I’m having a hard time lately. Very little of it is actually about adoption, but I need to talk about this today…feel free to stop reading if you came here looking for thoughts on adoption.
For about a million different reasons I start and end my day feeling overwhelmed lately and although I have had moments of clarity in between, where something good happens and for just a second or two I feel like my world is manageable, almost immediately something else happens and I’m back worse than I started.
The truth is most of this is work, work for the past 9 months has been so incredibly difficult, but that’s okay because there was a temporary reason it was difficult (for those now aware my boss quit in August so I’ve been doing her job and mine for the last 8 months or so at Job #2). Well we hired a replacement and she started. But she started in the smack dab middle of my busiest time of the year and so I have been struggling to figure out getting her up to speed. So where everyone else is like “oh it’s a relief you have a new boss” I’m not only doing my job (which this time of year is like two jobs) and her job but I’m also trying to train her on her job, I feel like I’m doing four jobs instead of 1. But it’s true, at the end of the day it’s a temporary thing, at some point she will be trained and will take charge and we will be able to move forward and get things done and I will no longer have to train her or do her job.
And yet as we start down this path I’m realizing much of my difficulty isn’t just because there’s a lot of work to do. In the last four days where she’s been in the office, I’ve watched her make so many decisions that I wouldn’t make. And I’ve been so frustrated by it. Because her priorities are so different than mine. But it feels like she just doesn’t understand why my priorities are the way they are – for instance I gave her several lists of things that are a priority for me, things I need her to pursue and work on in the next two weeks when I’m not around. These are things that will get us money right away and help with our cash flow and other things that need to be done soon in order for us to get funding for next year. If we miss deadlines then we’re in trouble, we won’t have enough money for next year. These should be our priorities. But for much of her time the last couple of days she’s been prioritizing other activities that she seems more interested in. Things that could happen during the summer, when we have a slow time. Right now we need to focus on the things that are on deadline right now, or the things that will help us deal with cash flow issues right now. And she doesn’t seemed inclined to do that.
I wonder if it’s because I’m doing a poor job of explaining my rationale and what I feel are the priorities (which is bad) or if it’s because she is trying to flex her own “boss” muscles and show me she can do what she wants (which is bad only because she’s not making decisions based on what’s best for the company), or if it’s because she realizes that the things I gave her are difficult and she is avoiding them because she doesn’t want to unravel them and figure out how to actually do them (which is a really bad sign for who we hired), or if it’s because I’m not giving her enough credit and she does understand my thought process and just sees the world a different way from me. Maybe I’m wrong and need to let go and trust her. But I don’t know her, I just know my company and I want it to succeed and I feel like my intimate knowledge of this company puts me in a position where she should be doing what I suggest.
I’ve been struggling this week, struggling to not just all out tell this girl what I think she should be doing. I see her trying to assert herself and I’m trying to respect that, but it’s difficult when I have a moment where I really don’t understand her perspective and I feel like what she is doing could be detrimental. Of course I want her to succeed and for her to do that she has to feel like the boss, but I’m having a hard time letting go, to me it feels like I’m trusting someone with my baby who I barely know.
I must admit, I started to write this blog post, I even started to write that last sentence and it wasn’t until I actually finished writing it that I realized how tied to adoption this issue actually is for me.
This idea that there is something that I’ve loved for so long, that I’ve taken care of for the last nine months even if it was temporary, that I see in a certain way because I know the full history, I know everything that has gone into it, and then I am expected to trust someone I barely know to take care of this precious thing. And the hardest for me, it feels like everyone else thinks I should feel relief that this thing I love has someone else to take care of it, but how can I feel relief when I don’t know if it will be okay or not. And in so many ways I felt the same in those first days of adoption. I felt helpless to trust people I didn’t know to make the right choices about my son. They didn’t know his history, they hadn’t spent the last 42 weeks with him, they didn’t understand all those things that went into who he was.
But I was supposed to let go, I was supposed to trust them, they needed to assert themselves as his parents and I was supposed to let that happen. It was so hard. I felt like I knew better, it felt like I should just tell them what to do, only in order to move forward and deal with what actually had happened I needed to find a way to share the information I had and let them make their own choice.
