Monday, April 27, 2009

A Watched Pot...

The common wisdom for waiting parents is that a match will show up when you least expect it. To make the wait less difficult, those who have adopted successfully counsel us to go about our "normal" lives, or even better, do the things that will become more difficult once we have a wee one. The adopters tell stories about fabulous trips interrupted by "the call," or home remodels never finished because of a welcome shift in priorities.

In that spirit, here is a list (likely to evolve) of things that M. and I could - make that SHOULD - do to keep us busy while we wait.

In no particular order...
  1. Research and buy tickets to Vietnam. DONE 5/9
  2. Interview and engage a carpenter to fix our floor, the floor boards, and the laundry soffit.
  3. Interview and engage a contractor to put insulation in our attic.
  4. Figure out rain gutters and put them up as a deterrent to basement flooding.
  5. Interview and engage a contractor to fix the foundation incursions.
  6. Interview and engage a contractor to do earthquake retrofitting.
  7. Figure out and put up organizational stuff for a tool area in the garage.
  8. Figure out and put up a gardening area in the garage.
  9. Go to a financial planner and make adjustments to our finances (and figure out how we'll pay for all of this other stuff).
  10. Create our wills.
  11. Redesign our Dear Birthmother letter and get it printed.
  12. Find out why the "check engine" light is on in my car and fix it. DONE 5/10
  13. Find out why the "check engine" light was on in M.'s car and fix it.
  14. Fix our bed. DONE 5/17
  15. Assemble the porch glider Mom gave us. DONE 5/17
  16. Finish framing art.
  17. Finish hanging art. PROGRESS MADE 5/17
  18. Find and go to the dentist.
  19. Go to the dermatologist.
  20. Paint the living room and dining room.
  21. Paint the baby's room.
  22. Paint the kitchen.
  23. Pull the Dr. Seuss tree from the side yard and plant something better in its place.
  24. Plant a nice shrub to hide the new aircon unit.
  25. Repair and plant the raised beds.
  26. Buy new pots and replant on the front porch.
  27. Weed! Weed! Weed!
  28. Buy a cool couch.
  29. Buy a great dining room set.
  30. Go through all of the boxes in the garage and organize them.
  31. Organize Kristin's "office area" in M.'s office closet.
  32. Organize closets so there is some room for baby's stuff.
  33. Finish knitting Lisa's b-day present from last year.
  34. See more of our family and friends.
  35. Find some great new meal recipes and get comfortable making them.
  36. Host several dinner parties.
  37. Figure out if we want to join the Y. DONE 5/7
  38. Exercise!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

More Conversation About Conversations

"Your child has the most lovely dark hair. Who did he get that from?"

This was the catalyst for an anecdote an adoptive parent shared recently on an online forum I enjoy. She and her husband are European-Americans who adopted their five-year-old as a toddler from Guatemala. They were with her parents and the boy at a family concert where he attracted the compliment and inquiry from another member of the audience.

The grandma's reply - which was something like, "I know, isn't his hair gorgeous?!" - marked a real milestone in the family, one that was secretly celebrated on the internet by the story's contributor and her supporters.

Why? Because it demonstrated that the grandma, who had sometimes struggled with PAL, was learning to be a great adoption advocate for her grandson. She recognized that:

  1. Adoption is the child's story to tell. While we might want to seize on opportunities to explain the unusual way our family came together as a means of "normalizing" adoption, we should be aware that we are sharing our child's personal information. By the time a child reaches a certain age, part of ensuring s/he is comfortable with her background is letting her/him tell her own story whenever s/he feels like it...or not.
  2. Not every question about family origin deserves a detailed response. Many children have complex biological and family histories, and often there are pieces of it that are unknown. Depending on the questioner's motivation, it may or may not be appropriate to provide details.
The grandma's response was great because in front of her grandson, she affirmed the compliment but didn't allow a stranger to take the conversation somewhere it didn't need to go.

