For those inclined toward graphs and other things that scare English teachers, you already know that I post a lot less now.  J.D.’s adoption was finalized back in December.  He is already up and mobile.  Kevin, our now-five-year-old, starts kindergarten this fall.  (*sniff*)  I am concluding my thirteenth year as a teacher.  My husband recently switched firehouses and is now part of our city’s major rescue squad.  Our dog will soon weigh what I do.  I joined roller derby.  Our house needs lots of stuff done to it.  I bought an iPad.  Kevin has declared that Joan Jett’s “Cherry Bomb” is his favorite song.  I’m on the third Harry Potter book.

I’m busy.  And that’s good.

Crazy as it may sound, there are endless aspects to raising adopted children that are no different than raising biological children, from what I can tell, and yet they are different…sort of.  We get busy.  We do school stuff.  We debate when is the right time to start a sport/musical instrument/second language/all/none of the above.  We have each refereed our first playground brawl.  We have thrown birthday parties — first the kind populated by our own friends, then by those of our child.  We take them for shots every year, and we try not to cry when they do.

(At the last round of immunizations for Kevin, he said to me while sobbing after the FOURTH shot, “Mom, I thought I was brave, but I’m not!”  I think I cried harder than he did.)

In my thus-far-relatively-limited experience, adoption comes into play episodically.  On some occasions, it’s a logistical factor in something simultaneously monumental and mundane, like registering for kindergarten.  On others, conversations about “two mommies” happen when we least expect them, and they are beautiful and scary and profound and absolutely vital.  I have a tendency to often re-realize that all of this almost never happened, and I become overwhelmed with gratitude and awe and some other feeling whose name I can’t pin down yet.  But that’s for me.  And I’m only part of the story.  For my sons, as they get older and increasingly aware of their own stories and begin to process how they feel about adoption from one day to the next, episodic will likely not be the word to use.  Omnipresent?  Nebulous?  Or maybe it will be episodic and unpredictable.  I have no way of knowing or controlling, and I’m really okay with that.

Through it all, adoptive parents need to bear in mind that a large part of each child’s identity will be shaped by the circumstances of his birth and his placement with his family.  It will not be his sole identifier, and it may not even be his primary identifier — if I’ve learned anything over the past six years, two adoptions and countless hours reading and learning, it’s that no two adoptees feel exactly the same way about their adoptee status.  Nor should they.  But that status, that part of their personal and family history, is there, and at some points more than others, it needs to be considered, discussed, reconsidered, explored, accommodated, deferred to, and every once in a while completely ignored.  Depends on the situation.

And in this respect, the “adoption process” is never really over.

I never, ever thought I’d get on board with the factions who align adoption with loss and grief as its central analogy, but I’m about to do exactly that…in my own way.  I recently spoke to members of a family who lost a young adult, suddenly and tragically, just as both my family and my husband’s family each did over the past several years.  They asked when it would get better, when they would stop feeling so paralyzed with grief.  And I explained that, as we have experienced with our losses, it doesn’t end.  It doesn’t stop.  It changes, and it becomes a part of your life and your family and your individual and collective stories, but it never actually ends.  There’s no conclusion to the grieving process for a loved one.  And I don’t think there should be.  I want to always feel the gaping hole left by my brother’s death, because it shares a space with how much I loved him.  Some birthdays, holidays or anniversaries of his death pass by virtually unnoticed, and others find me completely debilitated.  We take the process as it comes, and we deal with it as honestly and steadily as we can.  Good days are good days, and bad days are awful, and we have to experience each of them as they happen.

Similarly, the scope of the birth of each of our sons, the stories of the women who chose us to be their parents, each evolution of each open adoption, and every conversation about how our family became our family — these will sometimes feel more monumental than others.  No, adoption is not death.  But it is a lifelong gamechanger, and an identity-maker, and something I would never erase from our story even if I could.  It’s also an element of each of our son’s lives that they might never feel finished processing, and so neither will we.

