Thursday, January 28, 2010

OA Roundtable #13 - agreeing on openness.

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It's designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don't need to be part of the Open Adoption Bloggers list to participate, or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you're thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table.

This OA Roundtable topic is from Andy at Today's the Day.
We often hear about open adoptions where the two sides don't want the same level of openness. First mothers who don't get updates as often as they would like, or not as many visits each year. Or adoptive parents who want to include their child's first mother in his life, but she is not ready.

But what we don't often discuss is when people on the same side of the triad can't agree on the level of openness in an adoption.

•It could be a wife who wants a fully open adoption but the husband only wants to send letters once a year.
•Or a first mother isn't ready for an open adoption but the first father wants to be part of the baby's life.
•Maybe a spouse isn't supportive of their partner entering into reunion with their first mother.
•Or a partner who came along after the adoption and isn't comfortable with your relationship with your placed child.
•And the classic Hallmark movie of the year scenario: Your mother-in-law is convinced that the baby will be snatched away from under your nose if you have an open adoption.
How would/do you navigate these situations? Does your current relationship impact the type of open adoption that you have? How does this affect your current relationship?


"I just feel protective," S said to me. S is one of my closest and dearest friends. We went to college together, and have been through enough of life closely linked to each other that at this point we function more like siblings than anything. "I guess I'm just suspicious by nature."

My experience of S is not that she is suspicious by nature. But protective of me? Absolutely.

We had been talking about Z, J's first mom, and some new information I had just received that may turn out to be a game changer in terms of the levels of openness in our adoption. My friend's first questions, when I brought up seeking more openness from Z, were oriented towards protecting and preserving what she perceives as our nuclear family: Andrew, Alissa, and baby J.

As I have explained the adoption process over and over to friends and family, this is something that comes up all the time. The folks who love us are, naturally, most concerned with preserving what we worked so hard and waited so long to achieve by adopting baby J, and sometimes it seems like the most natural place for them to go when thinking about Z is to wonder if she is a threat. I forget, at times, that we were not the only ones burned by our failed match - and that most of our community who felt invested in that experience and who cried with us when it fell through haven't spent large chunks of their lives becoming educated about open adoption. So I am glad that our dear ones are comfortable enough with us to voice these concerns. I'd rather get it settled now.

So, while Andrew and I are in agreement about the level of openness we are hoping for and how we would go about it if we have the opportunity to pursue a relationship with Z, I also understand how and why that might sound scary to our extended family and community of friends. The amazing thing about our community, however, is that I can trust them to respect our choices. This is a gift that not everyone receives from loved ones. So I look forward to dialogue about it - because I know that questions like the ones S posed to me over coffee aren't judgements on me, Andrew, or Z, but actual attempts by people who love us to understand this alternative way of family building that we are engaged in. They don't have to agree with us to support who we are. Time will tell, and S and I will still be talking about baby J over coffee for years and years to come.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Snapshot, MLK Day.

We were on a walk with a neighbor couple and their precocious four year old, enjoying some rare winter sunshine when we came to the corner and stopped at the light. J was snuggled up to my chest in her Ergo, blinking sleepily in the brightness. Andrew caught up to me and we waited together. Our party wasn't alone on the corner. It was MLK day, and many of the events in our city that celebrate the legacy of Dr. King happen in our neighborhood. A thin black woman walked up next to us, lit a cigarette, and did a double-take at the sight of J.

"Is that your baby?" She asked, looking past me to Andrew.

"Yup, this is my baby." I replied, letting myself sound proud.

"Really." She looked again at J, squinting a little. "What's her name?"

I told her. The light turned green and we started crossing the street together. She walked next to me in silence for a couple seconds and then as we reached the other side spoke again.

"Well you have got yourself one beautiful baby!"

"I know, right?" I smiled at her. "Thank you."

"You better take care of that baby!" She tossed it back over her shoulder, heading a different direction from our little crowd. "If you don't, I'm going to whoop ya."

