Last week I decided to take a personal loan. I have been struggling for a very long time with a credit card debt with a very high interest rate, and I found if I went the route of a personal loan I could both reduce the interest rate and get on a four year payment plan where I could actually get out of debt in the near future. I believe I’ve been operating within my means for several years (the last year I didn’t was the year J was born and that was because I made less money because of all the leave I took and because my expenses were ratcheted up because of the pregnancy). But with a large amount of debt getting out of it takes a lot more than living within your means. So this was the route I’m going, and I finally feel like there might be an end in sight to living without any savings, without a buffer.
So in order to get this loan I had to have a conversation with a loan officer, over the phone. He wanted to find out why I’m taking the loan, he wanted to find out what my household looked like, he wanted to find out how many years I wanted to pay back the loan in, and then he asked me what I thought was the strangest question ever.
He wanted to know once I paid back the loan what my goals were. I told him I had no goals.
I was relaying this story to a friend of mine and he thought the reason they were asking was if I said buy a house then in 3.5 years they would start sending me information packets about their home loan programs, and if I said buy a car they would do the same but with car loans. I’m sure this friend is probably right.
But in the moment, I was so confused. And I acted confused. I hemmed and hawed and was like “what do you mean goals?” So he said “what are you hoping to do once you have paid off this loan, buy a house, travel, what?” And I told this guy “I don’t have goals”. And he wasn’t taking that for an answer. Finally I mumbled something about how I would then pay off my student loans and that seemed to finally get him to stop asking me.
Later, the question stayed with me. I kept thinking of my lack of goals. Now don’t get me wrong, I can talk about goals I have in my life, but mostly those goals sounded like “be happy”, “Appreciate the people who love me and love the people who appreciate me” or maybe if I was really trying to be specific “work at a job that I love, get married and have a family”. But goals never looked like get a certain job, achieve a certain status, and they certainly NEVER involved how much money I had or was making. It has never been important to me. So this guy asking this goal about financials and me not coming up with an answer shouldn’t have been surprising. But I think the reason this stayed with me wasn’t because I didn’t have an answer, but because I did have one. Or more to the point, the real goal I have is one I have already missed out on. I wish I was at a place I could have parented J. Only I wasn’t. And being at a better, more stable and secure place in the future won’t ever change that. I can’t magically go back four years and make a world where I had a stable life and was well supported. So even if looking forward it was my goal after paying off debt to create a life full of stability and support, a life where I could possibly parent a child, I’m not sure what that goal would get me.
For me talking about a goal means putting into words what your ideal future looks like. How can I pretend like any future I have can be ideal when that future isn’t a place where I’m parenting J?
March is close, so very close. Which means April is just around the corner.
And April leads to May. May the month the is wrapped up in all the emotions, all the everything.
At work, at job number 2, we are struggling a little bit. There are a lot of changes going on there and when big changes happen at a company with only two real employees big changes mean huge impact to me.
My partner there, the other employee, he and I have dealt with the big changes in different ways. (Please pardon the following metaphor) I’ve turned into a snow plow of sorts, put my shovel down and keep moving forward. Sure little things are getting missed along the way, but I figure if I just keep going we’ll get to where we need to be and will make sure most of what needs to get moved out of the way will be done. My co-worker has seen the big pile of snow out the window and decided to call it a day. He’s sort of giving up, he knows we’ll never have perfectly clean roads so he figures we might as well not try. It’s stressing me out a little.
One of our last conversations about it all got wrapped up in what the month of May should be for both of us. Both of us work our butts off in April, prepping and planning for an event we have every year. The event happens in May (basically the whole month). With all the planning, we usually get a little burnt out and by May we turn it over to the third staff member and she actually deals with all the day to day details of the event. Only this year, there is no third employee, we have yet to fill her position. And this partner of mine, the other employee doesn’t want to be responsible for running the event. Well truth be told neither do I, but there’s not a lot of other choices out there.
So I started thinking about it, about whether I could just bite the bullet and take on the actual event as well as all the prep for it. It’s just one more month of long hours – most of the year have been months of long hours – so maybe it could be just one more month.
But it’s not, it’s not just another month, its May.
