Thursday, August 26, 2010


It's back to work I go. Two weeks ago, I returned full-time to my job as a college administrator. I know that a very special era in my life is over.

When Dylan arrived, I took the first three months off from work totally, using a combination of accrued vacation and our state's paid family leave to make up for my missed income. That time, especially, was so unique. I spent hours just focused on my new son, getting to know him, cuddling him, feeding him. We took long walks and spent lots of time rocking in the glider on our wide front porch. Often, when he napped, I would nap too, which helped me stay coherent despite the regular night feedings.

Friends and family were excited to meet our little one, and I loved sharing him with them. I invited colleagues over for lunch and felt connected to the "real world" just enough. For the first time I can recall, I was able to keep our house (reasonably) clean and tidy. Dylan's first months coincided with the holiday season, and I really enjoyed having time to shop online, wrap presents nicely, and deck the halls. I baked. I nested. Mind you, I wasn't super productive and I often marveled at how little I actually was able to accomplish in a day. (Though we had grand plans, Dylan's room still isn't decorated!) But my primary ambition was caring for this new human, and I felt like I was succeeding.

Then in January I returned to work 60% time, spending three full days in the office. This summer, I went down to 50%, which has usually meant just going to the office one full day and three afternoons. With my part-time work, most of my domestic "niceties" went out the window; we've avoided entertaining, and there are monster-sized dust bunnies floating around.

But I was able to stay connected with my son. I knew his routines. I could spot tiny incremental developments in his awareness and skills. Heck, I could predict the color and consistency of his poop the next day, because I prepared his meals and fed him!

I know how privileged I was to have had all this time with him. The vast majority of parents around the world and even in our "developed" nation struggle to put food on the table while working at least one full time job. They don't have the stable position with good benefits that I do that enabled me to shift my schedule.

And let me also say that I respect those parents who want to work full-time jobs. They recognize that a critical ingredient to providing little ones with happy, fulfilling childhoods is having parents who are happy and fulfilled, and many people would not be happy and fulfilled without pursuing careers that demand full-time attention.

Before becoming a parent, I speculated that part-time work would be ideal for me. It would allow me to continue to contribute to endeavors that make a difference beyond my immediate family and keep my mind engaged in things that challenge me in interesting ways. I recognized that I couldn't really be content as a full-time, stay-at-home parent.

Fortunately, my partner in parenting was also interested in splitting his time between caring for his child and his paid work. We debated and investigated and determined that if we scrimped and cut back some and relied on the regular help of my mother, we could afford to both work less than full-time for a few years, so that we could care for Dylan in our own home, by ourselves, which was our preference.

Unfortunately, that wasn't to be. A few months ago, my boss let me know that she needed me to return to work full-time when the new school year began. Hoping to convince her otherwise, I proposed lots of other options, including job sharing. Never-the-less, she stuck to her conviction that my job, as it currently must be constructed, is truly a full-time (or more, I must say!) job. Though I suspect she made the right decision for the College, I was of course quite disappointed. I contemplated leaving, but that just isn't feasible at this point.

And so began the scramble to figure out childcare.

Even before Dylan, M. and I spent lots of time investigating and discussing the great debates about the impacts of different childcare arrangements on children. I reached a few conclusions. First, the research is inconclusive, and the "conversation" is sometimes divisive. Second, its impossible to extract the influence of the type of childcare from the other influences on a young child's life. Next, most families have limited options and therefore don't necessarily make a decision they feel is ideal for their children; as in most situations in life, compromises are made.

I became convinced that whatever we arranged, Dylan is the type of kid who will do well. The preference to have him looked after entirely by family members in his earliest years is more about us (me!) than him.

With that in mind, we checked into day care centers, home day care options, and nannies who would come to our home. Since my mom was still willing to spend one day a week looking after her grandson, and since M. was still able to work his clients into about 24 hours per week, we only needed to find part-time coverage.

There were some really stressful days when it looked like none of our options would pan out. But then I followed a lead from a colleague that got more and more promising. I'm delighted to report that we've hired K., a warm, wonderful young woman who will be Dylan's nanny four mornings a week. She has strong experience and good references, and clearly loves kids. In fact, she will be earning her elementary teaching credential at my school during the evenings.

In my first conversation with K., I told her we hoped to find a situation that becomes so comfortable, the nanny is like an extension of our family. Sure, it's too early to tell, and in fact, she won't start caring for Dylan until next week, when her classes also begin. But I am very optimistic.

We've patched together childcare in these intermittent days before K. arrives, exploiting the love of Dylan's aunts and grandmother.

Now I'm back in the office, typically from 8 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., with lots of opportunities for "weekend and evening work." It's still too early to really tell what it's going to be like to be a mom who works full-time.

Yes, I still snuggle with him when he first wakes in the morning, I've come home for lunch a lot to see him a bit, and we're together in the evenings. He crawls through my legs while I'm pulling together dinner, and he sits next to me in his booster seat shuffling Joe's O's while M. and I dine. We splash through his bath and then play a bit before I wrestle him into his jammies. There's still time to read a story together, and then we rock and rock while he drifts to sleep (if we're lucky). There are still many, many sweet moments.

But even now, the relaxed confidence I had that I was doing a "good job" as a mother is slipping away. I'm constantly checking in with myself: "Am I paying enough attention to my son? Is it the right kind of attention? Should I be playing with him more, instead of clearing the dishes? Should I keep him awake a bit longer, so we can read more together, or should I put him down, so I can relax a bit and maybe actually have a conversation with M?"

