Thursday, January 27, 2011


*This is a post I've debated back and forth about writing, because it involves something fairly controversial in the various parenting worlds I inhabit, namely sleep training. I completely respect that families have different ways of working with a child's need for sleep, so I want to be clear that this is my reflection on what ended up working for us, not a suggestion for anyone else.*

We did sleep training with J when she was about nine months old, after a rough couple of months when it became evident that sleeping with us wasn't working for anyone and she was way too big for the co-sleeper. It was one of those things I swore I'd never do that ended up being the right thing for us. We tried to do it gently, coming in every few minutes to reassure her - but at nine months old our bean was way too smart. She was very clear on what she wanted, and one of us reappearing every five minutes just increased her clarity. So we ended up biting the bullet and letting her "cry it out". We have a video monitor that was a lifesaver - I could look at her face and see that she was not scared, sad, or in pain. Just pissed off and trying to figure out what to do about this whole going to sleep by herself thing.

The weeks leading up to the first night of sleep training were super rough. J was too big for the co-sleeper and unable to go to sleep or stay that way unless she was physically in contact with me. It had to be me, and since she needed to go to sleep at 6:30pm this was a problem. All night she would wind her little fists into my hair, clutch at my neck, wake up several times to pat my face with varying intensity, and start to scream if I left the bed for any reason. Bedtime was a battle, every night. I had a bloody lip from her accidentally headbutting me while shifting position, scratches from her fingernails, and bags under my eyes from sleep deprivation. Finally I realized what was going on - I had become J's lovey, her security object, and I wasn't very good at it.

So we did it. Everybody says it takes three days and the child will go to sleep on her own. This was not our experience. We never had a night as long as the first one (it took her almost two hours to go to sleep) but it took two weeks for J to really get the hang of going to sleep on her own without any yelling or tears. However, she started sleeping through the night once she was down - twelve hours at a time - from the first night. That felt like a win. She had more energy and a calmer attitude during the daytime as well, confirmation to me that I wasn't the only one not getting the sleep I needed before. After two weeks we high-fived each other, bought a murphy bed for the living room and reveled in being one of those "lucky" couples who got a good sleeper. It had taken a little longer than the mythical "everyone" claimed, but we had finally arrived. We would never have another disturbed night of sleep again.

Which wasn't exactly true. Every time J is close to a developmental jump she hits a rough patch sleep-wise, and we are up in the night for a stretch of a few days. Changes in schedule are rough, too -Christmas completely screwed her up. I'm learning that is normal. And she doesn't always sleep only in her crib - if she is sick, or especially tired or we are on a trip she sleeps with us.

She has a new lovey now - Lamby the stuffed lamb. He is so much better at it than I ever was. Lamby goes to bed with J every night, and never leaves her to go do grown-up things because it's not even 7pm yet or in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. She can sleep with him on her face, headbutt him, use him as a pillow, throw him over the side, whatever. He is hers to control, reliably, which is part of what security objects are for. Mothers, I have decided, should have a different role.

A few nights ago at 1:30 my baby girl woke up crying- a painful sound that is nothing like the way she cries when she is having a hard time putting herself to sleep. She had gas, I think, and after two long frustrating hours that involved pacing, trying to sleep with her, hysterical upset and finally a long warm shower together she loudly passed gas and then passed out on my chest. I had already pulled out the bed in her room, we were in it, so I called an exception and we stayed there 'til morning. I marveled at how much I loved getting to sleep with her, now that it was a treat instead of the only option. I didn't sleep as well as I do in my own bed. But only because I was too busy savoring the weight of her against me, the way her hair smells like cookies, and how even with habit broken and fast asleep two small hands found their way, gently, to my face, my neck, my hair.

J, nine months old after two weeks of working at it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

OA Roundtable: Open Adoption... why?

Here is this month's Open Adoption Roundtable prompt:

Jessica from O Solo Mama is an adoptive parent via international adoption (and a fabulous writer). She's been listening to us tell our stories (especially those who participated in last year's interview project) and thinking about open adoption--why it sometimes seems to work, why it sometimes seems not to work, what's really going on for those of us living it. The other week she asked seven questions of those of us in open adoptions. Seven really, really good questions.