May is the month of landmines for me. It’s Mother’s Day, J’s birthday, the day I left the hospital without him. It’s these huge and heavy moments for me, it’s all consuming. It’s not even all bad, but it’s emotional and it’s pretty darn overwhelming.
I don’t want to make plans in May, not unless they are plans with my son. I want freedom in May, to be sad, to stay in bed, to spend a day alone at a park reading, or going to the movies. I don’t do well with people in May, because even if I’m in a state of happiness, one where I feel so blessed for my little boy and the joy he brings to my world, I still don’t do that well explaining my emotions to someone else. It’s hard to explain why my emotions are extremely heightened and why they change in a moment. It’s hard to explain why I’m a mess, because on the outside my life looks like that of any single 30 something year old living in NYC. But I have this important part of myself that is out there living in a world that isn’t my world. My son is always at the forefront of my mind, but especially in May.
I can’t believe it’s not yet March and I’m already freaking out about May – it’s going to be a long build into Spring.
So yesterday my four week long jury duty finally finished.
It wasn’t the best experience, there were a lot of delays, a lot of days spent wasting time. I’m glad it is over.
Yesterday was the day of deliberations. I knew it wouldn’t go well. I knew that I felt strongly about my opinion. I knew at least two of the other jurors felt differently. And I knew everyone on the jury were already four weeks into this case and no one wanted our part of it to last very long.
What I didn’t know as I entered the courtroom dreading what was to come was that we didn’t all have to agree. We only had to be 5 out of 6 jurors to decide (apparently that is the rules of civil court). We went into the jury room, I gave my opinion, the two others who were outspoken the other way gave theirs and then the last three jurors slowly sided with the other two. I said “Okay, I guess that’s it, we’re done?” and two of the other jurors (not the outspoken ones) began to ask me why I felt the way I did. I explained and they didn’t say much. I kept say “If you are sure about your answer we can stop deliberating, we have a 5 out of 6 consensus which is all we need”. But they kept poking me to keep talking. Finally after 15 minutes where I kept trying to explain my opinion but didn’t understand why I said “we have our answer, if everyone is sure let’s just sign and be done.” and we did.
Less than a half an hour later walking out of the courthouse I was walking to the train with those two jurors. As we sat on the train they both kept saying, “Maybe we should have deliberated more” and “I feel bad about this.” Now it was a civil case, no one went to jail. Our decision was against the plantiff, so she didn’t receive any settlement and I guess there is something to feel bad about there, but only if they actually believed that she suffered because of someone else, to me it seemed if they were sure of their answer then they shouldn’t feel bad.
And then I suddenly realized why they had been asking me to keep talking. They had wanted me to convince others in that room that I was right because they didn’t want to be the reason the deliberations were held up. If they changed their answer then we would have been stuck until more people changed opinions. They would be the reason we were not going home quickly. If I had talked someone else into changing their mind then they wouldn’t have been the bad guy. But I didn’t, and they never spoke up, even if they had said that they weren’t 100% and would like to talk it through I would have been happy to keep talking, but at the time I just saw a room of 5 people who seemed to be saying that they believed something and there was no reason to convince them otherwise. But their silence means they have to live with feeling bad about this. That feeling might only have lasted yesterday afternoon, maybe they forgot about it by the time they went to bed, then again maybe they didn’t.
It reminded me of all the conversations I’ve had with birthmothers about relinquishment. Women who talk about the subtle feelings of obligation, those that come with a pre-birth match when suddenly deciding to parent starts to feel like taking something away from someone else. How by the time they meet their child and really understand all they have agreed to, they also feel the pressure to continue on the path, to not complicate things, to not make anyone else’s life harder.
The pressure a woman may feel to relinquish doesn’t have to be the agency or the potential adoptive parents telling them that them deciding to parent would have a negative impact on them. Expectant Moms are aware of the stakes for the others involved, even if it’s not vocalized. And those stakes create pressure on them, no matter if people are telling them what to do or not.