But from here, for the purposes of this blog — I never could stop hating that word — there is less and less to discuss.  The finer points of developing functional relationships with our sons’ birthmothers are not for public discussion.  I do not foresee an unplanned adoption, so there will be no subsequent process to narrate.  For the most part, we will be busy raising our children and living our lives.  Maybe a bit down the road, when Kevin wants bigger talks about bigger things, I will return to writing about being an adoptive family for the same reasons I started — to help others navigate some barely-charted waters, to collect and assess my own thoughts, and to help my family and friends understand our unique family and perhaps adoption in general a little better.

For now, as another school year draws to a close, a backyard kiddie pool is calling, and those Harry Potter books aren’t going to read themselves.  If you’re waiting to welcome a child into your family, I wish you all the best, and I hope you will keep reading and listening and learning about adoption, from every possibly productive direction.  If you’re one of the internet crazies of any variety, I hope for your sake and for the sake of others that you find a better use for your time.  Get off the computer and out into the world, in a way that makes it better.  If you’re a friend or family member who has followed along this past year and a half, we have a camp chair and a cold drink waiting for you.  Thanks for being a part of this process.  Looking back over even just a few of my posts here, that process has been enormous and completely stunning, in multiple senses of the word.  Your love and support has meant a lot to us.

Signing off, for now, sort of….

Nora (and Matt and Kevin and J.D.)

I will never rescind my emphatically argued stance that open adoption is generally in the best interest of a child.  Medical records are the simplest, most concrete supporting reason, but they are by far not the end of the argument.  Both anecdotal and statistical research indicates that children fare better when given access to information about and contact with their biological families.  Unless biological relatives present a discernible danger to the child, in which case all bets are off and contact should be handled cautiously and in small steps, I would never condone denying or even limiting contact.

But I now find myself wondering, where do we place the line between ‘providing access’ to information and visits and, as adoptive parents, facilitating, or even forcing, such contact?

In both cases, our adoption agreements involve letters and pictures, but at our initiative and consent the adoptions are far more open in practice — email, text, calls, Facebook and visits.  Both of our sons have now spent a weekend with their respective biological mothers at around 6-8 months old.  We suggested and arranged both visits, feeling very strongly that all parties concerned would benefit.  We provided for extensive time alone between each pair.

But past infancy, should we involuntarily arrange visits?  Or should we wait until each child expresses a desire to spend more time with his birthmother?  In either case, we are in an open adoption, in which information is freely exchanged and available.  But I’m beginning to wonder if a dose of Open Adoption Kool-Aid led me to believe that more contact is always better for everyone.  If every adoption is different, why would I believe that part of my duty as an adoptive parent is to suggest, re-suggest, arrange and provide visits from several states away?  Especially if one or both birthmothers have gone on to lead increasingly complex, and not always healthy or stable lives, at what point is it more my responsibility to reserve visits for a time when my sons can expressly request them, when they will also be more able to process the nature of their families?  Knowing myself, and knowing that the information and contact — and moreover, the respect and open dialogue — will always, always be present, would I be acting with cautious protection or doing a disservice to my sons by holding off on further visits?

One vital idea I always keep close: Someday, I will answer to my sons for everything I have ever said or done regarding their adoptions. And I have no regrets.  (Even standing up to internet adoption bullies.  I’m actually quite comfortable about that.)  I have often assumed that this will mean accounting for every opportunity for contact: Did I do enough? But now, after a very thought-provoking weekend with my younger son’s birthmom, which led to much thought about both situations, will I also wonder if I did too much?

If open adoption is intended for the benefit of the child — not to address the coping status of the birthmother, or the collective conscience of the adoptive parents — how do we know when visits are actually benefiting the child?  Is there even a ‘we’ in any of this?  Aside from basic values — respect, honesty and love for the child — is there anything even approaching a ‘rule’ that can be applied equally to more than one adoption?

I have let myself feel awful that a visit with my older son’s birthmom hasn’t worked out since he was a baby.  And then I remember that she hasn’t asked for one, let alone put forth any effort.  She never even asks how he is doing.  If he likes school.  How tall he is.  We don’t hear anything.  No relationship functions as a one-way street.  Why do I still feel like the obligation for contact and the potential for visits is mine alone?