"Don't worry," I whispered softly into J's fuzzy curls, kissing her forehead. "You won't have to whoop me."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Plan vs. Reality: Feeding

"So, Auntie Lissa," my three year old niece S. said to me last week during a visit with her and her mom and brother. She had watched carefully as I fed baby J a couple of times during our time together. "Before, did you feed J with your nipples?"

Oh dear, I couldn't help thinking to myself. This is what you get for deciding not to do adoptive breastfeeding.

"I didn't" I told her.

"Why?"

"Well, Jubilee didn't grow in my tummy like your brother and you did in your mommy's tummy." S. knows all about babies, as she has a little brother who is a year old. "So I couldn't feed her that way."

S. looked dumbfounded. "She didn't grow in your tummy?! How did you get her??"

Now, my sister-in-law has had more than one discussion with S about baby J, and how she joined our family. But that's the thing with kids her age- sometimes they have to hear things over and over for them to make sense. (It is likely that we will experience a similar phenomenon with J someday. We'll tell her and tell her the story of her birth and how we became her parents and then one day she'll suddenly go "Wait, WHAT?!")

S and I had a good talk about how baby J came to be in our family, and I sent my sister-in-law home with some of the adoption themed storybooks that we have been given, to read at their leisure. After we said goodbye and sent S and family on their way I heated up a bottle for my baby. I cuddled J close to my body, her head resting against my bare arm and her wee hand clutching my finger, and watched her devour her meal. Sometimes when I feed her I need to mentally brush away the spiderweb feelings of guilt that I didn't try harder to breastfeed. That was, at one point, the plan.

The Plan:
It turns out that being pregnant is not what causes women to lactate. The hormones that surge through a pregnant woman's body do prepare the breasts to produce milk, but lactation itself is a result of stimulation - the baby feeding is what causes it. This means that it's possible for a woman to produce milk and breastfeed a baby that she has not given birth to. This doesn't mean that it is possible for that woman to produce enough milk to be the sole source of nutrition for an infant, however.

I latched on (pun intended) to the adoptive breastfeeding idea almost immediately after our profile went out. It seemed like just my kind of project. I researched various ways of inducing lactation, from the rather intense medicated protocol, to the comfort-and-bonding only method which simply calls for offering the baby the breast for comfort purposes and considering any milk eventually produced a bonus. (For a good compilation of resources on the options, click here.)Andrew and I went to see a lactation specialist, and discussed all the options thoroughly. I was disappointed to learn that even in a best case scenario the most I could expect to produce, milk-wise, was about 25% of my baby's food. I was also fairly daunted by the amount of work involved in generating that - it would mean going on hormone treatments for several months, and then a combination of one particular drug with some herbs plus pumping around the clock once we were either matched or had baby. Ideally this method works best when an adoptive mother (or biological mother using a surrogate) is matched early and knows when to expect a child. We didn't have that advantage.

As time wore on I realized that I was probably putting off making a decision on which path to take for a reason. Andrew and I stopped fertility treatments after only a few months of exploring that option. We decided that a biological child wasn't important enough to us to endure all of the medications, hormones, and intrusions of medical personnel into our lives and bodies, even if the cost had been reasonable. I left that world behind me gladly, and made a pact with my body to stay away from that sort of hormonal meddling (including hormonal birth control) forever more.

Clearly, for me, the medicated option was out.

So I planned to start pumping when we were matched, in hopes of producing something for our baby, and then to use a device like this one for feeding while breastfeeding.

Since exclusive breastfeeding isn't possible for adoptive moms, I also scrupulously researched formulas, flirted briefly with making my own, and eventually settled on Earth's Best. This, I reasoned, would be how we'd spend all the money we would be saving by using cloth diapers.

That was the plan.