On jury duty, for three weeks the two women who were siding for the defense were vocal about their opinion, and by the last days in court they were vocal about how they felt like it was a straightforward case and deliberations better be done in 15 minutes. The pressure to agree with them, even if they never expressed it once we were in deliberations was there all along. I believe in many ways that things like birth mother expenses or pre-birth matching have a purpose that does indeed assist a birth mother, but it also puts an unspoken pressure on the expectant Mom to go along with the plan. It creates stakes that can feel overwhelming.
Yesterday when I entered court I knew my opinion would not be swayed just because changing my opinion would be convenient to others. When I heard the reasoning others had for their opinion I was even more definitive about my own, realizing their thoughts seemed to be based on irrelevant facts. But until I found out that we would only need 5 people to agree to decide as a jury, I also knew that standing behind my decision wouldn’t be an easy thing to do. The other five jurors would be pissed as hell if I cause them to deliberate for multiple days, they would be angry if I wouldn’t just go along with them.
I believe that if at the time of relinquishment that I suddenly realized parenting was a possibility for me that I would have been able to stand my ground then. I think I would have, but I also know how difficult it would have been. My agency wasn’t telling me I shouldn’t parent, in fact they did everything they could to protect me from feeling pressured by M&P including telling them to somewhat keep their distance and to not think of J as theirs until he was actually theirs. And M&P made it clear all along that J was mine, that the decision wasn’t made until I signed papers. They asked permission to hold him in the hospital, and thanked me profusely when I asked if they wanted to feed him for giving them the opportunity, heck they didn’t buy any baby stuff until the evening before J went home with them. And even with them being super aware of overstepping, it still would have been a decision that I know would have hurt M&P, these two men I was coming to know and like.
I am one of the most stubborn person I know, I don’t give into peer pressure easily and I have an independent streak a mile wide. So yeah, I do think if I could have parented I wouldn’t have let the worry about changing my mind and the impact it would have on others be the thing to dissuade me. But I also understand why others might let the pressure get the best of them. And for those women whose agency doesn’t lecture the PAP at length about not becoming too invested, and remind them daily that this isn’t their child until the papers are signed, that pressure would be so much more. If I felt like M&P were seeing my son as theirs as soon as he was born (or even before) the pressure to not hurt them would have been profound.
So before you find yourself thinking birth mothers “chose this” and “didn’t have a gun to their heads” or similar, realize how often humans give into what seems easier and how if you were at your most vulnerable and were told how selfless doing something was even though it was against every fiber of what you wanted, that maybe you wouldn’t be strong enough to stand tall against such overwhelming pressure. So instead of telling birth mothers no one was stopping them from parenting and it was their own decision, please recognize how human it was to give into what was happening and how that moment of weakness will be with them the rest of their lives, the rest of their children’s lives and will impact generations to come.
Wow this has been a bad day, which is part of a bad week which is part of a bad month. For the first time in a long time I found myself sitting at my desk at work not doing anything and telling myself to just keep breathing. I’ve heard people describe panic attacks and I honestly don’t think it was that, but it was a feeling I really don’t need to feel each day.
Four years ago I was in full pregnancy mode, although I was still pretty quiet about the whole thing I’m pretty sure that people were giving up their seats for me on the subway. I was in the middle of panic mode, a panic mode that lasted over 6 months. And I regularly had moments where all I could do was remind myself to breath. To put one foot in front of the other and move down the path.
It was a horrible feeling at the time, a feeling of utter lack of control. By Feb of 2010 I was pregnant, I was alone, I was without support and I felt for the first time in my life completely out of control. I felt like no decisions I could make could take me from the path I was on, this was all I could do, there were no other options. There have been times I’ve sort of given myself over the God or the Universe or Fate or whatever you want to call it, where I just let the decision be out of my hands. Times where I let the actions or decisions of others decide my own path. But those times, those decisions, they didn’t feel like my pregnancy did. I guess it was because those times I couldn’t decide between two choices but knew I would be okay with either one. With my pregnancy I knew I wouldn’t be the same again if I relinquished and I knew the things that might help me not relinquish were not in my control. And that massive feeling of being out of control consumed me for months. I would just sit and breath, and not in a good meditative finding my zen kind of way. More in a if I couldn’t control anything else in my life at least I could control this one minute of breathing.