So I am going to give it a shot, best I can. Here we go:

1. If open adoption is so great, why do so many people suck at it? By this I mean, not honouring commitments, closing the adoption, telling the other family they’re not “doing this thing” correctly or playing the “for the sake of the child” card?
I think the answer to this question can be summed up as simply as "relationships are complicated." You could just as easily say "If family is so great, why do so many people suck at it" or "If marriage is so great, why do so many people suck at it?" It is hard to be in relationship with people. Forming families is always chaotic - forming families through adoption is potentially more chaotic, and doing it through open adoption means that adoptive families have more access to the chaos surrounding their child's birth than families who don't meet the first parents, see their grief, attempt to be connected to them while also connecting to their child etc. People screw it up because it's hard. That doesn't mean it's not good, or even better than closed adoptions. It is just more honest, with more reality visible on all sides of the triad.

2. From the standpoint of first parents, open adoption sounds like something that could prolong suffering. Could this suffering potentially outweigh the good of knowing where your child is? Who helps the first parent?
I think this is an area that could be improved upon. From what I know, which is limited, Z is being helped by the agency. But the help they are giving her is pretty basic and related to her unique situation. When I read blogs by first moms it seems like agencies often fail in this area. I'm not qualified to speak for first parents, that is not my experience, but from what I understand knowing that your child is loved, cared for, alive, etc. is preferable to no information at all. Which is what first parents in closed adoptions have to live with.

3. I’m guessing kids are not hung up on how many relatives they have. Tell me that the thing that hangs up the public all the time about open adoption and other unconventional relationships—two mommies, two daddies, three, four, parents—is the least of your worries because it seems to me it is.
This is the least of my worries. The more adults a child has that are deeply invested in her future well-being the better, I say.

4. Do you ever feel like you should give this child back? Does the thought ever seize you totally as you watch your child with her bio-family: “ooops?” (OR for f-parents: Do you ever feel as though you need to take this child back? That nothing is stopping you beside an agreement that feels false? Does that feeling go away?)
I have never seen J with her first family, so this one is hard to answer. But knowing what we do about her first mother's situation it very much seems that Z was not in a position to parent, and still is not. After our failed match with Y, who was capable of parenting and chose to do so, it became very important to me that our adoption be a situation where the need was obvious. This will remain true in the future.

5. How do children ever cope with knowing they could not be kept? When they see their natural parents having more kids, what do they think? Who helps the child in this situation? Both sets of parents?
I don't know the answer to this. But I don't think that keeping parentage a secret, i.e. closed adoption, is the answer. And I don't see a huge difference between the "why" and "why me" questions that may come up for J and the questions that may come up for our friend's internationally adopted daughter. Both will have to deal with some amount of mystery around their origins and wondering about the choices their first parents made. The difference is that J can go ask about it, she can seek out people who look like her, and if Z decides to open our adoption more she can grow up feeling connected to her first mom, instead of searching when she is an adult. Kids in closed or international adoptions don't have that option.

6. Can you say comfortably that some surrendering mothers could not cope with an open adoption or do you think that it should always be the standard?
My position is that no one but the first mom has the right to close an adoption. I personally feel that the only really ethical stance for an adoptive parent to take is one of openness. It is harder, yes. It is more complicated, yes. But we, the adoptive parents, are the ones signing up for this. We're the ones claiming to have enough stability, security, and resources to be gifted with a child to parent. We should be able to work through our stuff and be present to the first mother to the extent that works for her as she works out her grief and level of comfort.

7. Is there ever a reason (aside from extreme/illegal behavior) to close an adoption totally? Every adoption is different. And the system isn't perfect. So I'll answer a question with a question - is there ever a reason (aside from extreme/illegal behavior) to completely cut off a family member? To refuse to speak to a parent forever? To cut a sibling out of your life with no recourse, no question, no future possibility of contact or reconciliation? Because that is what a "closed" adoption does.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Our MLK Day (and my reflections on it)

This year we began what will be a family tradition for us - attending our city's MLK Day Rally and March, which is one of the largest annual rallies honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the country. Unfortunately the march happened at naptime so this year we just went to the rally, which was pretty fun. Highlights for J included the children's choir, the little girl sitting behind us, and the drumline that performed. (J being involved in a drumline is a small mama-wish of mine, as I myself played snare drum in one in high school.) All in all it was a fun morning, and J had a good time. It was a ton of sensory input and despite being an extrovert baby girl crashed hard and took an extra long nap as soon as we got home.

