So a friend of mine is doing a solo show about her experience as a original Mom and has gotten a bit of press about it. The latest of which was a piece written by her in Buzzfeed. Its a lovely article which she mentions me (I’m the unnamed other birth mother who also placed with gay parents and have ongoing contact, Look Mom, I’m Famous!).
I will say I read most of what Mariah writes about adoption, and I have seen her solo show twice (plus I may be going again with another original friend mom of mine, let me know if you’re near NYC and want to tag along). I could say its because I want to support her as a friend, but if I’m being honest its not just that. Time and again Mariah will bring something up that will give me more understanding of my own experience.
The truth is depending on what direction we look at each other, you may see us as very similar – we were both in our mid-late 20s when we gave birth, both lived in NYC, both worked in similar industries, had many mutual friends in fact, and both placed with Gay Dads in what was very open adoptions. She and I have similar sorts of contact and have in fact even had a little dinner party with both our sons and their parents.
On the other hand, we are very different. Mariah announced her pregnancy and plan to relinquish on facebook at 12 weeks, I did not do anything like that keeping this whole part of my life fairly private. She has brought a huge support system to adoption, surrounding herself with a community of people who love her and have been supportive and explaining to them what she is going through, I turned away from the small support system I had and instead approached most adoption things in my life on my own (including the actual birth), and when I have sought support it has been from strangers who don’t know me but do know adoption. She has always talked openly but mostly positively about adoption, I don’t see adoption as the best choice for me, I still see it as something I saw little choice in.
In any case, as I read her Buzzfeed article I came across something she said which really got me thinking. She said that she didn’t see any examples in her life (except me, remember, I’m famous!) of families that looked like hers.
It’s been isolating to be one of the only families of our kind that we know of, but I’ve also found it tremendously freeing. With virtually any other family relationship, you have cultural expectations and ample examples of how that relationship is supposed to function — but we can just make it up as we go.
After reading this I started to think about it a lot. I have always felt like not having examples in front of me was a detriment to M&P and myself. It just meant every step we took felt uncharted. It meant that I wasn’t always sure what I could or should make a big deal about, and what they wouldn’t care about. It felt like there was a lot of unease about certain things because we just didn’t know.
But maybe she was right, maybe there was the opposite being true. I see how opinionated people are about parenting – openly criticizing each other, imagine the same in the world of adoption where everyone in your life had an opinion. I wouldn’t have been able to see constant criticism on decisions I made. Since most of the world doesn’t quite understand what openness is, when I explain my version they just take it in, assume that is what it’s supposed to look like.
My son’s family came to my parents house after Christmas. We took family photos. We had a birthday party for my nephew. We went to a movie, went to the zoo, played lots of games, and watched a 45 minute reenactment of J’s school holiday show (he performed all the parts from inside a box because he was too shy to come out of). And all of this was normal. That’s what having no examples can do, it can mean no matter what, that what you are doing is right and normal and no one can judge otherwise.
But, it also means you’re alone and isolated in every decision. It means when I decide to edge our relationship in a certain direction that I don’t know what the possible outcomes are. Its even harder because the person I need to be most on board with the decisions is 6 years old and can’t always express his point of view on it all. So we are making decisions for him and hoping its for the best, we are going in with no instruction manual and just hoping this thing we built not only stays together but also lasts for a long time. It means we can make a huge mistake and there’s no one there saying “don’t worry, that happened with us to and it turned out okay”.
Its all a lot to think about, and hopefully I can expand more, but this post is getting a bit too long.
The Christmas season is upon us (can anyone believe its in less than a week??).
And today I sat down to write an email and am completely stymied on what to say.
There is something on the horizon that my family is trying to plan that has these weird entanglements in adoption – the family photo.
You see – M&P and J are going to visit my family right after Christmas. They are in the States as we speak, and instead of their usual post Christmas trip to Florida they seem to always take, they have decided to spend three days with my family at my parent’s house.
It means a lot to me that this is happening. It means a lot to my whole family. In part its because my nephew (who J has only met over skype) is turning 1 and so they will be able to attend the party.