"Oh, is your daughter adopted?" was a question another internet friend fielded when an acquaintance saw her with her husband for the first time and realized their dark baby didn't "match" either of them.

Her response? "Yes, our family was built through adoption. Why do you ask?" I love this response because:
  1. It focuses on the family, rather than simply on the child.
  2. It uses the past tense. Just as a child was born, a child was adopted.
  3. The question part of the response, said kindly, could either stimulate positive conversation about adoption (people often ask about adoption because they want to share their personal connections with it), or stub out inappropriate nosiness.
In bringing these examples up and sharing my last post on PAL, I don't want the people in our lives to worry too much about stumbling for the right words. And I know that it's taken M. and me a bit of rethinking to find language that truly articulates our beliefs and values associated with adoption, and we still eat shoe from time to time. Being aware and practicing has helped, which is why I bring it up now.

By the time our son or daughter arrives, I know you will all be so well versed, you will be able to tell anyone who inquires who the kid's real family is.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Say it Right, PAL!

Words are powerful. Language can not only describe reality, it can shape it. How we can intentionally - or unintentionally - use words to control the perceptions of others is something that has interested me for a long time and in fact was the theme of my undergrad thesis, "Language for Self-Empowerment: A Handbook for Women."

This conviction has led M. and me to think a lot and discuss some how we'll talk about adoption with our child. Since we never want to have to tell our kid s/he was adopted - it will be part of his/her awareness from the beginning - we're already trying to choose our words carefully. We want to practice now so that we have the patter down well before it can influence our son or daughter's self-perception.

We have become quite comfortable with positive adoption language (PAL). Undoubtedly, some will see this word parsing as "political correctness" gone amok. We don't. We see it as an opportunity to minimize any stigma associated with adoption and build pride in our family for how we've come together by choosing words with positive or neutral connotations.

Here is a list of words traditionally associated with adoption that have negative or shameful implications. They are in italics. Following each is an example of a preferred term in bold. This list was published by our agency, the Independent Adoption Center, but we've seem others like it in lots of different adoption literature.

Real parent


Natural parent

Biological parent

Own child
Birth child

Adopted child
My child


Born to unmarried parents

Give up
Terminate parental rights

Give away
Make an adoption plan

To keep
To parent

Making contact with

Adoptive parent
Parent (we will prefer "mom" and "dad" :)

An unwanted child

Child placed for adoption

Child taken away
Court termination

Handicapped child

Child with special needs

Is adopted
Was adopted

This last one is a really good, interesting one. I think it is important to realize that while adoption is significant, it should not define anyone's identity. If what other families say is true, it won't take long after our child is with us that adoption becomes very peripheral in our consciousness to feeding, and diapering, and sleeping through the night. As time goes by, probably we won't talk about adoption a whole lot more than most families talk about pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

We would be grateful
if you would use PAL as well. It's important to do this, not just around our kid but always, in order to influence perceptions about adoption in general. After all, words can hurt just as much as sticks and stones.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

April Showers?

Of late there has been much discussion on our agency's online forum about whether and when adoptive parents should have a baby shower. A related topic is when to decorate the baby's room.

Inevitably, these discussions start with excited folks who've been recently matched. My sense is that they want some of the "fun" that they've witnessed their family members and friends who've had children the more traditional way experience. And let's face it: they want the goods! Like me, they'd love to receive thoughtful gifts, as they have enjoyed giving them so many times to new babies throughout the years. They want to fill their closet with adorable little outfits and line their shelves with bedtime stories. On the forums, they are asking those who've gone before them for permission to be truly excited about becoming parents.

Just as inevitably, those who've gone before will respond with words of encouragement mixed with caution. They share stories of failed matches made all the more painful by the unavoidable presence of pastel booties and DiaperGenies.

M. and I are not in a match yet, so I may eat these words but...My take on the question of when is too soon to plan for and celebrate the arrival of an adopted child is anytime before the little one is home with us.