As she napped I reflected on what it felt like to participate in the rally as a family. I want to make things like the MLK rally and march and other types of community activism part of what we do together, as well as a bigger part of what I do as an individual. I want this despite the fact that it is not always comfortable for me. We weren't the only transracial family or the only white folk at the rally yesterday - but it was definitely an minority dominant space, as it should have been. My position was one of ally, a different position than the POC who participated. One of the speakers went to great lengths to say how the rally was a place for black folks, first nations folk, Hispanic folks, pacific islander folks, Asian folks, etc. to be seen and heard. "and progressive white folk" he tagged on the end. I felt grateful to be included and also to be so labeled, but I am always acutely aware when I'm in African-American or other POC spaces that I don't belong there. I am a guest, perhaps not an invited one, and sort of a dangerous guest at that. I feel this perhaps more when I walk into the Good Hair salon to pick up product for J's hair. And to some degree anytime I am out with J in the neighborhood there is something of this feeling because by mothering a black child I am, in the eyes of many black folk, in a space where I don't quite belong. They are not sure I will be able to do what needs to be done there, and I don't mind their skepticism. It is appropriate. In fact I want to look for acceptable and non-appropriative ways to engage these spaces with J more now while she is little, because she does belong there and if Andrew or I don't take her and be with her in black and minority dominant spaces she loses something. The challenge for me as a white person who is not used to feeling this way is to accept my discomfort, learn from it, and let it be what it is without allowing it keep me away or to push me into appropriating what is not mine in an effort to belong.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I heart shiftercars

I've said it many times, but it bears repeating - just about all of the aesthetic loveliness in my life comes as gifts from other people.

Which is why today I have big warm glowy happy feelings for my friend Andrea who not only designed for my band back in the day as well as my engagement announcement, wedding invitations, and wedding reception decor, but also loves on my baby and comes over to have dance parties with her and organize her toys but also made this for us today, thereby providing inspiration for the upcoming project of really getting J's room organized for a girl who isn't a baby anymore! (though we're still good ten months or so away from the big girl bed.)

Friday, January 14, 2011

motherhood and food

I was driving home from something one evening a couple weeks ago, a church or consulting event probably, and had NPR on in the car. I just caught one part of one story - I don't even know what the program was. It was a story about a first mom and the son she had given up for adoption. They both spoke about the experience of reunion, how he came and found her at the library she worked at and she knew the instant she saw him who he was.

It was a fairly emotional thing to listen to, regardless of what role adoption might play in your life. But I didn't actually start sobbing until the mother mentioned food. It was her first impulse, upon meeting her son. She wanted to feed him, to take him somewhere and buy him food.

My internet friend who is a first mother blogs about food a lot too. She wishes aloud that she could send her son food, she plans carefully for what to make when he comes with his parents to visit. Another of my favorite blog first mom friends uses a food word as her daughter's internet code name.

A lot of my friends on facebook and in my actual regular life have given birth recently, or are expecting. They are all fairly obsessed with feeding their babies, breastfeeding in particular. It wasn't long after J's placement, a few months maybe, when there was a big Similac recall. I made the mistake of clicking on a link that one of my friends posted to information about the recall that was on a breastfeeding support site. The comments left there by breastfeeding mothers about formula and the women who feed it to their children hurt my feelings even though I knew that few of them would fault me in particular for using formula.

J didn't drink Similac, except for about the first month of her life. We paid premium price for name brand organic formula, and bought Fiji water to mix it with to boot. Now she drinks organic milk. The only time she's ever eaten baby food from a jar is when we were camping or traveling. I own four baby food cookbooks and use them, although her favorite recipes are simple - curried broccoli, black beans and yogurt, carrots with ginger. I love cooking for her, feeding her, watching her eat. When she was still drinking formula I obsessed over the cleanliness of the bottles, the measurements, everything.