My brother has decided as a present to my parents to hire a photographer to take pictures of my family the day before the party. They wanted to do it regardless but the fact M&P and J will be there gave them incentive and they specifically picked a date that would work for them as well.
So that’s where we are – my siblings, M&P and myself are on an email chain discussing the photo shoot – since its a present for my parents they aren’t involved yet. My SIL asked us all what photos we want to have taken – for instance they want one of their family, they want one of their son with J, they want one of their son with me (I’m the Godmother). Etc.
They asked everyone else to weigh in, M&P wrote back saying they would love a picture of the four of us and a picture of me with J and that J would be happy to take any other pictures we want.
So I started to write a response.
The thing is, I think someone needs to say out loud if the big family photo (the initial reason we are doing this) is going to include M&P or not so it doesn’t get awkward the day of (in part this might be why my SIL initiated the string). The reality if this conversation is going to happen now, over email, I will need to be the one to initiate it.
Here’s the thing – I’ve been in the situation before where P’s extended family was around and wanted a big group shot. I offered to take it. I wasn’t comfortable being in it. I am not really a part of that family. I sort of think M&P might feel the same way. I sort of think my parents or siblings might feel the same way, and although I would be happy to have a version of the family picture that included M&P, I totally understand having one that doesn’t include it. If one of my siblings or parents put up a picture in their office of our family, there’s no simple explanation of who those two men are. It’s not Nephew, Sister-in-law, Brother, Parents. Its a full sentence, if not a paragraph. For my family these two men aren’t related to them through marriage or biology, and honestly they barely know these two guys. I don’t think M&P would be upset in any way to not be in a group picture.
But then there’s the real concern. You see, when I offered to take the picture in when I was with P’s extended family, J through a fit. He said no, that I was his Mom and I needed to be in the picture. I tried, and he wouldn’t give in. The most ironic part is that P ended up taking the picture, so in the picture of almost all of P’s extended family, the one missing isn’t his son’s Mom, its him. I know J would want a family photo that includes all of his family that is there, and when he looks at it later he will be able to point out his Aunts and Uncles, Grandparents and Cousin, and for him he will want to be able to point to his three parents. And he has a right to. His family includes all these people.
Anyways, anyone out there deal with similar?
When Pokemon Go became the go to game this summer I downloaded it. I knew very little about Pokemon – I had babysat for kids who bought the cards years ago and that is the extent of my knowledge. But after reading a few people write about it, I thought I would give it a try. It took me two days to figure out what the heck the game was and what I was doing. And even then I didn’t really get the point or what the next step was even.
And after about a week I was a couple of levels in and not sure if I was going to keep playing.
Then I got on a plane to go visit J. It was middle of July, I was going there for two weeks. The first week I was there was was relaxing and a really good way to reconnect. Since J moved away I have always been better at in person with him than over skype or facetime. I have never really been able to crack how to keep his attention over the computer and I never really know what to say. But when we’re in the same place we can play and read and talk and I’m just better with him. We had a really nice visit, going site seeing and hanging out. And then the second week came and Niantic released Pokemon Go in Asia. I had five days left on my visit when it came out there.
I started playing again, but in a limited way, I didn’t have a data plan there so I could only play when I was in a wifi area. But I still showed J a little of what I was doing – I played in their apartment (there are three pokestops within reach of where they live) and he got excited about the creatures we were catching. Then on my last day there, his Dad and I went out with J and while we were out his Dad agreed to turn on a mobile hotspot so we could play the game for real. J seem really invested, I went to a gym for the first time, we walked around a lot until we hatched the eggs we were incubating.
As I said goodbye J and I struck a deal. He was going on a trip with his Dads a week after my visit and I told him if he told me all about his trip then I would send him pictures of all the Pokemon I caught.
I didn’t realize that deal was a big deal.
When I got home, I started playing in earnest, even going places just to play Pokemon. I don’t really know if I have been enjoying playing the game or just catching more pokemon that I can then send to J. I got excited for a couple weeks, sending him pictures every 4-5 days. Then I sort of dropped off (I was still playing a little but not really sending pictures to J), I knew he was back from his trip and in school, I was catching less each day and I hadn’t really gotten a response so I thought J might have lost interest.