I still find myself hearing a decision M&P have made (or are thinking of making) and find myself trying to figure out whether my gut reaction that I don’t agree with it is because of any knowledge I have that they don’t or if it’s just because they are different than me and see the world differently. Most of the time it’s just not what I would do. It won’t mean J will be forever scarred, it just means he’ll be a different kid than if I was parenting him. I’m four years in and I can say that things in this part are getting easier, it’s easier to trust M&P now I see that even if they don’t make the same decisions that I necessarily would that the decisions they are making are helping J become a really amazing kid. Trust is easier with time. And not having control of a situation is easier to deal with when you trust the person (or people in charge).
But it was a long time getting here, and at my job right now, going back to the point where I’m traversing these difficult waters I still don’t have an answer on the best way to proceed. The truth is although I love and have a lot of loyalty to my company, the stakes are significantly less than they were with my son, and yet this feeling is still so difficult. I guess one day at a time, trying to find the balance is the only way to get to the other side, where it will be alright, where I will trust this person with what I care about so deeply.
I saw a play on grief last week. In the best possible way it kicked me in the face. It’s taken me this long to really be able to verbalize my feelings on it, and even now my thoughts aren’t completely making sense. It reminded me of that time in my life, right after J was born, the time where I constantly bounced through extreme emotions, the anger, feeling lost, even at times giddy with joy when I momentarily could focus on the good, but all of those extremes always seemed to fade to emptiness. At times I hated being around people because it would make that emptiness seem so big, other times I craved company, anxiously trying to form relationships with people in order to try to fill up the emptiness.
When a person would come into my life I would cling to them in a way, looking for the connection, looking for some meaning. If I could find some deep connection to another person maybe it would give meaning to what happened. I dated when I shouldn’t have, I made friendships with people based on so very little in common which seemed to be the most important of friendships and then quickly faded into nothingness.
I think I scared away several people during that time.
All week I’ve been thinking about grief, have I healed enough where I don’t feel that sort of emptiness anymore? Is the thing I most grieve for – the little boy who would have been if I had parented – has he faded enough, has J filled some of that? Or did I just get so tired of feeling that emptiness that I started to push it down, to try to ignore it, to tuck it into the corner of myself and stop paying attention to it? Have I in any way gotten better or just gotten better with pretending?
I don’t know those answers. I’m actually pretty sure that it’s both. The sharp pain of loss I used to feel has dulled a little bit, and what is left has been tucked in a corner. I know its still there on days when I watch other (ficticious) people grieve and suddenly I am transported back to how I was, or maybe transported to how I am, just the part I hide away.
Yesterday I got to hang out with J for a chunk of the day. And I was sick. I had been sick for over a week, battling this mega cold that brought a bad cough and a dripping nose, but also which took my sleep, my energy and my voice. I wasn’t in the best of shape, I definitely wasn’t in optimal shape to hang out with a three year old for the day.
We still had fun, we still played, had a good lunch, went to the bookstore, I still got to talk to his Dads some, and find out what he wants for his birthday, but I wasn’t present for him, for us, in the way I like to be. I was worn out after a long week of trying to keep pace with my schedule when I wasn’t feeling well.
On Friday night I actually considered cancelling. I knew my voice was still shot, I knew I was not very energetic, I just wasn’t sure a visit that I wasn’t at my best was worth it. But after a lot of internal debate I realized that I hadn’t seen J for a month, given the way April is shaping up on both our ends, I’m fairly certain I won’t have an opportunity to see him again until May 3rd, so if I didn’t see him yesterday it would have been 10 weeks between visits. I didn’t want to be the reason for that sort of length, I knew it was bad enough I was going to be the reason not to see him in April, I couldn’t be the reason I didn’t see him in March as well. So I found the energy I did have and put on my best face and plowed ahead. At the end, it wasn’t our best visit, but it was still worth it.