The Reality:
When we were chosen by Y we initially thought she would be delivering within a few days, and I just figured we would deal with feeding after the birth. As things stretched out, Y and I had a chance to discuss feeding, and I told her what formula I wanted to use. We planned to bring it to the hospital so that the baby would be able to just start with the organic formula from the beginning. Of course, Baby C came on her own schedule, and then Y found she couldn't give her up. I arrived home too demoralized to really think about feeding.

J was 16 days old when we met her, and she was already used to a certain brand of formula and a particular kind of bottle. My attempts to nurse her for comfort were met with deep frustration and confusion on her part and I quickly gave it up. It's not bonding, I reasoned, if all the baby does is scream. Also, I didn't want to rock the boat with Granny M too much by waltzing in and announcing that I had x, y, and z better ways to do things than what she had been doing with J and the 47 odd babies who had preceded her in Granny M's careful care. So, for the eleven days we were in Georgia J ate the formula she had started life eating from the bottles that Granny M had determined were the best choice.

We ended up loving the bottles. J was just hitting her two week mark when we met her, which is when babies tend to start spitting up. She is a champ at spitting up. Dr. Brown's seems to help, and we quickly abandoned the bottles we had picked out before baby (Born Free) in favor of them.

Formula was a bit more confusing for us. We went back and forth on whether or not to switch her to Earth's Best or leave her on the formula that she had started on. She seemed to be thriving, but in the end Andrew and I decided it was more important to have her on something organic. This is when the debacle began. First, I realized that we had accidentally fed J almost an entire can of formula for 9-24 month olds. (Okay, in my defense the can is the same shape and color as the regular formula! WHO DOES THAT? Don't they know that new parents aren't getting any sleep?!?!?!) When Andrew pointed out the discrepancy I burst into tears and demanded he return to the store for organic formula, since her routine was all broken up already. We decided to get the organic version of the same formula she had been using, in hopes of easing the transition. She happily ate a couple bottles of it, and then I found this. The new formula went straight into the garbage, and Andrew went back to the store for a can of Earth's Best.

Baby J, unlike her mother, maintained a calm and practical demeanor through this smorgasbord of formulas. And she's been eating Earth's Best happily now since just after Thanksgiving. Turns out, according to our pediatrician, it's best to make any formula switches early, before a strong taste preference develops.

I would say that, so far, feeding is the area of parenting in which I have felt the least confident. I feel guilty sometimes that I can't give J breastmilk, because I believe in the benefits. But I also know that, for me, breastfeeding would have been yet another opportunity for my body to fail me in the parenting-and-reproduction arena. I have fought - still fight - to experience my physical self in a positive way. It is important that, as J's mother, I keep that up.

And, to be honest, it's hard to feel too bad about it. J is thriving. She is one of the happiest and sweetest people I've ever met. We've worked hard as a family to bond in other ways, such as skin-to-skin time and feedings that mimic breastfeeding as much as possible. As we've gotten to know our girl we have learned how to prepare her food the way she likes the very best: mixed in advance to lessen air bubbles, heated just so, and served in a Dr. Brown's. There are times - usually when we are waiting the interminable three minutes for a bottle to heat - that I wish I could just whip out a breast and feed my baby. But when I watch my husband feed his daughter, her cheek resting on his bare arm while they gaze soulfully into each others eyes, I don't mind a bit.

I just want to say, to put it out there, that I think adoptive breastfeeding is a worthwhile and wonderful thing to do, if you really really want to. As my story demonstrates, if you don't really want it - it probably won't happen. A good friend of mine passed on some parenting advice she recieved when her daughter was born. "Alissa," she told me, "figure out what's super important to you, one or two things, and focus on that. You cannot do it all." For me, breastfeeding didn't end up in the top two. For those where it does - I applaud you.