I'm not trying to brag, or suggest that anyone needs to feed their child the way I feed mine. Objectively I realize that our plan is labor intensive and works for us because we like doing that sort of labor intensive thing. And there is part of me that feels the loss of not being able to breastfeed J, and looks to make sure she has every other culinary advantage. But I've been thinking about food and motherhood and how connected they are. And about the also interesting and not always healthy relationship I have with food myself, as a female in a culture that sends its females wildly mixed messages about what, how,and how much a successful and attractive woman should eat. In the best world I would care as much about what I eat, where it comes from, and how it nourishes me as I do about the food I give to my daughter. In the worst world we mothers take the back biting competitiveness that the worst in our culture teaches us to use with each other and project it onto others' parenting choices to do or not do the breastfeeding, organic food, expensive formula, co-sleeping, etc. It feels counterproductive to me, maybe especially when I'm the judger and not the judged.

I spent six years interviewing parents who had been reported to Child Protective Services because of poor parenting choices. I met some people who had screwed up spectacularly, but I never met someone who didn't love their child. At the end of the day we're all just trying to feed our kids. We can't all breastfeed, and some of us can't parent, but on some level we all want the same thing - to love them so deeply and completely that they thrive and grow and devour the experience of being alive.

I love just about everything about being J's mother, but feeding her is a special sort of pleasure. It's hard to quantify the deep joy that I experience when she eats a large meal, or I notice that she is taller, sturdier, steadier. I think about how my mom still arranges to cook for us, whenever we visit and even sometimes when she visits us. I think about that mother on the radio. She said she couldn't even eat, she just wanted to watch her son eat food she had bought for him and hear about the nineteen years she had missed.

I hope Z has the chance to feed J. And that she doesn't have to wait nineteen years.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

OA Roundtable #22 - better late..

This OA Roundtable prompt was posted a week ago, so I am a little late getting mine up, but I wanted to write on it, late or not. Here it is:

One year ago many of us answered the question, "How will you be proactive in the area of open adoption in 2010?"

If you participated in the January 2010 discussion, revisit your post and give us the one-year-later update.

And whether or not you participated last year, tell us about your open adoption hopes or commitments in 2011.

Well I did participate last year, so let's start with revisiting what I said. I had four goals for our semi-open adoption:

1. To send more than pictures and a sharing sheet next month. I give myself a 3/5 on this one. I did send two picture albums to Z this past year, one covering J from 0-4months and another was sent off at Christmas and covered through her first birthday. I sent pictures and letters each of the other months. Her Christmas package included a photo book, several loose pictures of J in case she doesn't love the whole photo book thing, and a letter that included some ideas I have had about how she might contact us directly if she ever would like to. In the coming year I should like to continue to send photos regularly - if not every month than every couple of months - and do at least one comprehensive photo book.

2. To pursue contact with some of J's relatives who the agency may be able to put us in touch with. While I have pursued this nothing has come of it. I am disappointed, but intend to do work to maintain connections with the agency at least, in case these relatives resurface.

3.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. When I posted this goal J was not even three months old yet, and it makes me smile to remember how new everything was. I have definitely practiced, and there are still times when remembering makes me teary. I hope that never stops. Re-reading this particular goal helps me realize just how normalized our story of family building is for me now. I have had lots of practice telling it to friends, to J's little cousins, and of course to J herself. I will keep right on practicing, however.

4.To really be open. This goal was like a little pep talk for me about the semi-open nature of our adoption and how to live into openness in all the ways that I can whether Z is ever ready for more or not. This is an ongoing thing for me, figuring out how to have an open posture, readiness towards Z and openness with J, without having expectations as to what Z might want later on. This is an active, ongoing goal.

As for hopes and commitments in 2011 - there is one big one on the table in addition to these. This is the year we'll decide about an A+A baby #2. If we do begin another adoption in the next year it will add a layer of complexity to our family dynamic and we will once again be hoping for openness.