What I think now would work well for us is to have a Welcome Baby party after the relinquishment period has concluded and we've had a little time to bond on our own with our kid. Then it will be such a pleasure to pass him or her around and see the delight s/he brings to the ones I love!

Those of you who really know me will have recognized a gigantic problem with this scenario: I am an inveterate planner. There is no stopping me. The uncertainty of how things will unfold is such a tough part of adoption for me. Will our first match be "the one," or are we in for some more tough disappointment? Will we have a match for five months or five days? Will we have to travel far to be with our birthmother? Will our kid arrive in the spring, summer, winter, or fall?

So, of course I've thought about what I'd want to do in all scenarios. I've decorated our nursery in my mind (and, confessions again, in a few hidden places on the computer). And I have lists! List of things I think we'll need or things I think we'll want or things that we would borrow gratefully. I am more up on the latest and greatest baby products than any non-momma should be. When I am feeling a bit sheepish about my lists, I convince myself that they will be useful at some point, as the last thing we'll want to worry about as new parents is what type of diapering to do.

Probably this reflex is just as much about dreaming as it is about planning. Somehow, it brings me comfort in a way that passing a empty nursery every day just wouldn't.

I know that whenever and however our little one arrives, I will really want to feel and treasure the sense of a close community supporting us as new parents. But it's so hard to find the balance between feeling "ready" and excited with being realistic and self-protective. So, in spite of my cautionary words to myself and others, please don't be too shocked if before too long the walls of our "extra" room turn from white to something a bit warmer...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Biggest Loser?

This post is pretty personal, and I feel kind of vulnerable putting it up for all to read. But one of the things that has frustrated me most about our experience with infertility is that, for some reason, in our culture so many people suffer in silence. (By the way, I think this is especially true for men.) It can feel lonely and isolating.

My gut tells me that if more people were more open about infertility, we'd have better treatments, better regulation, and better insurance coverage! I also suspect we might have less depression and divorce. So, I want to do my part to make "talking" about infertility more acceptable.

I have read (somewhere, oh where?) that there are many losses associated with infertility, and that evaluating which are most meaningful can help determine next steps in family building, be they further treatment, deciding to live childfree, or moving on to adoption, as we have.

With apologies for the misquoting, non-attribution, and forgetting several key points, I'm sure, the losses include:

Loss of a genetic link to your descendants.
M. and I agreed that this isn’t important to us. At first we boasted about how “good” our genes are and thought it would be a loss to the gene pool, but upon further examination, decided that there are plenty of things from all sides of our families that we’d rather not pass on. In fact, the “random” genes of our child are likely to be just as “good” as any of our own.

Loss of a genetic combination.
I DO think it would be really cool to see a combo of my physical and other traits with M.’s (and I’m guessing we’d have a pretty cute bio-kid, judging from M.’s baby pictures). But, this was not a tough one for either of us to get over. We’ve also heard other adoptive parents say that their expectations for their children are healthier because they aren’t rooted in assumptions that their children are “mini-me’s.”

Loss of faith in your body.
This was a hard loss for me. I’ve been such a healthy person, and to learn that my body is out of my control and not doing what I want it to do, and really not even what it is supposed to do, has been a real shift that’s tough to accept. It has certainly made me much more aware of my body (in not always negative ways) and have much less confidence in it. I feel much older now than I should with the few years that have passed. Of course, this loss isn’t much of an issue for M., because we assume that he could procreate if he was with a fertile partner. (He is always very sweet to reassure me that MY infertility is OUR infertility, as I know I would if the shoe were on the other foot, so to speak.)

Loss of…hmmm…what do they call it?...maternal stuff.
This, I think, is the hardest loss for me. Since puberty, I've taken to heart that I have “birthing hips,” and always assumed I’d be pregnant, and labor, and nurse. I’ve had many, many friends re-assure me that I am not “missing” much by never experiencing stretch marks, or a compressed bladder, or 24 hours of active birthing. But I am so sad that I will never know what it’s like to create and sustain another human being. I want to watch my belly swell (from something other than ice-cream) and for M. to watch in awe as our fetus visibly turns over under my skin. I want to understand what it means to bring someone new into the world, and the closeness that comes from a newborn’s nuzzle. I think that one of the attractions of open adoption for me is that we may be able to witness our child’s birth, and I know that will be an incredibly bitter-sweet moment.