Then today I left work and stopped at a park to walk around a bit and catch a few pokemon. When I got there I also got a text from J’s Dad asking if I could facetime and as I was looking to facetime I saw they had also emailed. Actually J had sent the message – he wanted to assure me he sent A LOT of cards from his trip and now he had pokemon questions and wanted to know if I had more pictures. And when I didn’t respond to his email in 10 minutes his Dad asked if we could facetime – he needed the answers to his questions and didn’t want to wait.
We talked for 48 minutes today. We talked a little about school, but mostly we talked about Pokemon. He told me stories, he asked me questions. I told him what my favorite creature for fighting was (Muk) and which one I thought was the prettiest (Ninetails), I told him how I was excited while I was in Asia I caught the FarFetch’d since its impossible to catch here. And after this long conversation over multiple media (I had data problems and they had VOIP problems) I finally told him I had to go because it was dark in the park and I still wanted to walk around a bit and then had to eat dinner. I’m pretty sure he would have talked to me another 45 minutes if I had let him. For the first time over the phone/skype he didn’t walk away, he didn’t get distracted, he didn’t seem bored.
Then I got home and found the first postcard from his travels. Obviously written by his Dad but the words were his, talking about their first day of their trip. I’m excited to have more on the way. I then wrote him an email. I sent all the pictures, talked about some of them – what evolved from what, which ones were my favorite. I told him I would send them as I got more but that how many more I catch will be less and less since there are only so many out there (which includes many very hard to catch and several which I need a lot more to evolve them).
The difference between our communication before my trip and after is hugely different. Suddenly it feels like he’s not so far away, that I can talk to him and we can write and we can facetime and all of it can work for us. I wouldn’t have guessed that Pokemon would have drastically changed our relationship, but today it feels like it has.
If that means I will be the last woman over the age of 30 hunting pokemon, then I will. If that means I dedicate nights to going to parks and playing this game I will. Because we have found this thing that connects us, across timezones and oceans, and its okay that its a random game.
I don’t know if he’ll stay interested, I don’t know if I will. But I do know something seemed different today than it did before. I feel like today was the first day that my son and I were successful having a long distance relationship with each other. We figured out in person a long time ago, but today with the help of Pokemon we took a major step towards cracking the long distance thing.
So J is six today.
Its been a hard week. I can’t really explain to people what it feels like, the truth is there are moments where he as a baby feels so far away, and other moments where I don’t recognize this life because it feels like it came out of nowhere and that just a second ago I was peeing on a stick.
I look at who J is today, who he was as a baby and all the complexities of it all and when I try to explain it I just see it as a path in the woods (if you have read any of my blog you may recognize my love for metaphors, sorry but I have another one for you).
The birth of J started out a path in the woods, it was following the terrain and made by the natural progression of everything around it. The path for his life was laid out in front of us, but it was scary for me, uncharted terrain, it looked dark and unforgiving, I was so afraid that if we took that path we would be bruised and battered by the end, that is if were were able to even successfully find our way through. Its funny because before that it was the same path I had been on, and I found the uncharted feel exciting, I found that it never seemed to matter who fast I was moving forward because I was enjoying every tree along the way. I loved my rarely taken path, the one where you could barely tell where you should walk next. It wasn’t until I knew I had to get a second person through the brambles that the darkness and mystery of what was to come seemed scary instead of exciting. Knowing I would need to make sure J got safely through seemed an impossible task on my own, I needed a guide, I knew I couldn’t do it on my own, not if I was going to keep him safe.
When I relinquished my rights, it was a decision to abandon the path we were on, to entrust him to M&P who were on a man made path. It looked like it went in the same direction as the path we had been on, but it also looked like it was made to get to the finish line, it was safe and clear and J would be much less likely to get bruised and battered along the way. It seemed at the time that the man made path was the only sensible option – the other path was dark and unknown, it looked dangerous and there weren’t any guides around to help us through it. And when J switched paths it meant I veered off too. I needed to stay closer to J’s new path. I lost the place I was and instead tried to find a way to keep up with M&P but still stay a little off the beaten path.