Similarly, I feel awful that our weekend with our younger son’s birthmom was problematic, to say the least.  For the well-being of my children, I know that better understandings need to be reached before she can visit again.  Why does that feel like failure?

My husband and I don’t have the answers to any of these questions.  We don’t feel compelled to have answers at this point.  Asking the questions is the important part right now.  We’re okay with figuring things out as we go — maybe even with asking a few of these questions to the people who might be able to answer them, because we can’t (and shouldn’t) try to figure this out on our own.

And on that note, I would really like to hear thoughts from any of my readers on this.  What has worked?  What have you needed to rethink, and why?  Has your child’s adoption opened up more over the years?  What set that pace?  Has it closed, or has contact faded out?  Why?  Feel free to reply as a comment, or email me if you’re more comfortable doing that than posting in public: paperpregnancymom@gmail.com.

I think I consider myself a medium-sized conspiracy theorist — i.e., I’m on board that our government does things that the writing team for the Jason Bourne franchise would toss in the circular file as being too far-fetched, but I don’t quite buy that there are secret laboratories in the New Mexico desert.  That’s about my level of conspiratorial conscription.  And asserting that health care and health insurance in this country are a crooked, crooked business — I don’t feel like that’s even a conspiratorial, or even controversial statement to make.  Those who devote their lives to healing the sick and comforting the dying will have my respect until my own final days.  Those who make a living wrongfully wrenching money from those who are dying and those they leave behind, or those whose paychecks get padded by finding ways not to pay for a kid’s cancer treatment?  They get a special circle in hell.

With all that said, I will go on record as stating that there seems to be an added level of aversion to covering adopted children on employee health plans.  After two adoptions, my husband and I are among the many who have watched our employers and/or our insurance companies actively seek to avoid including an adopted child on a health insurance policy — occasionally to an extent that friends and family have refused to believe.  “They can’t really do that…can they?”  Well, ‘they’ have certainly seemed to think so.

Our first son, we were told, could not be included on our policy until his adoption was finalized — in his case, about four months after he was born.  Babies can ring up quite a set of well-baby visit bills in a few short months, let alone should anything go wrong.  It took union intervention and a court order to get him covered, retroactively to the moment of birth, as is specified by law.  (At this time, I’d like to invite anyone who thinks government employees don’t need union representation to kindly say so within arm’s reach of me. Thanks.)  During the process of my husband’s paternity leave for our older son, my husband was also inexplicably cut from the Fire Department personnel roster altogether, including from all benefits, so that was another fight to get coverage, this time for all of us.

So this time, with the birth and placement of our second son, we knew the system.  We knew what documentation to have on hand, we knew not to panic when giant bills started showing up at the house, and we knew which offices to call both within the Fire Department Benefits Division and at our insurance company.  We did inexplicably lose all coverage for the family — again — but we knew our way around getting ourselves reinstated.  And we slalomed the initial refusals of coverage like Olympic skiers.  We felt like ninjas.  Downhill skiing ninjas.  Bills got paid, insurance cards showed up — we were even so bold as to switch from PPO (one of the last remnants of our fertility treatment days, since that was the only way to see a great specialist) to HMO, with only the predictable lapse in coverage and handful of phone calls to set everything straight.

And then, about a week ago, I opened an envelope from the hospital in which J.D. was born to find a bill for nearly $30,000.  We were being re-charged for all of his birth expenses, even though these expenses were paid months ago.  After a few calls — dialing as fast as I could at 4:40 on a Friday afternoon — I learned that our employer, the City of Chicago, had suddenly and inexplicably changed J.D.’s date of coverage eligibility from his date of birth to the day after he was born.  Conveniently enough, this meant that our insurance, administered by the city itself (Chicago is what is referred to as self-insured) was no longer responsible for his birth expenses.  And the insurance company had subsequently revoked all payment.  No explanation, no indication at any point that this might happen.