Today I was back there. It had nothing to do with J, or anything adoption related really. It had to do with my life, with jury duty in part, and more with my one job. Things are tough right now, people are making decisions around me and I’m feeling completely overwhelmed by my lack of control of the situation. Right now all the decisions being made are greatly impacting my life, and I need it all to stop. I need to control something.
I got to a point today where someone asked me if I had considered taking a certain path at my job, one that I have been vocally opposed to doing all along, and I for the first time started considering it, not because I wanted to but because it was the only choice I can make in this situation, I either have to live with the decisions others make for me or I can choose something that is a bad choice for me. And I’m seriously considering it, if only because that is the choice I can make, the action I can choose for myself.
I would never have even contemplated it before J, but now, now I don’t know. Maybe making a choice that you think will lead to a life you don’t want is no where near as bad as living a life you don’t want and having the choice of getting there be completely out of your control.
My family is one that always loved the seasons. In the spring we put on bathing suits and danced in the rain. In the summer we spent hours at the pool embracing the sunshine and heat. In the fall we created traditions of apple picking and pumpkin seeds. And the winter – I grew up on the top of a hill, both the houses I lived in as children had backyards that were large hills. And we took full advantage. The first signs of snow we’d start building ramps from our deck and start sledding. The door in from the backyard was a pile of boots and snowpants. We would go skiing and ice skating. We would build snow forts and snow men.
When I moved away from home winters felt different. I no longer had a yard to play in, I no longer lived on a sledding hill, I no longer could afford a season pass to go skiing. I suddenly was walking everywhere so the icy sidewalks felt less fun.
As I aged I slowly became more a curmudgeon about the seasons, especially winter. I would complain after too many days of snow or cold.
This winter has been a hard one for a lot of the US. It’s been cold, it’s been lots of snow and ice, snow days and frigid temperatures. And yet I’m loving it, each day of snow I’ve been excited, and each time I get to go out in the snow there seems to be a bounce in my step. Don’t get me wrong, this morning as I trudged into another day of jury duty through the freezing rain only to find out that we wouldn’t hear any witnesses because they didn’t make it in, I wasn’t exactly excited about that. But then I walked home and made snowballs and thought about how much fun J would be having in this snow and it all still felt magical. We’ve had a lot of snow and every time I hear about another storm in the forecast I still get excited, it sort of makes me feel like I did when I was little.
I know sometimes it’s easier for parents to remember the magic of childhood than those without kids around. I’ve heard my friends with kids talk about that, how the excitement of Christmas or the magic of a snow day is so much easier to appreciate when you can see it through the eyes of a child, when you can enjoy it with them.
I sometimes catch myself getting lost in something like this and wonder if I see it this way now because I had J, because I am a Mother, even if I’m not parenting. But it’s not that simple, it never is with adoption. For every moment that I feel tied to motherhood in some small way, there are thousands of reminders of all the ways I’m not. Most days I just feel the void of not really being a Mom. And those days not only do I not feel like a Mom but I feel guilty for the moments when I almost did feel like one. I know that seeing the world through the eyes of a child, or knowing the milestones a three-year old hits, or worrying about my son as much as any parent, these moments are just that, moments. I’m not parenting my son. So even when I feel for just a moment like any other Mom, don’t think it means I ever for a moment forget all I’m not.
I grew up the girl who never wrote things down. Not appointments, not taking notes in class, not even phone numbers. If it was important I would remember it. And more truth than that (because although I have a good memory I do forget things on occassion) if I wrote something down chances are it would end up on a piece of paper crumpled up on the bottom of my bag somewhere never to be seen again so if it was important that I better remember it.
I’ve had many times in my life that mentors have tried in every way possible to get me out of the habit, bosses who made me bring pads of papers with me everywhere. But I got to the age of 29 never broken from the habit.
Then everything changed. During my pregnancy I came to a point where I broke down. I couldn’t remember dates, not to save my life. And suddenly not only could I not remember the schedule of meetings, appointments, even days off of work, but all of these things started piling up more and more. By my seventh month of pregnancy I almost always had at least one day off work each week, two Dr. appointments each week, a meeting my the adoption agency every other week or so, and a second job with it’s own crazy meeting schedule. I was at a loss.
