Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I'm in no real position to be giving advice...

But I'm going to anyways.

I love talking openly about our adoption process. In fact I love talking openly about just about anything. I'm an external processor, not an unusual trait in bloggers I would imagine.

So it's a common scenario these days: I'm talking with someone I know fairly well but am not super intimate with and mention, off-hand, something about "the baby."

"Oh!" Said person's eyes light up. "Are you pregnant??"

"Nope!" I reply with a twinkle in my eye, "We're adopting." Always followed with a grin. Then I take a mental breath and watch the other person process this unexpected information.

I like this exchange. In part because I like doing things that are different, that might surprise other people. But I also like it because I learn something about the person I'm talking to, every time. Are they someone who wants to relate to my experience? Do they have their own ideas about adoption that will shine through here? How do they respond in a situation that is unexpected, such as this? I'm always curious to know - and informed by the responses I get. It's not a test, there is no particular response I'm expecting or looking for, but this exchange has proven a wonderful way for me to learn a little more about the people in my life.

Our culture isn't quite sure what to do about adoption just yet. We don't have a pre-written culturally scripted response for the "We're adopting" announcement. When someone, especially a stable and partnered someone, announces a pregnancy everyone knows what to do. There is congratulating, even squealing and jumping if you're the squeal-and-jump type. (I will admit to having partaken myself upon occasion.) If one is already a parent, then a pregnancy announcement is a good time to impart a little pregnancy wisdom, ask how far along and, if you're close enough, talk about birthing plans and whatnot. Since pregnancy is the primary way in which people build families, when someone is pregnant we as a society generally know what to do.

This isn't so much the case with adoption. It's hard to know how to respond. So I thought I'd jot down some things I've noticed for this, both for those who know and want to support pre-adoptive parents, and for those who are in the adoption process and dread the sometimes awkward exchange that follows the "we're adopting" annoucement.

When someone tells you "we're adopting":

  • Focus on the adoption process, and be interested in and happy for that. Unlike pregnancy, adoption is always preceded by some sort of extensive planning process. For some adoptive parents that process begins by choosing not to have biological children, for others it is having that choice made for them by infertility. But that's not what matters. By the time they're telling everyone that an adoption is imminent, adoptive parents have all made the same choice - to adopt. And we want what every expectant parent wants: for our loved ones to share in our excitement and show interest and support in the way we are choosing to build our family.
  • It's okay if you don't know anything about what they are going through. If you are genuinely curious - ask! Since most people don't adopt, it may be that the adoptive parent you know is eager to talk to someone about his or her experience. If you're not that interested, don't sweat it, that's okay too. Just be happy for your friend and move on.
  • Don't compare adoption to pregnancy. These are two different processes. An expectant adoptive mom isn't pregnant any more than any expectant dad is. Making a lot of comparisons (it's like you're in your second trimester, kind of...) can imply that the adoptive experience is only valuable as it compares or relates to the pregnancy experience. A woman who is adopting isn't pretending she is pregnant and then pretending she gives birth. She is really becoming a mother, through a different and equally valid process. Also, someone is giving birth to the child she is adopting, or has. The birth/first mother is a real person who is really pregnant, and part of the adoption experience.
  • Avoid mention of that person you know who got pregnant right after she adopted. Everyone knows someone, or someone's cousin, or someone's brother-in-law's college roommate's first wife who adopted a baby and immediately got pregnant. It's a good story. But choosing to tell it to someone who is on the brink of adopting can imply that they don't know what they're doing and/or that the likelihood of an unexpected biological child is a good reason to adopt. It can also imply that adoption is a second-best option, only if you can't have "your own." The research that has been done shows conclusively that people who adopt after infertility are no more likely to get unexpectedly pregnant than those who do not adopt. It's quite rare for both groups. But we notice the exceptions, don't we? So and so adopted a child and then they adopted another child and then they raised those two children to adulthood is a much less interesting and noticeable story than the day they adopted Mikey, so and so found out they were pregnant! It's fine to tell that story, too. Just tell it another time. That is most likely not going to be this expectant adoptive mother's experience. That is not why she is adopting.

When you tell someone "We're adopting!"