Now six years have passed, my new path and J’s often converge, he is charging down his path, with his Dads near him he has excelled. Most of the time I can’t believe how quickly he is growing. I’m so proud of him and of who he is and I love this little boy so so much.
But I wonder sometimes about the other path, the one we left. I wonder if that path was really unsafe, or if it was just unexplored. I wonder if it would have held the sort of magic of the unknown, maybe stumbling upon animals or finding a beautiful grove. I idealize it most of the time, thinking about how amazing it could have been. I know it was as likely that the path would be like that time I was 10 when I cut through the woods and was swarmed by mosquitoes who not only bit my arms and legs but my eyeball and I couldn’t open one of my eyes for a week. I know that my fear of the darkness and the unknown was in some ways justified, it was as likely for us to fall off a cliff as to stumble upon a grove. I know it might have been fine but it also might have not been, and I know I need to be okay with the fact that 6 years ago I wasn’t willing to make that gamble, I wasn’t willing to keep going without help.
I wish I could make sense of the world I live in more. I wish it was more clear cut for me, I hear some mothers who relinquish talk about being sure this was the right choice, I hear others who are filled with regret and are sure it was the wrong choice. I feel constantly caught in the middle. I don’t know if I saved my boy from a horrible fate, or if I put him on a path because it was easy and kept him from a life of seeing animals and exploring groves. Its my little boy’s 6th birthday for 25 more minutes and I sit alone. He had a cake and dressed like Darth Vader, he has an amazing party planned for a couple days from now, he is loved beyond measure by everyone he knows. I would be happy to sit alone today if I knew that the path he is on is the best one for him. But I don’t know that. And honestly if I knew that I made the wrong choice I might even be able to galvanize behind that. I could feel regret and anger and that would be okay.People ask me if I would do things the same given what I know now, I don’t have an answer for that. I wish I knew. I’m pretty sure I never will.
Its been a hard week. And I don’t expect it to ever get any easier.
I was contacted by people who are currently doing a study to research what current counseling practices are for those who relinquish their child. They are asking anyone who fits their criteria to take a survey about their experience to be included in this study. Why is this so important? Because I think as a whole pre-birth counseling provided to women (and men) considering adoption is more often than not a failure – too often true options counseling isn’t provided. The way to change that is to find out what current practices are and then compile what they should be. If agencies (no matter how ethical) are only using their own criteria to measure how successful they are in providing true options counseling they will always deem themselves successful and will not push to do better. But creating such criteria can only happen if people from all areas and experiences participate. So take the 20 minutes to fill this out if you fit the criteria.
Here’s the information from the researchers:
Dear Birth Parents,
You are invited to take part in a research study about the experiences of birth parents in the United States who have placed a child for adoption. The study aims to investigate the context and effectiveness of counseling practices offered to birth parents prior to placement. The survey is expected to take approximately 20-25 minutes.
Eligibility: Women and men who have relinquished a child for adoption in the United States during the last 25 years (after 1989) and who are over the age of 18 years of age.
Compensation: If you complete the survey, you will be entered into a drawing to win one of six $100 gift cards when the survey concludes. By following the link below and completing the survey, you confirm that you are 18 years of age or older, have read this document, and agree to participate in the study.
Benefit to You: Your will have an opportunity to speak about your experience. This will help us to identify gaps in existing practices and help us to develop better approaches to helping birth parents through the adoption process.
To participate in the survey, please follow this link (from this document, hold the Ctrl key and click the link OR copy and paste the link into your browser):
Information gained in this survey will be completely confidential. That is, no individuals will be identified in the results or reports that come from the study. If you questions about participating in this study, please contact the researchers directly via email or phone: Elissa Madden, PhD –(254) 723-4545 or email@example.com. Please note that this study has been approved by the University of Texas at Arlington Institutional Review Board (IRB# 2016-0174).
We sincerely appreciate your time and effort to help establish better practices and make a difference in the experiences of other birth parents.
Elissa Madden, PhD, LMSW
School of Social Work
University of Texas at Arlington