All moms (I think) struggle with guilt from the pressure of providing a perfect life for our kids within a decidedly imperfect world. I can't speak for what it's like for mothers who are parenting their biological children, but for me as an adoptive mother I am finding the opportunities to feel guilty can be omnipresent and multi-dimensional. Feeding could be yet another opportunity to beat myself up over not being able to offer "the best" option to my child. Or - it can be an opportunity for me to remember that "the best" has a different definition for each individual situation. Part of the responsibility of parenthood is taking on the discernment process for what that "best" is for my own unique family, my own individual child. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

So far our pudding is doing just fine.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lullaby baby

The month of January has three big weeks in a row for our little one: last week she was baptized - her formal initiation into our faith and religious community, yesterday our dear friends Ruthie and Carly threw us a baby shower that was very much J's initiation into our community of close friends, many of whom are musicians and artists, and then next week my darling mother-in-law is sponsoring a shower that will be attended by Andrew's relatives and folks dear to us and to her on that side of the water.

I have to say it is so much fun to have all of this happening after our baby is here to enjoy it!

Yesterday's shower was co-ed, and devoid of any baby games or contests. That is really not so much our style. Instead our dear ones with musical gifts brought songs for our girl, and a few of them graciously gave me permission to post the videos here. It was a perfect afternoon in so many ways. The decorations, the thoughtful presents and presence of so many of our beloved friends, and the music. Baby J hung on every note, paid very close attention, and her focus lagged only at the very end of the last lullaby, when she finally fell asleep. (during a rousing sing-a-long no less!)

Forgive the cinematographer. I wasn't paying as much attention as I maybe should have been - it was too fun.

Noah Star and his lovely wife Julie Jane.


These three boys, plus Jon E. Rock on drums, make up the band Wonderful, and a chunk of the group United State of Electronica. Here, they're singing a Wonderful song, baby boy blue.


And my sweet friend who I call Sarahsue, with her hunky lute-playing boyfriend John, making one of the quintessential geek songs of our adolescence into a lute-y lullaby. Forgive the overpowering vocals of the camera lady during the sing-a-long at the end - I got quite carried away. Also there were a lot of people singing along but on the video it sort of sounds like just me. ahem.

The only thing that could have made the afternoon better would have been if you were there. And you, too. My far away friends are constantly on my mind these days.

(p.s. I do realize that J's first name appears in one of these songs. I'm okay with it, as I've posted it here before. ♥)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

our village

It's a cliche by now that it takes a village to raise a child. Whether or not you agree, or think that is a true statement for every child, I can tell you it will take a village to raise our child. Or, at least, she will be raised not only by us but also by our village.

I'm thinking a lot about our village this week, and how blessed we are.

Maybe it's because baby J was baptized this past Sunday, and I was overwhelmed by the love, excitement, and joy with which our parish welcomed her.

Maybe it's because Andrew has had unexpected orientations and trainings come up this quarter and there has always been someone willing (eager even!) to help with childcare so I don't have to flake out on work. Thursday it was my sister-in-law, who gamely spent a morning caring for her own two kids (1 and 3 years of age) and baby J. In a little over a week our upstairs neighbor will take a turn, a different upstairs neighbor than the one who watched J for a couple hours just before Christmas so I could go and watch Andrew play the last show ever with his band.

Maybe it's because over Christmas my love for family and for my best friend who lives there grew exponentially as I saw how much they all love my child.

Or because we are headed up to Gossamer Collective for a baby party thrown for us by two of the most creative and beautiful women we know today, and many of our friends are bringing the best of presents: lullabys to sing to J. (we'll record them for her as well.)

Or maybe it's because of the other friends, far away, who consistently show their care and investment: my heart-friend in the Midwest who has sent two giant piles of books for J, many of which contain brown faces in their pages.

But mostly, this week, I am thinking about a member of my village who was the first person I can remember talking out loud about this kind of community with - the kind where you choose to be family with people. It was summer, and we were sitting on the porch of the little blue house where I lived with the ladies who were family to me the latter half of college and beyond. Seeing as it was college, we were probably smoking clove cigarettes, and feeling quite rebellious for an English major and a theology major at a private Christian school.