What frightens me most is that somewhere downtown, someone collects a paycheck to do this — to review employee policies and billing to find out where they can scrape back a few bucks.  Adoptive families are apparently easy pickings, because I’m not the only one who has had to fight an employer about this.  Adoptive parents go in circles over Social Security numbers, which aren’t given until weeks or months after finalization.  Medicaid declares the baby ineligible since she is allegedly covered by her adoptive parents’ insurance, except that she’s not, and neither side wants to be the one to give in and pay for her care. Care and coverage hinge on court dates, when the insurance company knows they have to cover the child — they just want to see if the adoptive parents will fold first.

And adoptive families are by NO means the only, or even easiest target.  In my own extended family, an aunt fought tooth and nail for nursing facility care explicitly covered by a policy designed for exactly those circumstances.  Another aunt volleyed from her son’s hospital bed while he fought leukemia — twice — to phone fights with an insurance company who thought they’d found a way to cut off his care.  And so on, and so on, and so on.

Before I rivet you any further with horror stories and insurance lingo, our situation has been settled.  J.D. was still covered by Medicaid under his birth mother.  But it led me to address this here, because in all the burp-cloth buying and the name debates and the nesting, this is a concrete matter that every waiting couple would be very wise to investigate.  Get your hands on a copy of your employee benefits handbook.  Call your insurance company when you’re matched, and run the hypothetical scenario past at least two customer service representatives — make sure you get the same answer twice, with regard to how and when your new baby will receive coverage.  Call again when the baby is placed in your care, and follow up within a day or two.  When in doubt, ask again, a notch or two up the chain of command.  Involve your union, if you have one.  It’s what they’re there for, and they’ve handled this before.  Email your lawyer if a question arises.  Do not trust that anything happens automatically.

The only automatic response in our case was from me, when a staggeringly large medical bill showed up in the mail.  I didn’t panic.  I rolled my eyes and reached for the phone, thinking, ‘Here we go again.’

We can never, ever truly know a pain we haven’t lived through.  We can sympathize, and we can wring our hands, but we can’t say we genuinely understand unless we’ve been there.  And that is truth, undeniable.

Sympathy is not wasted, and authentic efforts to better understand the struggles of others are not mere patronization.  But there will always remain a clear divide between those who have endured a particular brand of life-altering obstacle and those who have not.  Accepting this reality does not exclude us from supporting loved ones in pain, nor does it contribute to any concept of a ranking system for life’s turmoil.  It’s just, for lack of better articulation, the way it is.

I will never truly know what my husband feels at a fellow firefighter’s funeral.  If it took you six months to get pregnant, I can’t say we share a bond of infertility, either.  Those who fight for the rights of rape victims do not process the concept of rape the same way as a woman who has been victimized.  We can care about one another from the bottom of our guts — and we should – but the line is indelible and needs to be acknowledged.

When people take up that line, however, and choose to whip it in every direction; or when those who have endured and survived choose to use their survival as an impervious barrier to meaningful dialogue and potential progress; my sympathy wanes, and eventually ceases.  I rarely feel inclined to play armchair psychologist; let people lay down their own money (or insurance cards) for professional help when they need it.  But it seems fairly evident that shutting others out in a time of pain is a very basic defense mechanism.  Aligning only with those who’ve suffered similarly seems a straightforward way of insulating ourselves.  And if survivors need a period of self-preservation and relative isolation as they heal, I can respect that.  It’s when that shield, that self-segregation mutates into carefully sculpted hostility that I no longer feel compelled to respect someone’s pain, because ‘respecting’ it has evolved into being accosted by it.

If you’ve been the victim of racial, religious, gender or sexuality based discrimination, I will absolutely fight for you.  But if you hate me for what happened to you, we’re not on the same side anymore.  Frankly, I don’t think we’re even in the same war at that point.

I don’t doubt for a second that there are shady adoptions still happening in this country and around the world.  I do not question that some couples sneak past a home study when they are not fit to parent.  I am certain that many women who have relinquished babies to adoptive parents wish they could have it all to do over.  And that there are those who were wishing this as they signed the papers.  As I posted previously, there are adoptive parents who disgrace us all, and they have armies of lawyers or agencies or social workers who may be no better.