  • Know that they care about you and want to say the right thing. By the time you're telling everyone, probably, you've made your choice and hopefully you have done a lot of personal work around that choice. But your friends and acquaintances haven't been on that road with you. Remember all the questions you had, internal and external, about adoption before you knew anything about it and don't hold your friends to a higher bar than you would have held yourself before the idea of adopting first crossed your mind.
  • Help them find common ground. My tendency is to either overwhelm innocent well-wishers with details of our process, or to launch into a sermon on whatever new piece of research or adoptive parenting advice I have added to my toolbox. But it's hard for people to relate to a giant wave of new information. It's easier for people to relate to things that are familiar - and while the differences in adoption are important, they're really just a small part of preparing to become a parent. Talk about cloth vs. disposables, or the pros and cons of attachment parenting and co-sleeping, what crib to buy, or whats going to happen with time off work and daycare. You know you're obsessed with all that stuff too, just like any expectant parent, and it's not hard for people to relate to - or get excited about - that sort of common ground.
  • Accept that you are going to hear the story about the person who got pregnant right after they adopted and get over it. Yes, maybe infertility didn't precede your adoption decision. Yes, it's annoying to hear that particular urban legend repeated over and over and yes it is frustrating to hear something you know isn't true - adopting makes getting pregnant easier - over and over. Especially if you've worked long and hard to grieve your inability to get pregnant and move on. Especially if you have strong personal opinions on why pregnancy isn't for you. BUT. This is the only story many people know about adoption. This is an attempt to relate to you - you are hearing this story because someone who cares about you heard it and it made them think of you, or it's coming to their mind now because they are thinking of you. Try to hear what's really being said, and realize that as an adoptive parent this is just the beginning of experiences where someone well meaning who probably loves you inadvertently puts their foot in their mouth.
  • Get used to being an ambassador for difference. The way I see it, especially if your adoption is across racial lines, part of the job of adoptive families is to advocate for something different in the world. This means being someone whose family isn't always perceived as normal, or comfortable to others. Our families are based on the idea that love is more important than biology. That's a radical thing. We'll be swimming upstream with that one pretty much the whole time.

Okay. I'm done with my preaching for the week. Carry on, and consider yourself advised!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

5 and 0.

Friday marked the fifth time (that we are aware of) that we have been shown and not been chosen. Or, I should say, that our profile was shown to someone who was not our birthmother, not our baby's first mother.

It's okay.

There is a familiar drop in my stomach, a quick numbness, and then I realize that I have skills for dealing with disappointment. I have more skills, even, that I need for this. Believe it or not, I have been rejected before. Believe it or not, as I take the deep breath and back away from the computer for a moment after reading the email, I'm grateful for those other experiences of rejection. I am, almost, proud of them.

Look, I tell my extremely awkward and lonely adolescence. I hated you when you were here, but without you I wouldn't have been ready for this.

Look, I tell the love life of my early twenties, you broke my heart over and over. And taught me that I'd rather be broken for risking than whole and wondering what if. Thanks to you, I am fully aware of how good I've got it now. (and that I can get through heartache. That it pays off at the end of the day.)

Look, I tell the crisis of faith of my college years, I felt flat and lost when you were with me. But without you I wouldn't know that faith can heal like a broken bone, stronger than before. That relationship with the Divine is no different than any other relationship. I have to let it be what it really is, and let the projections and pretenses go, or I'll lose the whole damn thing.

So, suffice to say, I hope we don't go much higher than 5 and 0. I hope we know something (anything!) about our baby soon. But - tempting fate, I realize - I can take more than this.

I'll go 150-0 if I have to, to find you, little one. I can be lonely longer, if I need to, to find the one and only you. My heart can keep right on breaking. And I've got the faith to let you be who you are, to arrive when you get here, and peace to rest in through my impatience while your dad and I find our way to you.

5 and 0, psh. I'm tough enough.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Question on Fees (a bit of a ramble..)

As usual, my heart did it's familiar flippity flop when I saw Liz's name in my inbox. But the title of her email left me feeling unsure of whether or not to be excited. The subject line read "Question on Fees." What did this mean? These days anything to do with money causes my stress levels to rise, and my tummy to take it's own crack at the flippity-flop.