But the whole exercise for me brought up something else in me. This fear of perception that I have, of suddenly being thought of as unreliable, of flaky. If I chose to cancel that M&P would start to lose trust that I would do what I said, that I would show up. I started worrying that they would start to feel about me with the negativity I hear from some adoptive parents about the birth parents of their kids. I’ve seen too many conversations, too many instances where adoptive parents talk about how they don’t let their kids know a visit is coming up so they don’t have to deal with the disappointment when the birth parents cancel. I have this fear that if I cancel that M&P will start to think about me in that same light.
This fear, this worry, it wasn’t based on my relationship, on my reality. It was based in experiences of others, stereotypes in our culture, my own insecurities. It took me a minute to rebalance myself, to realize that in my current situation, in my relationship, one cancellation wouldn’t undo the last four years. I came back to the fact that M&P and I have built our relationship on trust and it would take more than my being sick and staying home because of it to unravel that trust.
Sometimes I forget that we have our own relationship, that the experiences of others aren’t ours, that the issues we face, the victories we have, they are because we are people who we are. I sometimes forget to not assume that M&P will react in the ways other adoptive parents do, that J will grow up thinking like any specific adoptee I’ve met, and most importantly that the choices I make have to be because of who I am, not because of someone else’s experiences or the fear that others will view me as a stereotype.
I have spent most of the last four years trying to show everyone that birth parents can’t be boiled down to a handful of stereotypes, that our stories are complex and sometimes nothing like what someone would expect. But what’s hard to remember is I don’t have to be perfect to be more than a stereotype.
I remember the day so specifically, it was a year and a half into my journey as a birth parent and a year into blogging. I had been desperately looking for support, online, at an adoption conference, trying to start my own support group, seeking out people who were birth parents to hang out with, anyway I could so I didn’t feel like I was so alone. During the adoption conference I attended someone suggested I contact Kate Livingston, she had started a group a year before which was quite successful. I reached out to her and after a few back and forths decided to make a trek out to Ohio to attend their one year anniversary for the Ohio Birthparent Group (OBG). It was that day, that experience where I finally understood what I had been searching for.
A friend of mine had traveled to a Italy alone. He had been sitting at a table and a woman came up to him speaking in English. She apparently had decided he was American and approached him. He was telling me this story and said that just hearing English, having someone to talk to where each word wasn’t something you had to think about, where you could just talk and not worry that you would be misunderstood, was such a breath of fresh air for him. He became inseperable with this woman for the next week, and they still stay in touch. He said he realized that on the surface he might not have had a lot in common with this woman but this shared language was enough to start them down the road of friendship and soon they realized how much they had in common.
His description was a perfect analogy to what that first day at OBG felt like for me. It was walking into a room of people who spoke my language after having lived the last year before in a world where I regularly felt misunderstood. The other birth parents there that first day, and those who were there a year later when I had the opportunity to return to Ohio and attend another group, are some pretty amazing people. They are this completely diverse group – some relinquished their child decades ago, others just a few months ago, they are in different types of relationships (or lack there of) with their relinquished children, they are at different stages in their own process of dealing with their children’s adoptions. And yet, even with the vast differences, they are an incredibly accepting group of people who all speak the same language of loss.
So why am I talking about a group I haven’t been able to attend for almost two years (even though I really hope to get back there soon) who operate in a state where I don’t live? It’s because this group is starting to put themselves online in a new way and I want to make sure everyone who reads my blog at least knows about what they are doing. They are starting a blog that will be written by their members, this diverse interesting group of women and men who have built this amazing support network, a network I’m proud that I have been able to be a part of (at least in the small way I have been). Their first Member’s post went live this week. If you are a person that finds value in my perspective as a birth mother, I ask you to go to their site, and subscribe to their blog. I’m sure you will find some amazing voices telling their personal stories and sharing a part of themselves.
Several years ago I participated in a volunteer tutoring program. It was for an hour and a half once a week, each tutor was assigned the same kid the entire year, mine was 9 years old, she was actually a twin and both her and her sister were the “challenges” of all the kids. My student would throw books, build fences around her work so I couldn’t see what she was doing, or sit and pout and refuse to do her homework. She started the year seeming to hate me, wouldn’t talk to me, wouldn’t let me help her.