I have read a LOT of blogs and articles from those whom we commonly categorize as ‘anti-adoption,’ or whom we could at least recognize as opposing certain aspects of adoption as an institution.  I have considered and reconsidered a number of facets of adoption, thanks to the men and women who are brave enough to speak frankly and proactively about much-needed changes to policies and practices — some to which I was completely oblivious, and others I had never examined through the lens of another’s experiences.  Thanks to those who speak their truths when it is often initially unwelcome by adoptive parents, I am now an emphatic supporter of open records and legally enforceable adoption agreements.  I completely altered my stance on adoptive parents in the delivery room after a beautiful but unequivocal blog posting by a birthmother.  I may not agree with every word she says, but I don’t know how any adoptive parent could deny some of the hard truths she is sharing based on her own experience.  And she is incontestably doing so — eviscerating the most tender elements of her most difficult experience — to help others better understand the choices and subsequent repercussions in front of them.

And then, by contrast, there are the crazies.  If fear and ignorance drive the crazy adoptive parents, then unresolved anger and an overdeveloped sense of precedence or congruity drive this coexistent brand of lunacy.  But rather than delve further into amateur psychology, I’ll just share a little of what’s out there, just as I did with regard to adoptive parents.  These are a smattering of what I’ve encountered since first researching adoption at the end of 2005, up through some of the more fabulous hate mail I’ve received on this blog.  Many more adoptive parents than me have encountered this level of venom and the semi-organized e-deluge that accompanies it.  As an anti-racist activist — and a high school teacher — I’m way past letting the opinions of others determine my sleep patterns.  But in the interest of balance, and of educating those who might not know that this caliber of animosity exists on the internet, here are some of my favorites….

  • Adoptees who love their adoptive parents and/or do not feel compelled to search for or connect further with their biological families are called ‘Baby Toms.’ This is one of my favorites, and not just for its gratuitous literary allusion.  The core idea here suggests that adoptees are enslaved, and thus possess a slave mentality that drives them to unquestioning loyalty of and subservience to their adoptive parents — hence the analogy to Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  But if we are to respect an adoptee’s choice to search and reunite with their birth families, as I believe is their right and choice, then we must also respect their right not to search and reunite, else we defy the concept of choice.  This term also seems applicable by its users to adoptees who do not speak out against adoption, or, worse yet, who question or criticize the crazies.  It’s divisive, it’s disrespectful, and it’s ridiculous.
  • I am clearly an unfit mother for making jokes about expectant mother parking spaces at Babies ‘R Us. Clearly.  “This ‘joke’,’ she said, “is not a good indication of being prepared to adopt and care for a child.”  Or somebody felt desperately hard-up for something to object about on my blog.  Back to the drawing board for me, I guess, because an anonymous internet poster doesn’t appreciate my humor.  I’ll alert the social worker.
  • Rather than spending money on adoption, adoptive parents should give money to expectant mothers so they can raise their babies with more financial stability. In other words, if we (adoptive parents) really cared about these babies, we would use our apparently limitless financial resources to bankroll someone raising a child, rather than providing a home and family for a child whose mother has decided she is not ready, willing or able to parent.  Because, after all, money is all it takes.  And we should provide it, because these babies are categorically better off with their natural mothers.  No, I’m not kidding.  I actually followed this argument on an ancient online adoption community, right before it went down in a ball of squabbling flames.  I’m pretty sure the point of the argument was to back adoptive parents into a guilt-ridden corner: if you cared so much, THIS is what you’d do.  Instead, the message I received revolved around the small portion of the online community who exert their presence for the cardinal purpose of demeaning others.  In the interest of balance in the universe, I strongly encourage ALL parents to donate baby gear, clothes, diapers and funds to their local women’s shelter or similar organization to assist needy moms and families.  As a charitable society, we should do what we can to help others raise the babies they have chosen to raise.  But other than a sense of karma, this is not because I have adopted.
  • Adoptive parents can’t disagree with adoptees or birthparents on issues of adoption, because we can’t know their pain. This one is trickier.  As asserted earlier, nope — I can’t know anyone else’s experiences but my own.  However, if we are only entitled to opinions on matters in our direct bank of experiences, then I couldn’t have an opinion on war, immigration, gay rights, or countless other matters that do not directly impact my individual life.  Back here in reality, though, we educate ourselves on the issues we care about, and we coagulate informed stances on complex topics.  These opinions are ideally thought through and mercifully malleable as issues evolve and our knowledge increases.  But herein lies the abuse of the aforementioned line between those who have and have not endured an experience.  It acts as an at-the-ready conversational killswitch.  Someone disagrees with you?  Shut ‘em down; they don’t know your pain.  And the brilliant function of this defensive posture is its catch-all applicability.  It’s the rhetorical sludge of the internet age: I, me, my trumps all.  It’s also the irony of online communities.