Turns out what this meant was that Liz wanted to show our profile to a birth mother whose adoption would be more expensive than what we had originally planned for. Because of the grant program we're participating in the actual cost increase for us would be negligible, so we gave her the go ahead to put our book in the stack. But I don't think it will ever stop being odd to me that some babies are more expensive than others to adopt.

This baby is bi-racial, instead of 100% African American, whatever that means. Well, I know what it means, but it still freaks me out that it costs more. White babies, of course, cost the most. This is not why we are adopting transracially. But the system is designed this way so that more people will consider adopting black and brown children.

To be clear - all adoptions cost a certain amount of money, regardless of race. The actual, real money it costs might vary by state or agency, but not by race or ethnicity. For example, in states where there is good public health insurance available for low income pregnant women costs are less, because the agency/adoptive parents don't have to pay for prenatal care and hospital fees. Of course, the government is paying for them, in that case, so the cost is still there. And depending on the individual costs for the agency - salaries for social workers, travel fees, etc. which usually reflect things like cost of living in different areas, the amount of overhead an agency needs in order to stay afloat affects the costs to complete a good and ethical adoption. These are real costs, and no one is making a profit. The goal of a good adoption agency is to find good homes for the children they are working for, and so in order to do this, the agencies charge less than the actual costs for harder-to-adopt children and babies so that families who want to adopt but can't afford it (like us) have options. And, to make it up, they charge more than actual costs for the easier-to-adopt children and babies. The fact that race is one of the main factors, along with age, gender, and special needs, in what makes a baby or child more or less difficult to find adoptive parents for is a reflection on our culture, not on the agencies themselves.*

There is so much going on in this dynamic that it's almost impossible to unpack, even if I was able to get emotional distance from it, which is frankly impossible. It looks, from the outside, as if black and brown babies are the least valuable, which is just not true. This is the knee-jerk reaction we had, the first time we were exposed to this sort of pricing and this is the knee-jerk reaction that most of the people I talk to have. Indignation and disgust are common emotional responses. I agree. Yet, without these financial incentives we would not be able to afford adoption.

I'm not going to pretend that this dynamic isn't disturbing, or that it is okay. In an ideal world no babies would need to be adopted, or there would be no-cost very open ways to facilitate adoptions. But this is our world, where things like race, gender, economic status, physical ability, and location in the world do make a difference in how culture assigns value to individual people. The system is flawed. And Andrew and I on our own cannot change it.

But maybe our family can be part of making it change. I'm not naive enough to think that we can keep our little family unit insulated from the racism and judgement of our broader culture, but I am naive enough to be determined to build a family that both deals openly with that reality and works hard to reject the values that we know are morally wrong, such as racism and consumerism. Money isn't the most important indicator of value in our family. Neither is economic status, or physical ability or gender. Race and ethnicity, while vital and important parts of who we are that shouldn't be dismissed, ignored, or diminished, do not in and of themselves indicate how valuable, special, or important someone is. And our best hope for changing this system is our kids, who have the very best chance to do something totally different in the world.

So yes, this whole money thing makes me uncomfortable. But there is a lot about adoption that makes me uncomfortable. I do not think that is a bad thing. In fact, I expect that as I become a parent and begin to see the world from the position of advocate for my child as well as for my husband and myself there will be a lot that I see out there that makes me uncomfortable. I hope I have the courage to notice it, to encounter it, and to make good decisions about when to work with that uncomfortable world, when to reject it, and when to focus on being, and raising up a family that will be, change in it.


*I should note that I not an expert on adoption, these are my impressions and not a representation of cold hard facts.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Reading List

Okay, my sweet internet friend Emily asked me to send her my reading list, but I thought I'd just start a post where I keep track of it. This way I can add and subtract stuff, link to reviews I write, assign stars or whatever ratings system I decide on, etc. I'll add a link to this entry on the sidebar so folks can find it easily.

This is my starting place, a place to keep track of stuff. I'd love to get recommendations to add to the list. I'll do my best to review books once I've finished them or finished with them (as realistically I might put some aside without reading every word).

