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
I can’t believe October is almost over. It has steam-rolled over me as it has done for the last six years.
It was six years ago in October I found out I was pregnant. I was working at a new job, a job that I still work at. That job has a large project that happens every October. So every year I work on a similar project every year at this time. It makes me remember then, every year memories are brought to the surface. And I’m also so overwhelmed by the work that I don’t actually time to deal with those memories and emotions. October tends to be one of the months where I just need to get to the other side.
This October has had some additional things that have come up.
First the Halloween costume. For those who are regular blog readers you may remember that four years ago i was asked to make a Halloween costume. At the time I was broke and busy, but as is basically always the case, I cant’ say no to my son and his family. So I spent a lot of time to figure out how to make a cow costume for a child when I didn’t know his size and didn’t have him in front of me. This was the beginning of the tradition – since then each year I got an email or text sometime between Sept and beginning of October telling me what he wants to be. Last year was tricky, I was super busy and wasn’t sure I would have the time. So I made portions of his costume and left the rest to his Dads and the costume store. I honestly thought when they moved I would escape this tradition, that he wouldn’t need a costume anymore. I was wrong.
I facetimed with them at the end of Sept (ish) and after J saw my face and talked to me, they got off the call and all he could talk about was what he wanted to be for Halloween. I got a text the next day – telling me that J wanted me to make him a phoenix costume. I was also told that they warned him I might not be able to because I lived so far away, but they promised they would ask.
I didn’t say no, instead I spent a lot of money and time I didn’t have making a costume and shipping it overseas. I have no idea if it will fit, if it will work. I don’t know if he’ll like it. But I know this year I didn’t disappoint him by telling him he was too far away and that it was too hard and too expensive to make it for him. And I know he’ll have a costume that has a lot of feathers and hopefully will be exactly what he imagined.
The second thing is I was asked (and agreed) to speak publicly about adoption. I’ve done panels before – they’ve been very specific and directed. I haven’t done anything open to the public before. This is something new. I’m pretty nervous. I don’t know how the evening will go, if I’ll know what to say, if my story will be heard, will be understood. But I think its important that the voices of original parents are out there in the world. I think it’s important that our stories are being told. I’m not sure if I am the right person for this, but I also wouldn’t turn down something like this because its not in my comfort zone. Like the first time I agreed to make a Halloween costume – sometimes you have to go outside of what you are comfortable with and what you know you can do. I guess that’s really what my October is about.
PS if you leave in or near NYC and may want to spend an evening this coming week seeing a panel I’m on let me know (email me or leave a comment), I’ll send you the details. I would love to have a few friendly faces in the audience (and even if we’ve never met I’d love to have you there).
I’ve been thinking a lot about that word since J’s visit. I was thinking about it even more this morning when I read an article my son’s Dad posted. It can be so simple in this article, and yet, as I think back to the three weeks where I was spending lots of time with J and his family, I wondered was it so simple for me?
There was a moment where I was swimming with J a couple weeks back, I had been in the pool with him and his cousins and they had retreated, while J was still going strong. He liked to be in contact with me, jumping on my back, letting me throw him in the air, just playing. At one point I looked up and saw a friend of my son’s family looking at us. This is a man who has been around me quite a bit – he is best friends to M&P and that meant he was around for many of the parties and events I attended. But usually at those things I’m not interacting as much with J, usually he has cousins and friends around and I take the opportunity to talk with the adults in his life, so thinking back I’m not sure how much this man has seen me so purely and lovingly focused on my son. As I watched him watch me I saw in his expression something like awe. Awe because I think he understood just then that J is my family, I am his, we are connected. Having someone in my son’s life look at us that way, with such approval for the relationship we have, it made me feel so completely accepted. I always felt like my son’s Dads gave J permission to love me from day one. I know it sounds odd to say a child needs permission by his parents to love someone, especially if that someone is their biological parent. But more and more I think they do. If they don’t receive that permission then they will worry about really letting the love they have for that biological parent show, they will want to protect their parents and so they will try to shut down those connections (or hide them). The fact my son’s Dads always embraced me in their lives allowed my son to develop his own relationship with me without worrying about them. But what I’ve realized recently is how completely that has transcended beyond just my son’s Dads. Both their families have embraced me as part of J’s life and as part of theirs. They celebrate my relationship with J, maybe its in small ways, but simple things like referring to me as J’s Mom (both to describe my relationship and as an alternative to my name) means they accept that relationship. The fact they seem excited that I kept showing up for things while J was in town instead of any sort of annoyance that I was infringing on their time with J. The fact they were surprised the couple of times I wasn’t coming to something. The fact they have fully embraced me as part of J’s family has made it that much easier and seamless for J.