I don't remember the exact words of our conversation, it was years ago now, but I think K was talking about how ridiculous it was that we were supposed to go out into the world and find one person and then cut ourselves off from everyone else and raise kids - other human beings!- with just that one other person whom, at that point, neither he or I had met yet.

I agreed with him - this made so much sense. I loved my friends so much, why did the fact that we weren't romantically involved preclude their deep involvement in my life and the life of my (imaginary) children??

"You know what?" I told him. "Someday, I want to raise my kids with you. I mean, whoever their dad is, I want him to raise them too. But I want you to be a part of it. And D, and the girls here. I want for us to all have the chance to love each other's families and be a part of their growing up."

I think K agreed with me, and I'd like to think I squeezed his hand and rested my head on his shoulder. If that's not what happened that night, it happened so many times, he was such a comfort to me on many occassions, that its okay if that's how the story ends now in my memory.

A few years ago K took a position working for a relief and development group in Haiti. Last year he took another position there, this time heading the whole thing up. The group's focus was education and environmental issues. I miss him, and Tuesday he was all I could think about until his mother got the word that he'd made it through the quake okay.

I've gone back and forth about whether or not to write about K here (he's not a big fan of people talking about him on blogs) or mentioning the situation in Haiti at all because, really, it reveals how selfish I am. I care about Haiti. But why? I know there are two reasons primarily that I cannot look at pictures or read news reports without emotion threatening to overwhelm me. The first is K, who I don't expect will be able to contact me for quite a while but who is a beloved of mine that is not just looking at pictures but actually living that hell right now. And, if I know him, pushing himself and his trauma aside to do everything he can to save and preserve human life there. I am afraid for him especially because I love him so much. And, I will be honest here, I see my daughter's face in the children there. J is not Haitian, I know this. But a heritage of slavery and oppression at the hands of white folk is something that she has in common with the people there, though her situation is quite different.

I have no idea what an ethical and reasonable response is for someone like me - a new mother without many extra resources financially, without skills that would be helpful there.

But I am going to give money.

K works for this organization. They have low overhead, they have a very good repuatation gobally and in Haiti. You can listen to him talk about the emotional trauma Haiti has experienced here.

My friends Corrigan and Shelley, also college friends who shared a village of sorts with me once, are also in Haiti. They have no overhead, as they're there on their own, working with orphans and widows. Their website, which they haven't updated since the earthquake, is here. They also survived okay, with their children and the haitian orphans they take care of.

There are a lot of reasons why the quake in Haiti was this devastating. They are, mostly, big reasons that individual people like me or you have trouble wrapping our minds around or doing anything on our own to change. I am not an expert on all of these reasons: scientific, political, historical or cultural. But I am involved in some of those reasons. The USA has benefited from practices that have hurt Haiti, and that means I have benefited. I feel some culpability, and I think its appropriate that it makes me uncomfortable. I feel ashamed that if it weren't for K, I might not really care.

If you are a praying person, I invite you to join me in praying. I'm not praying "for Haiti." I am praying for me. That I don't miss any opportunity to help in the ways that are appropriate for me. That I can find the right outlet for the guilt I feel, the best way to make it productive and part of a solution to issues like this in the world. That next time it won't take an earthquake to wake us up, and get us to pay attention.

Friday, January 8, 2010

back into the swing of things

This week I started back to school. I am taking two classes and one of them is going to kick my butt a little. I'm equal parts relieved and terrified - I enjoyed both of my classes last quarter but neither of them challenged me the way I was expecting from graduate school.

Next week I start back to work, trying out my new 20 hours per week schedule.

And today I head back to teaching congregational development, beginning the second year of our new and developing curriculum and returning to the place where I first found out about Baby J. I was at a conference, remember? Almost all of the 40 or so folks who were there that November weekend will be back today, plus about 30 more. I'm excited to see them and update them all about my mysterious disappearance from the last weekend we were together. I'm also nervous. While Andrew has the option of coming down with J to stay with me at the conference center tonight I get the feeling he's itching to try a day and night of solo daddy time. Which he may get to do...if I don't break down and drive home for the night.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Open Adoption Roudtable #12: OA New Year's Resolutions

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It's designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. To for links to what other bloggers are writing on this topic, click here.