Infant Care
Happiest Baby on the Block(read - review forthcoming!)
What to Expect the First Year(have yet to purchase)
The Baby Book by Dr. Sears(have yet to purchase.)
Adoption
Raising Adopted Children (in the pile)
Real Parents, Real Children(in the pile)
Adoption Nation(to get from library)
Attaching in Adoption(to get from library)


Transracial Adoption/Transracial Families
Inside Transracial Adoption(reading now..)
I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla(to get from library)

Race/Racial Identity
Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?(to get from library)
Learning to Be White (to get from library)

This is what's on my radar screen at the moment. What's missing?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

marking the time..

Easter was exhausting and wonderful - you can read more about it on my non-adoption blog here.

So now what? I'll admit, there is a part of me that thought we would surely be matched by Easter. I'm a person who looks for significance everywhere, for patterns of meaning, and often I find them. When our birthdaversary passed with no baby I thought okay, surely by Easter then. It's silly, I know. Our profile hasn't even been out for three months yet, and three months is the beginning of the average wait time for our agency. We want to think we're so very special that we'd be snatched up the instant our profile got out there - or I do rather.

Andrew looks at me wryly and says "Babe, I am sure that every couple thinks that."

Thank goodness for a voice of sanity in the house!

"Of course darling," I respond. "You're right." Maybe we are too special to get picked right away, I console myself. Maybe it will take a rare and wonderful extraordinary birth mom to pick us!

Andrew laughs. "Maybe so." And he hugs me.

"Oh," I say into his chest. "Did I say that out loud?"

But there is something really special about this waiting time. Somewhere out there is a moment when everything is going to change. Between now and then are the last months, weeks, or days when I will have the luxury of focusing my life on my own personal goals first and foremost. So - what am I going to do with this time? I have some ideas.

1. Couch to 5k. I'm not as fit as I want to be. In fact, the only time in my life when I have been as fit as I want to be I was drumming several hours a week. Looking back, I realize that was exercise (something I hate) disguised as fun. I'm wondering if I'm grown up enough now to do exercise just because I should. Plus, since the invention of ipods even something I hate can be made sort of fun. So I'm now on week 2 of this training program, and so far I don't hate it so much! At the end I should be able to run 3 miles a few times a week and maybe even fit into some of the clothes from my rock-star days. AND - I'll be eight weeks closer to meeting our baby.

2. Career Development: I have a grad school application to get in the mail this week, and several teaching and consulting projects coming up, not to mention getting accredited as a Godly Play teacher and some biggish projects at my full time job. All this will keep me going full steam ahead into July, if I'm honest with myself. I need to do the very best I can juggling all of this now, so I can earn the slack I'll need when we do get matched. I think one of the best decisions we've made is to not stop doing anything until we have a baby, to keep living life the way we tend to do. Which is not very tentatively, and not in a manner that leaves a lot of time to sit around and wistfully wonder when we'll be matched with a babe.

3. Do something about that reading list. I have, with the help of many of you, amassed a gigantic list of books to acquire, skim, read, and internalize on the topics of adoption, transracial adoption, racism, infant care, child development and much more. Some of these are already in hand, piled next to my nightstand and silently pleading with me for attention when I fall into bed at night. I'd like to schedule reading time into my day - and to use the time I spend riding the bus to and from work to augment that. Always have a book in hand!

That's a good start, I think. There's also some sewing projects I'd like to get into for spring and summer - I want to make Andrew some new pants and myself some summer shirts and skirts. But I think I'll save those for July and on - if we're still waiting.

What about the rest of you - if you're waiting, or have waited, what is/was your strategy?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Stuff White People Do

One of my favorite blogs, Anti-Racist Parent, posted a link to a blog that I wasn't aware of but am glad to find. It's called Stuff White People Do. (Not to be confused with Stuff White People Like, a different blog entirely.) The blogger is a white male, and the few articles I have skimmed seem to be insightful commentary on white experience - how we are shaped, harmed, and twisted by racism and the "white" part we are trained to play.

The latest post (which is a re-run I understand), entitled Teach Their Children to Act White quotes a book by Lillian Smith, a memoir about growing up as a white Southerner during the early 20th century. An excerpt:

I began to understand, slowly at first but more clearly as the years passed, that the warped, distorted frame we have put around every Negro child from birth is around every white child also. Each is on a different side of the frame but each is pinioned there. And I knew that what cruelly shapes and cripples the personality of one is as cruelly shaping and crippling the personality of the other.