In building a relationship with my son, I have built relationships with his family as well. J and his family are really important to me and do take up a big part of my life; I feel embraced by people who live near me, people who are happy to have me around and I have embraced them back.
But I don’t think I’ve accepted the idea that everyone in J’s family is in my family. I love that he has this large extended family that has accepted me. But on the very last event I had with M&P, it was an adults only birthday party, a friend of M&P was walking around taking photos. He came up to me, I was sitting at the end of a string of tables that were P’s family. The photographer said “So these guys are the family?” I pointed to the ones that were around and explained a little about who they all were. Then he looked at me and said “are you family?” And I said, “no, not really”. I actually think if J had been there I would have probably answered differently. But the real truth is I feel connected to those people, but through J. He is my connection to all of them. The people at the table were J’s relatives, not mine.
I completely accept J’s family looks different than some other peoples, I accept that I’m a part of his family, I am part of the picture and I happily embrace that. But should I accept that I’m part of more than his family, that I’m family to M&P, to J’s Auntie, Grandma, Aunts and Uncles? There’s not word to describe my relationship to J’s Grandma, I’m not one of her kids, I’m not even married to one of them. Its that lack of language that in part has always made me think I wasn’t really family to them.
So yea, that’s been on my mind a lot, that word, the meaning behind it. I guess at the end of the day I have lots of people in my life including J’s family who I embrace, who I care about, and who embrace me back. That’s what matters to me, and hopefully to them.
Since I never post anymore, those of you who do follow my blog probably don’t know, but it’s been a pretty crazy four weeks for me. First, J has been in town for the last 3 weeks and 2 days. I’ve seen him a lot in that time, we’ve done a lot together. I have seen many of his family and friends as well. His Dads made the most of his time here making sure he got to spend lots of time with lots of people who love him, especially me.
His visit isn’t the only thing that made the last month eventful – I also talked to JD (J’s bio father) for the first time in awhile, he sort of popped up after more than a year of absence. Every time he sort of goes away I think its the end, and then he shows up again. He is hurting, I know he hasn’t really allowed himself to deal with the adoption much, I think he tries to just shove it aside and it seems like that almost works for him. Except sometimes it pops back up to the surface, I think those are the times he reaches out to me. As we get farther along in years, those moments are farther apart, this time it was something like 20 months since the last time I talked to him, who knows how long until I see him after this. But I have started to accept that he will probably never totally go away from my life.
The other big thing is my brother and his wife came to visit me while J was here so my bro got to meet J for the first time. It was a really great visit and I’m so glad it happened. It did bring a lot of feelings to the surface and my brother and I are processing a lot in our relationship. I haven’t quite decided how much of the things that have come up with him and myself are things that I’m comfortable sharing on here. It’s hard because I think some of the difficult parts of this are important to put out there and talk about, not only because there are a lot of smart people in the adoption community who have really interesting perspectives but also because the issues we’re dealing with are ones I think a lot of people might go through and feeling not alone in this for me and others can be a powerful means to getting through things. But I’m finding it difficult because it just feels like invading on my brother’s life. So I’m going to mull it over a bit more and may choose to talk more about it later.