So, what do you think? If you learned that having biological kids wasn't in the cards for you, how would you feel? Would you experience a sense of loss? Why?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

It's Not a Total Loss

I'm in the midst of drafting a post about the losses of infertility. What a downer! So I thought I'd pause for a moment and reflect on the things I've actually gained through this experience.

A greater sense of compassion. I believe that infertility has made me much more sympathetic and less judgmental of people with all kinds of struggles, not just those related to family building. If someone acts like s/he is having a bad day, or week, or life, I now suspect it is because s/he is having a tough time.

Attempting to model the behaviors of others that have been helpful to me, I've become a better listener and don't always try to "fix" an unfixable problem that a loved one shares with me. I've become less prone to avoid people I know have experienced something tragic and more ready to offer a simple "I'm so sorry you are dealing with this. You are in my thoughts."

I realize now something I should have clued into much earlier: you cannot judge a book by its cover in regards to painful life experiences. I know some people who've managed through some incredibly difficult situations who have wonderful, sunny dispositions. And I know others who seem to live charmed lives who still manage to see the glass half empty. Through coping with my own challenges, I now recognize that I really have no clue what other people are going through or have experienced - or how it has shaped their world views - unless they tell me.

A stronger sense of self.
Not being able to have biological children has forced me to ask myself all kinds of questions that I could have otherwise avoided but are undoubtedly healthy to explore. I've pushed the boundaries of my ego, redefined personal success, made peace with many of my limitation, and been reminded again and again to try to live in the present rather than the past or future.

I've also proven to myself that I am a tough cookie with a good head on her shoulders and an open heart.

More time with M. When I'm feeling down, I often reflect upon all of the great things I've been able to experience with M. that I couldn't have if I had become a mother nine months after we started TTC. Chief among them is all of the amazing trips we've taken (including Turkey, Guatemala, and Ireland) and the camping we've done. And there have been so many nice evening runs, weekend hikes, museum visits, bottles drunk, meals prepared and consumed together, and lazy weekend naps.

While we'll try hard to continue many of those small and big adventures as a family of three, I know that life will be very different once a little one arrives.

A stronger marriage. Throughout the process of preparing for parenthood and adoption, M. and I have REALLY had to be good partners. We've had to learn to ask for some extra support when we needed it, and even better, we've learned to recognize when the other needs some extra support and offer it lovingly. We've had to sort through our own feelings and share them with each other when we were most vulnerable. We've had to negotiate and readjust our dreams for the future. And not to be understated, we've had to get a lot done - mountains of frustrating paperwork and other sh*t - together.

I feel lucky every day that I am sharing my life with such a wonderful person. Our ordeals have provided proof again and again that he will be not only a fabulous husband but also an incredible father. So, in addition to looking forward to parenting with M., I know there will be a great time to look forward to when our little one(s) has flown the coop and we will again be able to snuggle together as late as we'd like on Sunday mornings.

New friends. Searching for others who could truly relate, I have been prompted by infertility to connect - in "real life" and online - with people I might otherwise never have encountered, and I am richer for it.

A better sense of how my body works (and doesn't). I've charted my cycles and recognize what little changes signal. I've seen ultrasounds of my insides. I can talk more knowledgeably than anyone without an diploma from a fancy medical school should about cervical mucus, trailing follicles, and estradiol levels.

I'm a believer that knowledge is power, and I appreciate all I've learned about the human - particularly the female - body. It's amazing, interesting stuff. And it's so complicated, it's now hard from me to understand how anyone ever actually does conceive successfully.