SWPD goes on to quote a list of ways Smith highlights that people are raised to be white, here's a tidbit of it:

4. You are an individual who is responsible for your own actions and accomplishments; your own racial membership is not a factor in your life. Nobody tells you that your race has anything to do with who and what you are, nor with what you achieve (nevertheless, as you might learn later in life, it does). The rules for white conduct are not explicitly stated as such, and you instead learn what you supposedly are as a white person by learning what other people supposedly are. The characteristics displayed by figures who are presented to you as “black,” “Indian,” “Mexican,” and so on, help to define what you are by defining what you are not.

5. At the same time, your race does matter, and you should be proud of it. It was people like you who “revolted” against England and then “settled” the land, people like you who “built this country” into “a nation of immigrants.” And it’s people like you whose faces almost always occupy the various center stages placed in front of you, where lights shine on them as the makers of history, the captains of industry, the writers of books, the doctors of medicine, the inventors of inventions, the scientists of science, the psychologists of psychology, the movie stars of movies, the TV stars of TV shows. These are brilliant individuals, not “white people.” On the other hand, when a non-white person makes a rare appearance on these stages, he or she is carefully described as a black inventor, a Mexican labor organizer, a Japanese internment camp resident, a Chinese railroad builder, and so on.

6. The race of your parents does not matter. Never mind the fact that they’re both white, and that all or most of their friends and acquaintances are too. Do not wonder, nor ask, what their being white has to do with the ways they think, act, talk, or feel. They’re just individuals—“mom” and “dad.”


I recommend reading the whole thing.

As I skimmed over this blog this morning, and added it to my Reader for further perusing, I realized that a lot of my efforts to prepare for mothering a child whose race is different than mine have been focused on the anticipated race of my child. It occurs to me that it is just as necessary for me to spend time examining what my own race means: how I have been shaped to be a white person and to eventually raise a white person. I would hope that if I had a biological child I would still be conscientious to raise him or her as anti-racist, to avoid placing him or her into the "warped, distorted frame" that Smith mentions and SWPD quotes. Building a transracial family means I can't ignore those things, and first step is probably not learning about race by looking out towards the other, but rather seeing what I can learn from looking in.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Keeping "us"

Okay - I promise that this will be my last non-adoption related blog for a while, seeing as this is supposedly where I talk about our adoption stuffs and lately has been just about...well, stuffs.

But there is some relevance, and here it is: adoption, any family building, can be a long, hard process. One of the most valuable things I've learned since our journey began a couple years ago is that 1. Andrew and I are awesome and 2. without maintenance and joy we won't stay that way. It's really easy for me to get obsessed with goals and forget about enjoying us the way we are right now. Back when the first "should we have a baby and if so, how?" questions started coming up in our relationship all of the cons were around identity. We like us, we want to stay "us." I think it's easy for prospective parents, and parents in general, to lose who they are in the mad whirl of educating oneself, obsessing over child or obtaining child, putting together a parenting plan and connecting via the internets or other resources with other people who are "like me," or in other words "also a parent/prospective parent."

"I don't want to be that couple that stops doing stuff with our friends because we have a kid" Andrew said, more than once. I think what he meant, or at least what I heard was something like "I don't want us to stop being us because we have a kid."

Gradually, as we've grown into this whole we-want-to-be-parents thing, I've realized how important it will be to keep that "us" intact. In fact, I suspect, some of the unique pieces of who we are will go the furthest in making good parents out of us.

Also, reveling in the stuff we like to do is fun. And as much as we want to believe it won't be different post-kiddo, there will be a whole new person involved in our lives who will have opinions, priorities, and schedules of his or her own.

So - this past weekend we reveled. (*warning - intense geek factor*)

This weekend we went to Seattle Comic-con. For the uninitiated, this is a giant two day convention full of comics, artists, sci-fi actors and writers, tech geeks, steam-punk fashionistas, and game players of all kinds. Andrew and I are a blended family in the geek world, seeing as he comes from a primarily Star Wars/Comics/Movies background, and I myself have been firmly grounded since childhood in a Star Trek/Books/Television interface with the geek world. We somehow make it work, and find common ground in computers and the new Battlestar Galactica.