When preparing to adopt, a reflective parent-to-be wants to know all she can about adoption — and not just from the vantage point from which she will experience it.  We should do all we can to comprehend the scope of adoption as it exists in our country and around the world before we count ourselves among its willing participants.  We should read opinions we find ridiculous, and then read them again just to be sure, and then maybe look at them again down the line to see if there isn’t a grain of challenging truth behind even the most venomous opposition to the institution that will build our families.  Often, among the highly human flaws of these and all bloggers, there are facets of adoption we would not have otherwise considered.  There are choices and consequences minimized by our agencies, our families or ourselves. We owe it to our children to understand all we can.

Every once in a while, there is just angry craziness, and we can dizzy ourselves trying to make sense of it.  These bullies are by far not the first to wrap themselves in a seemingly noble cause as a means to unleash their personal shit on the universe.  You can’t fix them; you can’t ‘beat’ them.  That’s another beauty of the internet.  Every keyboard comes with a sense of infallible entitlement and singular righteousness.  A hopeful adoptive parent can blog about how she knows Jesus will intervene and make that pregnant girl give up her baby, and a deeply damaged adoptee can e-writhe over the wrongs of her life and lay it all at the feet of the institution of adoption, and both of them are certain of their Truth.  They have only their self-selecting circle of adoring readers to agree with them whole-heartedly — along with the doe-eyed glow of their screens, shedding an artificial light on their own special brand of crazy.

I can think of few fields that mine so many aspects of our culture and beliefs, and, respectively and accordingly evoke so many visceral emotions as adoption.  To varying extents for each individual involved, no matter from what angle he or she may be involved — parent of any variety, adoptee, extended family members, friends, and so forth — this is a medical issue, a social issue, a financial issue, a religious issue, a trust issue, a legal issue, and about a dozen other stripes.  It might very well be the most intense experience — if by ‘experience,’ we mean a lifelong, ongoing incident for most — in the lives of the parents who bring a child into the world and then trust virtual strangers to love and raise that child, the parents who are chosen to do so, and the child to whom all of this happens, long before they have a literal and figurative voice with which to speak their piece.

I don’t have all the answers.  I’ve never claimed to have all the answers.  I can speak from my experiences and those in which I’ve had personal involvement.  And as a general practice, I try not to judge the actions of others, particularly when they are in the throes and coping with the impacts of an experience as intensely beautiful and/or terrifying as adoption.

But in such throes, folks lose their damn minds, to speak the South Side English of my upbringing.  And when we additionally factor in the social implications of internet discourse — in which anonymity breeds artificial testicular fortitude and a flawed sense of self-importance, followed by the moral flexibility of a keyboard contortionist — and we run across some absolute insanity.  Not afraid to call a duck a duck on this one.

So in this first installment of a two-parter, I want to fire off some of the adoptive parent insanity I’ve come across in the course of two domestic adoptions.  They’re just snippets, but they indicate the extremes to which some couples will go/run/sink in their quest to build a family, in the process ironically losing sight of the strength of character they have invariably promised to a young woman considering placing a child with them.  You’re not a jerk just for thinking of any of these.  Our minds go to crazy places during intense experiences.  But I’m not shy about saying that you’re probably a jerk if you’ve DONE any of these things.  If you need explanation as to why, I’d be happy to extrapolate.