This OA Roundtable is about New Year's Resolutions..or whatever you'd call it.

Call them resolutions, commitments, changes, or choices--how will you be proactive in the area of open adoption in 2010?

Yesterday when I checked the mail there was a familiar envelope from Clark Photo Labs, my favorite online photo-printing site. Inside were several prints of my favorite baby J pictures from the last month. Some of them I'm testing out for enlargement and framing, others will be sent off to great-grandparents and others who like to get print photos in the mail. But mostly I ordered them to include with this month's sharing sheet.

Part of our semi-open adoption agreement is the completion of these information forms that the agency calls "sharing sheets." We are supposed to include "a minimum of five clear, close up, happy photographs" with the paperwork. Our agreement is to turn one of these in each month of J's life for the first six months, and then once a year after that until she is eighteen. Last month I hurried to finish mine by the post-placement visit and then Marla and Karen helped me pick out pictures to include from the giant stack I had printed. This month, filling it out, I am resolved to do better. I know full well that Z may never pick up these pictures, but if she does I want there to be more waiting for her than six pink pieces of paper with a list of vaccinations and a handful of pictures. So here are my semi-open adoption resolutions:

- To send more than pictures and a sharing sheet next month. I want to include a letter, maybe in the form of a picture book.

- To pursue contact with some of J's relatives who the agency may be able to put us in touch with. I won't blog any more about this unless something comes of it, but it is part of my commitment to openness, and realizing that we can be open to more than just contact with Z.

- To practice, practice, practice telling baby J the story of how we became her parents and she became our daughter until it feels normal, natural, easy, and I can do it without crying. One of the pieces of advice that we were given during our adoption training that has stuck with both of us ever since was to start telling our child the story of her life before there was any chance of her understanding, so we'd be ready when she could. The first time I told J her adoption story we were still in Georgia, it was 3 or 4 am and it ended with me dissolving into tears somewhere around "and when we heard about you we came just as fast as we could." I'm getting better at it, now I can almost make it through reading I Wished for You to J without tearing up.

- To really be open. Part of hoping for an open adoption was hoping for a sort of openness in our family that can happen whether we have a relationship with our daughter's biological family or not. It is remembering that families, like any other community of human beings, can be closed off to those who don't "belong" or they can be open to loving and including people and possibilities that aren't normal, usual, or don't fit well within the norms of our society. It is a fine line, to have healthy boundaries and clear ways to belong without building walls that shut out other peoples and possible experiences. I want a safe and open family. This year, as always, I resolve to actively work on what that means, and how to facilitate it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

For a New Beginning

I took a deep breath stepping out the door yesterday morning at 8:45am. It was the beginning of seeing how all our plans are going to work, the first part of the test of the rest of our lives. I'm calling it the "we can have it all" test. I'll write more later about what it means to us to be co-parents with each other, and some of the "co" values that Andrew and I have around building our life and our family together. Right now what it means, on the ground, is that we're both in school, both parenting, and I am also working 20-30 hours a week total at two jobs (both flexible, both jobs I love), plus teaching congregational development and maybe doing a couple consulting projects over the course of the year. We think we can do this. Now that January 2010 is here, we get to find out.

I arrived at class about two minutes after nine yesterday morning, a little out of breath and pretty sure I was going to get a parking ticket. (I was right.) One of the two women co-teaching the course read this poem/blessing at the beginning of class, to help us all center ourselves. I found it so very helpful, and wanted to share. I know that many of those who read this blog, my personal friends and those who lurk and/or read for topical interest are in places where you are beginning something brand new or waiting in desperate hope for a new beginning. This is for you.

For a New Beginning
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life's desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

From Jon O'Donohue's To Bless the Space Between Us: A book of Blessings