I'm nervous about how I'm going to handle the tough juggling acts on the horizon, and I am sad that the sweet, sweet months at home with my baby boy are already behind me. I know the tension I'm coping with is nothing new; I feel like I am living a cliché. It's something many (most?) parents struggle with at some point. However, the fact that I have excellent company at my own personal pity party is cold comfort. This is a big transition for me, dang it!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sometimes, I forget

Last Friday I spent a really lovely afternoon at the beach with Dylan and the mom. We splashed and played in the sand where it met the water and my son squealed when the tiny waves in the bay created by the wake of the boats rolled onto him.

At one point, my mom - always prepared with a healthy snack - offered some grapes. I surprised myself by decadently responding that what I'd really like was an ice cream. She surprised me by encouraging me to got get some for both of us.

And so I slipped on my sandals and found myself reveling in the summery feel of sand rubbing between my toes as I walked the short blocks to the little liquor store on the peninsula.

Coming off the sunny sidewalk, my eyes adjusted to the dim store as I slid open the cooler's door and the frost tingled my salty face. I browsed through the treats before selecting a foil-wrapped drumstick for my mom and a plastic covered ice cream sandwich for myself. Classics!

Out of the shop, I headed back and let my happy thoughts drift to our plans for the weekend. Then they shifted darkly to news my mom had shared about a friend who is ill.

Stepping off the boardwalk and back onto the sand, my thoughts refocused as I saw again my mother, still sitting at the edge of the water. And there next to her was a very little boy, his floppy white hat reflecting the bright sun. The sight of him startled me.

I realized that for a moment, I had forgotten him. I had forgotten this little child, that I have a precious son.

How is it possible that from time to time, I forget? All those years hoping, waiting, and working to bring a child into our lives, how can he slip so easily from my awareness?

While I find this forgetfulness remarkable, I don't feel guilty about it or find it disturbing. It's always fleeting, and certainly the reminder is pleasant. For so long, my identity was tied to being a single woman, and then to being infertile. I just figure that it will take awhile to fully integrate this new me, to always know that I am a mother.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


One of the premises of open adoption is that the birth and adoptive families will have contact after placement. A quick cruise around Adoptionland makes it obvious that this contact takes as many different forms as there are families. However, it is striking to me how much of the pain in open adoption is related to contact.

In most states, open adoption agreements – which typically stipulate the frequency and modes of connection - are not legally enforceable; once the adoption is finalized, the legal parents hold all the cards.

It didn’t take much internet research to find blog after blog by birth moms who feel deceived about the kind of access they would be given to their children. It is horrifying to me that some potential adoptive parents are so desperate for a child that they intentionally mislead expectant mothers, knowing all along that they don’t intend to maintain a relationship.

Perhaps almost as frequently, I’ve read about adoptive families who are eager to hear from their child’s birth mother (or father) and wish they had more contact. If they haven’t heard from her in awhile, they worry about her. That’s our situation with V. right now.

When we were getting to know her before Dylan was born, we spoke to V. on the phone a couple of times a week and emailed just as often. During our formal match meeting led by our agency’s social worker, we talked a lot about contact after birth. V. was asked how often she thought she’d want to see us and whether she’d like to receive phone calls, emails, photos, etc. She indicated she’d like to see him about every other month (which truthfully sounded good on an emotional level but potentially challenging logistically, since we live about 2.5 hours apart. But we committed to it, and intended to meet this commitment).

We very carefully and candidly told her that if we became the parents of her son, she would always be welcome in our lives...unless we felt it undermined our family in some way or if we felt if was dangerous for some reason. V. smiled and said she understood and supported this. She said she didn’t see it being an issue, but if it did for some crazy reason, she’d want us to protect Dylan and our family.

While we were sitting there in the coffee shop, discussing and documenting question after question, scenario after scenario, I remember the social worker cautioning us that things change, and though the agreement should serve as a helpful framework, we should strive to be flexible in the future. She reminded us that people move on – literally and figuratively – and needs and wants in life change. She pointed out that we couldn’t anticipate now how Dylan’s placement might affect us all emotionally, especially V. This scared me.

I want to be careful about what I write here about our contact with V. since Dylan’s placement. It’s too personal for this public space. But let me just say that it has always been positive (at least from our side), in the sense that she’s been open with us about all she’s been going through related to adoption loss, but also talked about good things happening in her life. She’s fun, funny, and easy to talk with.

But the communication from her has been infrequent and unpredictable. Though we send email updates with photos every month, we struggle to know what else to do. We don’t want to push her to do things she isn’t comfortable with and we want to support her if she needs some distance to “move on.” On the other hand, we never want her to doubt that we love her and want her in our lives. We never want her to wonder if she should contact us, or fear that she’s inserting herself where she doesn’t belong.

And I worry now about Dylan. At this point, he isn’t aware when she doesn’t respond to our suggestions we visit, or that she hasn’t called in several months. But someday he will know if a birthday is missed or an invitation ignored.

I know it is impossible to shield our children from pain, and that part of parenting is teaching them how to cope with disappointment and loss, adoption related or otherwise. But I fear we need to start practicing now how to talk with him about his birth mom, her love for him, and then why we don’t hear from her much.

So I get a lot from reading about others’ experiences with contact between families. In some ways, it’s reassuring to learn about how challenging it is in most open adoptions; we aren’t alone. In other ways, it’s discouraging. There are so many misunderstandings, miscommunications, unexpressed desires, and many, many fears.

When I read about “successful” open adoption – ones in which there is frequent, consistent, and (at least fairly) comfortable connection - I am often struck by how much hard work goes into them. My sense is that, like in most other relationships, there are ups and downs, times that a easy and time that are challenging, but that those who continue to strive to have open minds and open hearts, rewards are there for all involved.

Tell me, since most of us choose open adoption because we believe it is in the child’s best interest, how do we get beyond our adult insecurities and pain? How can we support others in our triad so that the effort is worthwhile to us all?