As a person who hated relying on what I wrote down to remember things, I suddenly couldn’t not write everything down. So at the start of 2010 I took the wall calendar down at my desk at work and started writing every appointment and meeting I had. Suddenly each day was filled with how I spent my day, what Dr. I saw or who I had dinner with.
After I gave birth and came back to work, the habit continued. Even months later when I stopped being so forgetful and my inability to keep dates straight faded after pregnancy, I still kept writing things down. I think in those first months it was a comfort to see in writing the future visits I had planned with J’s family, to have a visual reference that showed another step in our relationship.
Soon that first year with J in my life ended, and I bought another calendar that sat on my desk, and kept writing each detail of my life in it. Not just visits with J, but each event in my life that happened. At some point I replaced the generic calendars with ones I designed and had printed with photos of J. But the habit of writing everything in these wall calendars remained. In fact it became such a habit that for the past three weeks I’ve been on jury duty, so I’ve been away from my job that has the desk where I store the calendars. And with one more week of jury duty to go, I’ve realized how completely turned upside down my world has been without that touchstone of my calendar to tell me where I’m supposed to be and when things are happening. I’ve come to rely on it, me being the girl who would never write anything down, now has no idea what day it is or what I’m supposed to be doing because I don’t see my calendar regularly.
Over the years I’ve created different ways to have a constant connection to my son, for awhile I wore a necklace that reminded me of him, I also had a charm bracelet and bought a charm each year that reflected something about J in that year. I have made my screen saver pictures of J, or put him as the background on my phone. But none have given me a better touchstone back to my son like my calendars. With them, the entire history of my son’s life and my relationship with him are written down, each visit is a small note, each memory represented by a few words on a page.
He’s in those pages, and not only is it a way to see how far we’ve come but it’s a way to see where we’re headed, what the future holds. I’m glad the I became such a hot mess during my pregnancy, I’m glad I finally broke down and found a way to keep track of my life in writing, because as a birth parent nothing has been more important to me than having constant touchstones to my child. It’s helped me keep the joy of my child an ever present part of my life, even on the darkest most difficult days.
What defines race?
Is it someone’s actual skin tone?
Is it how they define themselves?
Is it the race of their blood ancestors?
Recently I went down a rabbit hole online and ended up on a website for Trevor Noah, a comedian from South Africa. During his first trip to New York he went on Late Night with David Letterman and during his set he talked about how he saw all these people on the streets who he thought looked like South Africans. He said hi to one on the street and the guy started speaking to him in Spanish. He told the guy he didn’t speak the language and the guy told him how he should have more pride in his heritage – they had assumed he was a Latino because of his skin tone. It was another example of why I feel like race can be so complicated.
On the outside, especially multi-racial people can look like a lot of different races. So is race more about how a person defines themselves? Or is it about what their actual lineage is?
I worry about such things because of J. He is bi-racial. The truth is I’m sure there are people who see him and make assumptions about what race or ethnicity he is. They probably will for the rest of his life. I want him to feel empowered to decide how he defines his race. As he grows up, I would like him to feel comfortable defining himself as a bi-racial man, as a black man, as a white man, or just telling everyone he is a New Yorker and never feeling like he has to explain himself any further than that. I want him to decide.
But to get to a point where he can make such decisions, we first have to create a situation where he is comfortable with all parts of himself, right? For instance, if he never is around any black people and grows up with only white faces, then what are the chances as an adult he’ll turn away from the only culture he knows and start defining himself solely as a person of color. And yet, if he doesn’t look like any of the black people he knows, and he doesn’t have any relationship with any of the part of his family of origin that are black, then his only relationship to that race would be because we told him that his ancestry was that. When you don’t look like a race, and you don’t grow up with relatives who are that race, then what is the parents’ role in making sure you feel connected to that race?
I am not saying we should ignore that J is bi-racial, cross our fingers and hope no one notices his skin is a little darker than mine is, but I am not always clear (or really ever clear) about what my role can and should be in making sure his entire racial identity is supported.