost matter not. The child is still of the mother. They can get our years, but not our bond.
My first reading of this passage invoked incredible anger and defensiveness. Then I read the entire post again, carefully, and started to think about where the author is coming from: she is a birthparent in reunion with a daughter [actually, son! got two bloggers mixed up. Apologies to them!] she did not see or hear from for 18 years and she is raising children she did not place for adoption. She is experiencing the incredible force of reunion and is overwhelmed by her connection with her son. She recognizes the same feelings as those she feels for her other children. She is recognizing the vast difference between a child birth and give up, a child you birth and raise, and a child you raise without birthing. She has said that for a long time her son‘s adoption didn’t work its way into her daily life very much, but that having children and raising them has made her come back to adoption and rethink it, and from reading her blog, re-feel it as well.
How many adoptive parents have you heard who say that an adoptive child is ‘the same’ as a biological one? Here is the same kind of fallacy based on a certain vantage point: the adoptive parents feel a rush of love and loyalty to their child. They explain it by saying, in shorthand, it is the same. Sometimes they have biological children as well, so it seems to have particular authenticity. And it is true; but it is shorthand, too, for something too complex to capture in a sentence. A friend of mine who has an incredible knack for analysis and nuance explained to me that the experience of her pregnancy with her son and subsequent delivery is so much a part of his story that without it their relationship would have been very different. There’s a continuity there. The beginnings of her love for and protectiveness of him are connected to ultrasounds and kicks and the like, and especially his delivery. As she prepares to adopt, similarly, the paperwork and waiting is part of her adoptive child’s-to-be story. There’s a different continuity there. The love, connectedness and committment are the same, the story is not.
It is foolishness to try to sort out who is the ‘real’ mother and who is either the poser or the incubator, and it’s downright insulting to both birth and adoptive mothers to insist that one or the other is just a shadow in the life of a child. The force of genetics and nurturance are complex and intertwined, but most importantly they are vital, both of them. How the relationship between adoptive parents and birth parents play out has a lot to do with how these matters work out in the child’s life.
What I’ve learned reading both adoption and birth parent blogs is that everyone writes from somewhere. Maybe a birth parent experiencing the joys of parenthood has to revisit the mourning of the loss of their child in a different way, a way that acknowleges the power of the biological connection. Maybe a new birth parent has to make a space for his or her decision to be OK in order to get through the first few years after placement. Maybe a new adoptive parent feels the need to ‘claim’ his or her child so that there is no hesitation in offering love and nurturance. Maybe an adoptive parent who has also given birth must work through knowing the reality of birthing and mourning for the birth mother in ways that those of us who haven’t given birth cannot. And on and on…
The point is that we have to read one another with a gentle awareness that we are all at different points along the path, and that our paths are different as well. Our vantage points strongly influence what we write and how we feel about our adoptions. Being able to recognize this fact–without letting it become, “oh, she’s just bitching because she’s X, Y, or Z,” a convenient tactic employed by thoughtless men everywhere when PMS hits, and discounting the importance of the problems at hand–allows us to really be in conversation with one another, to come from a place of empathy and respect, and to be able to raise our children to be compassionate and thoughtful as well.
We owe them at least that.