Some pics from our weekend (I don't look my best in some because I am starstruck. Andrew, being a more experienced performer and mid-way through marathon training manages to look amazing in all of them.)

with Aaron Douglas, Tahmoh Penikett, and Michael Hogan from Battlestar Galactica:


Cuddling with Michael Hogan who much more huggable and less drunk than his character on BSG.


And my personal favorite: Me and Wil Wheaton. I adored him as a pre-teen watching Star Trek TNG (wrote him letters, even) and he's even better to adore fan-style as an adult. He always takes time with fans, never charges for autographs, and is geninuely fun to imagine being friends with. Which, really, is the best part of being a fan, right? (oh, he also writes a wonderful blog, and really sweet joyful books.)


And for good measure, the love of my life, with his self-designed BSG T-shirt. (pardon his french...)

Those last two pics were by my dear friend and personal photog JennyJ, who shot a slideshow of the 'con for the Seattle Weekly, in which Andrew and I make an appearance or two.

This, at least, will be an annual event that will be fun to bring baby to - there were tons of wrapped up, strollered little geeks-in-training running around - and I'm already dreaming of Andrew flipping through comics with a wee one's sticky fingers helping him turn the pages. At least the comics he's got doubles of.

Okay, back to the regularly scheduled programming. For reals this time, I promise.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Open

This latest showing has taught me a couple of things. First - for all my resolutions to keep non-news to myself, I pretty much tell everyone everything that's happening with this. And second - it is hard for a lot of the people I run my mouth to understand why we want an open adoption. Believe it or not, the two are related.

So the me and my mouth thing. It's not that I tell people's secrets. But I do tell my own. If you know me in real life (or if you met me in certain internet circles - Original ILC's holla!) then chances are good you know quite a bit about the paths Andrew and I have been on while we have worked towards building our family the past few years, both blogged and nonblogged. There were plenty of times that my choice to be open about our experiences made me uncomfortable: when I was experiencing disappointment, had a bad doctor's visit, or wanted to lock myself in a dark closet and sob without being bothered, for example. During those times I didn't always love it that there were friends and family loving on me in their various skilled and unskilled ways. There were plenty of moments when I swore through tears to Andrew that "from here on we're not talking to anyone about any of this!" But that feeling never lasted. Ultimately I'm glad that the people in my life know what's really happening with me, whether it's something they "get" or not. It might not always be the most comfortable choice, but it allows me to be real. And, in an odd way, it holds me accountable to my own experience, helping me to weave the more difficult parts of my life into the tapestry of moments and experiences that have formed me into the person I am. A person who I am usually very grateful to be.

There are lots of reasons why in general open adoptions are good: research has shown them to be extremely beneficial for adopted children, it allows access to genetic and medical history, and it can moderate in some ways the immense pain a birth mother feels at the loss of her child.

But this entry is about why open adoption is something that is a particularly good fit for us. (also transracial adoption, which forces a certain sort of openness just by being what it is.) It fits me especially. If there is one thing I've learned so far in my journey towards parenthood it is that the payoff for openness in my life with the ones I love is worth the pain of all the small ways we let each other down.

I'm writing this down now, so I can come back later and re-read it. I know that if we are granted what we're praying for - an open adoption with a birth-family we can trust and be involved with - there might be times when I desperately wish it was not so. I might need the reminder, in future dark-closet-sobbing moments, that there are good reasons we are hoping for this, that the payoff will be worth the immediate cost, that dealing openly with reality is the choice we have always made, and we're good at it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

and we conclude the Birthdaversary broadcast....

with love, of course.

(we were younger then. saying goodbye, I was leaving on tour. we were engaged, but no one knew it yet.)

(best day.)

(true love is goofy pictures. remember this!)


I believe that every couple has their struggles and there is no perfect relationship. But I wouldn't trade our past four years for four "perfect" ones, not for all the tea in China. And these days I am really into tea.

okay. enough sap. We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming, wherin the heroine and hero of this tale are bravely...um. waiting.