  • Meticulously making medical stipulations and specifications, in a misguided attempt to essentially catalog order a perfect (white) baby. We were fairly uncomfortable with the profile questionnaire to adopt, in which we were asked to specify which medical conditions, for example, we ‘would accept’ in our baby’s birthparents and extended family.  Raise your hand if you have cancer anywhere in your extended family.  Okay, put your hands down.  How about heart disease?  Asthma?  Allergies?  Hm.  Who in their right minds would look at these near-universal family medical situations and seize a sense of omnipotence, in the form of pseudo-eugenic box-checking?  Unreal.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll come clean: we weren’t comfortable with a baby born to HIV+ parents.  We couldn’t fathom having to say goodbye so soon.  But beyond that, we reasoned that virtually all of the conditions listed were feasible for a child born to us biologically, so we’d be jackasses if we tried to edit it out of an adoption situation.
  • Haggling and bargain-shopping for an adoption agency. I realize as much or more than anyone that financing an adoption is a logistical reality, and many couples struggle to figure out how they will pay for the path to adopting they have chosen.  But flipping that script, so to speak — choosing a path to adoption based on what it costs — is pretty horrifying.  If you feel in your heart and your guts that you want to adopt from foster care, DO SO.  There are children who need and absolutely deserve loving families.  But to say, ‘Private adoption is too expensive; we’re just gonna adopt from foster care,’ is to brush under the rug the unique foreground needs of children coming through foster care.  And that’s just one example.  I’ve listened as couples narrate their reasoning for one international adoption over another based on price.  ‘Price’ is an ugly word just to TYPE in this context.  Maybe this is shameful, and maybe it’s not, but neither my husband nor I could tell you what we paid in total for each of our sons’ adoption processes.  And we’re not rich.  We’re a teacher and a firefighter.  But we chose how we were comfortable adopting, set a vague budget according to what we had and what we could reasonably borrow, and effectively lost track from there.
  • Breaking open adoption agreements. Shame on the states who have not yet made adoption agreements legally enforceable.  But even more shame on the people who capitalize on this.  What possible justification could adoptive parents have for refusing to send pictures and a quick letter or email, to update a birthmother on the life you promised to give her child?  How on earth could you sleep at night if you promised a woman you would treat her with respect and honor her in your family, and then promptly relocate or change contact information?  Cutting off a birthmother without documented justification for the safety of the child — and these cases are few compared to cases of adoptive parents just fading out — is absolutely unconscionable.
  • Being anyone but who you actually ARE in your family profile. I have an entry on this from way-back-when, but to recap, it’s another how-can-you-sleep-at-night issue.  False advertising, to essentially mislead someone into choosing you as the people she thinks would be best to raise her child?  Do you suck that badly in real life?  We bit the bullet and put ourselves out there — tattoos, modest home, lack of overt love for Jesus, and so forth — trusting that someone would see us for who we really are and know that we’re right for her baby.  To do otherwise is lying, for starters and to say the least.
  • Borrowing or renting a car and/or switching license plates when driving to meet an expectant/potential birthmother. F’real, Jason Bourne?  She’s gonna track you back to your Volvo sometime down the line?
  • Using only cash to pay for lunch at the aforementioned meeting. There’s nothing wrong with paying in cash — waitresses definitely fare better when you tip in cash — unless you’re doing so to prevent the birthmother from seeing your name and/or stealing your identity.  I might as well come out and say this now: I don’t get hiding the last name from the expectant/birthmother.  First and foremost, she’s going to ‘give’ you her child.  And you can’t give her your name?  Now there’s an imbalance of trust if ever I saw one.  I know people will disagree.  I might have disagreed five years ago.  But I’ve looked into the faces of two women at the most difficult moment in their lives.  Trust means different things to me now.  And second, she’s already copied down the VIN number on your Volvo, so your last name is incidental, really, isn’t it?