I talked to the head of the program, Tori, asked her what I should do, what I could do to make this relationship work. I asked if my student would be better with someone else. She told me I was doing fine, she told me just to keep trying and she would talk to the student (Emily) to try to calm her down. It never really worked.
A little more than halfway into the school year, Emily had a complete meltdown during tutoring. She threw a book at me. She ended up finally calming down and spending the remainder of the session reading off by herself. That evening I talked to Tori again, I just didn’t know what to do, it seemed like I was doing more harm than good. She told me to take a week off, that she would spend next week with Emily, and see if she could get any more information from her about what was happening, why Emily was having such a hard time.
Two weeks later I returned, I felt a little better after my week off, Tori had told me that Emily had not misbehaved the week before, mostly sat on her own doing homework, but they had talked a little as well. She asked the three of us to go to another room to talk for a minute. Sitting there with this 9 year old across from me, Tori told her that she had two choices, she could continue working on her own without a tutor each week, or she could work with me, but would have to behave. Emily wouldn’t look at either of us, would say anything. Tori looked to me and sort of shrugged her shoulders, I think at that point she thought if Emily couldn’t even say whether she wanted me as a tutor or not that this wasn’t going to go very far.
At that moment I asked Emily, “Do you want me to tutor you?” Emily sort of shrugged but still wouldn’t look at me. My response was “Emily, there is nothing I would like more than to be your tutor, I leave my job early every week and come here because I enjoy my time with you. And even when you don’t seem to want me around, I still want to be here, I still want to be your tutor. so if you are okay with it, I would really like to continue tutoring you.” Emily looked up finally, she looked me in the eye actually and almost smiled. When Tori again asked “do you want to continue having her tutor you?”, finally she actually said yes.
It was six years ago this week that this exchange happened. After that point my relationship with Emily totally changed, she was pleasant with me (most of the time). She stuck out the rest of the year with me, never having another major incident. I know she got better at reading, learned some geography, and thrived at her math work, but more I know she had met an adult who had no reason to stick with her and did anyways. I still have this picture of her and I by my desk at work, she is smiling in it, and when I see it I think of how my view of her changed so drastically, she wasn’t a kid who hated me because I was trying to make her do her homework, she was a kid who was used to disappointment and pushed people away to protect herself.
I thought of Emily, of this experience recently as I heard an adoptive Mom talk about how her child didn’t seem to want visits with the birth family anymore. She was talking about her son acting up, not wanting to participate, pouting and objecting through the entire visit. What I might say may not be agreed with by others out there, but as I sat there and heard this, my thought wasn’t “Oh this child is having a hard time, maybe a step back is appropriate”. My thought was “sounds like this kid wants to push the limits and see if the birth parents keep showing up”. Maybe there is something else going on, but I think most of the time when a child is so adamant about pushing away an adult it seems to me that it’s not usually because they don’t need that person, it’s because they are starting to realize that they do need them and they want to push them away before the adult leaves. Maybe that’s oversimplified, but truthfully I’ve done the same thing as an adult in relationships, I have no doubt that a child who is struggling with trusting that people will stick with them wouldn’t use this kind of protection. Plus I know that an issue adult adoptees have talked about in the past is fear of abandonement, why would anyone think that fear wouldn’t be a major factor in their relationship with their birth parents.
As I look ahead I know there will be days where J won’t want me around – although there haven’t been visits where he’s been openly hostile with me, there have definitely been moments where he acted like he could care less that I was there. Lately this issues hasn’t been at the forefront, but that is not guarantee it will stay that way. And on those hard days where he makes it known he doesn’t want to be around me, I still show up. And I will keep coming. If I have any say I won’t cut back on how often visits are, I won’t cut visits short, even if J is adamant he doesn’t want the time with me, I’ll be there, I will show up, I will stick around, even if its hard for me, even if my son treats me poorly. I may spend hours sitting waiting for him to come around, and I acknowledge there may be days, months even that he never does. But it is my job to show up no matter what. And if he decides to see how much he needs to push me before I disappear, then it’s my job to show him there are no limits, if we plan a day I will be there, whether he’s nice to me or not, whether he acts like he wants me there or not. It’s my job to show him that I love him and there are no conditions on that love.
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.