But what I will talk about is the visit. I have to say, long distance in openness is a completely different beast than the local openness I spent the first 4.5 years living with. I think what I’ve realized though is that doesn’t mean its worse, or better, just really really different. My son was here for 23 days this visit, and during that time I saw him 7 times, I saw him every single Thursday he was here and once each weekend he was here. Many of the visits lasted most of the day, and the few that didn’t were all because I had to go back to work after having taken a morning off. In fact I’m pretty sure if I wanted to take more time off work I could have spent more days with J. I also spent a lot of time with J’s extended family and friend network. I saw many of them more in the past three weeks then I have in any given year total up to this point. I met new people, people whose names I had heard for years but never got the chance to meet, and now I have.
I got to do a lot with J – and I’m happy about that. I reveled in my time together. I played hard with my son (and his cousins), swimming for what felt like hours, having epic pillow fights, playing board games, and coming up with so many stories. I actually think because it was so concentrated J is more likely to remember that I was around for it, maybe he won’t remember the specifics – us climbing rocks in the park or playing in the waves on the beach, but I do think when he talks about visiting NYC he’ll remember I was there for it, just like his aunts and uncles, his cousins and grandparents.
Him being far away not only meant we had concentrated time together, but it also meant that I felt okay continuing to ask for more. I didn’t feel bad about going to visit their vacation house three times in the week they were at the beach. I didn’t worry about asking for one more visit with J before they left, even though I had just seen him days before. Because I know there is a finite amount of time where seeing him is possible and that I need to make the most of it. Everyone gets that J needs time with me around, and everyone is willing to make that happen.
So there is a lot of good in this new long distance thing.
But there is hard too. It was one thing when I took off a week of work and went to visit J and family at their new home this past winter. I left my life in NYC for a week and focused on J and spending time with him. But this was different. This was a long period of time where I sort of put everything in my life on the back burner to make room for J while he was here, but my life here was still bubbling away. I took off work. I gave up every free weekend day to spend it with J. I made sure I had time. But that was at the detriment of other parts of my life. I was stressed about working and checking my email while on a visit, I worried about getting laundry done while still having a visit over the weekend, I still had to live my life even though all I wanted to do was see my kid. And combine that with the fact that while J was here, my days were emotionally charged. It put me in a mood most everyday.
I’m sure any of you out there who have gone through open adoption visits know the overwhelming feeling they can bring. And I had gotten sort of used to it. I would feel the feelings, go to a visit, come home, sometimes become a hermit for a couple hours, and then go about life knowing in a month or two I would see J again, but until then I could live my life. I knew the drill and I could do the drill. But this, 3 straight weeks of having constant communication, of seeing them often, talking to them often, knowing most of what they are doing on any given day. And feeling these overwhelming feelings everyday for three + weeks. It was hard. It’s a whole new thing. Something that may take some real time to get used to.
J has started talking about how saying goodbye to people is sad, but that even though he’s sad, he’s also happy. He’s sad to say goodbye to all those he loves in NYC but he’s happy to go home. I guess its good he’s learning that you don’t have to only feel one emotion at a time in this life, because if adoption has drilled one thing into me it’s that often even the most wonderful moments can feel sad, and the times you feel loss the most can be those same instances where you find small instances of joy. Loss and Love, Joy and Sadness, it can all exist, interwoven, messy, complicated.
So yesterday I said goodbye, to J, to his parents, to his extended family. It was sad, but it was only as sad as it was because the memories of this amazing time with him are right there showing me how amazing this little boy is that I will miss so much. I’m not sure exactly when I’ll see J again, I’m hoping to figure out some things in December to meet them at the place they are staying for Christmas, I’m hoping to visit them again in March around Easter, but both of these are just possibilities and will require my schedule working out with theirs so I’m not yet sure what will happen yet. The only thing I know for sure is J won’t be back in NYC until July of 2016. That is a very long time. But it will be okay, I will be okay. Because I’ve had three amazing almost perfect weeks where I got to breathe in my not so little boy and enjoy him completely and it only happened because he’s so far away.