Better preparation for parenthood.
The delay in becoming a parent has given me more time to "marshal our resources" for when we eventual have our kid. Specifically, we've been able to make more money and have now been able to afford to buy a great home for our little family.

I've also had more time to learn about what it may eventually be like be a mom. Obviously, I've done a lot of reading and talking with friends and family members with kids. Particularly, I've done a lot of observing, and M. and I have done a lot of reflecting on parenting, which I think will be very helpful. (If I've learned one thing, it's that I can't truly predict what it will be like and need to be prepared to take back my "I'll-never-do-that-with-my-kid" assumptions!)

No more fear of needles.
Yeah, that's one small benefit of becoming a human pincushion.

Friday, April 3, 2009

So, Whazzup?

Almost every time I connect with a friend or family member after it’s been awhile, I can hear a question on the tip of their tongue. They want to ask, but aren’t quite sure how. I know they are curious, but are afraid that bringing it up could be painful. They want to know:

What’s up with our adoption?

Unfortunately, the answers right now are “not much” or “waiting, waiting, and waiting.”

One of the key characteristics of open adoption is that the birthmother selects the family with whom she will place her child. This makes absolute sense from an ethical standpoint, and the empowerment and “choice” involved in open adoption is one of the things that attracts us to it. From an emotional standpoint, however, it is hard for me to accept that there is not a whole lot we can do to influence the situation. We pretty much have to wait for a contact and then for a “match.”

M. and I were finally approved by our agency and the State of California to adopt “an infant of any race under the age of one year” in July 2008. (This, of course, followed the very arduous home study process, which I will probably write about later.) As soon as we were “in the book,” as our agency terms it, they began sending our Dear Birthmother Letter – a one-page glossy profile – to any inquiring women whose criteria match ours. They also linked our web site to the agency’s. The wait began.

Being optimists, we jumped every time the phone rang and checked our email constantly. After a few weeks of deafening silence, we became (a little) less obsessive about it.

I think it was in late July or early August when we were contacted for the first time. In the intervening months, I believe we have been contacted by phone six or seven times about different situations. About half the time, we’ve had an initial conversation and then waited eagerly for more contact that never came. That’s been discouraging, and always leads us to wonder if someone else was “picked” or if she decided not to place at all. The other half of the time, we’ve indicated to our agency that we’d made the very difficult decision not to pursue the situation.

How could we actually turn something down? Well, each time it was a very difficult decision (and I’ll confess to having second-guessed them a little as our wait extends). But in each case we felt like there were big questions – not necessarily even problems, but issues such as the situation with the birthfather, or possible health concerns – that couldn’t be resolved satisfactorily in the time frame before the baby was scheduled to arrive. We wanted to be more excited than nervous, and we just weren’t. (I wonder about those babies too, and hope that they and their families are all doing well.)

For the first several months of waiting, we actually felt encouraged by our level of contacts. In fact, in early August we received a wonderful email from our adoption coordinator: “You had more letters go out than any of my other clients this month: 28!” We recognize that we have relatively high “letter counts” because our profile is very open and we’re up to considering all kinds of situations that many other adoptive families aren’t (e.g., transracial, sketchy health histories, etc.). Our letter counts and the traffic to our web site made us feel like we were getting pretty good exposure and just needed to wait for the right contact.

But now it’s been eight months, and we haven’t had any contacts in a couple of them. We were frustrated through half of January and all of February because our agency put us on hold and didn’t send any of our letters out; our home study and “marketing materials” had to be updated to reflect our new home.

Now we’re in, we’ve been re-approved, and can even boast about the sunny bedroom “we can’t wait to turn into our baby’s nursery.”

So, that’s the latest non-news on our current status. Please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m not always in the mood to say much more than “still waiting,” but I continue to appreciate your interest.

Our Dear Birthmother letter and every page of our web site says, “We are excited and ready to be Mom & Dad!” I wonder many times every day if this will be the one that will bring us closer to our son or daughter.