I’m forgetting a few.  I know I am.  I might also have succeeded in coming across as a jerk to a few people.  I can live with that.  It’s better than pretending that I don’t know people do these things, or worse, being lumped in with them as an adoptive parent.  If there’s advice embedded here, it’s that we should all do a hell of a lot of soul-searching.  We should know who we are, what we seek, and why.  Some of the worst choices in the history of the world have been made out of fear and ignorance.

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Ah, but we’re not alone!  I’ve also been lucky enough to have multiple, multifaceted run-ins with the anti-adoption brand of crazies, over the span of the past five years.  And if anxiety-ridden potential adoptive parents act badly out of fear and ignorance, I can’t begin to imagine the myriad fuel sources for the few, the loud, the anti-adoption internet warriors.  Next post….

It was written exactly one week before I went back to work.  Funny that.

Going back to work after maternity leave for our second baby was infinitely harder than for the first.  Part of it may have been because now I know I can do this whole kid-raising thing — I’m actually kind of good at it — and I know if it were economically feasible, I’d make a hell of a full-time mom.

The logistical side of how hard it was to go back to work this time stems from exactly where I work.  I teach at a staggeringly rigorous high school — number one in our state — and I went back to work at the apex of college application season, with a courseload of almost all seniors.  I was instantly swamped with recommendation letter requests, application essay crises, and even a frantic series of phone calls and emails from a parent during the school day, asking if I could please locate an essay her daughter wrote for my class TWO YEARS AGO, because a certain east coast school needs a writing sample.  Yes.  I’ll get right on that.

And just when I want to collapse in a small pile of self-pity, there are a few awesome and perhaps mildly embarrassing truths I should admit:

  1. My baby has been sleeping through the night since he was five weeks old.  We used the same approach as we did with our older son, who slept through the night at eight weeks.  We rule.  So I can’t complain about sleepless nights.  He doesn’t even wake up until 7 or 8.
  2. My husband only works roughly two days a week.  He’s a firefighter.  So while that means 24-hour shifts, and thus days of learning a heightened respect for single moms, the rest of the week he is home raising our boys, planning our meals, and being generally freaking awesome.  He is also good looking.  Which doesn’t hurt.
  3. I love my job.  Love it.  The average burnout rate for teachers is seven years, and this year is lucky thirteen.  I love my job a little more each year, as it turns out.  Even the days that exhaust me are overwhelmingly good.  I don’t know if I could leave everybody at home for a job I hated, and I know people who face this prospect every day.  I’m lucky.
  4. This year, our babysitter — who lives all of NEXT DOOR — added to her repertoire of awesomeness that she’ll start her days with the boys by coming to my house fifteen minutes before I leave the house, and taking over from wherever we happen to be in our morning.  Sometimes this means she comes over and reads the paper, and other days she steps into a typhoon.  Mornings are easier with two kids and a babysitter who comes to me than they were with one kid and having to walk a whole fifty feet to her back porch.  I acknowledge that I struck childcare gold.  So there’s that, too.
  5. Each of my jobs makes me better at the other.  Being a teacher has made me a more reflective mom — with an arsenal of knowledge and tricks for when the teen years come raining down.  And being a mom has made me a stronger, more empathetic teacher.  Each of the 200 kids I work with each week?  They’re somebody else’s kids, and that rings true at a greater depth for me since my own kids were born.

I hope that every mom or dad who has to go back to work after bringing a little one home can admit to similar truths — even the sleeping part.  I hope I’m not the exception to the rule with this stuff.  I hope if you’ve been as busy as me, it’s because you’ve been dividing your time among people and jobs you love and are genuinely invested in. It’s what gets me through the exhausting parts.  That, and coffee.  By the bucketload.

Two more months will not go by before I post again, because I already have another two or three things half-written in my head.  (Plenty of space up there.)  There is our baby boy’s finalization (which happened), there are CRAZY adoptive parents (who are most definitely out there), and there is a book that has been recommended to me — Motherless Mothers — and I’m interested to see if there is any alignment between mother loss, as the book calls it, and what is often described as adoption loss.  These are all on deck.  Hope everybody’s been well.  Drop me a line (paperpregnancymom@gmail.com) or post a comment if anybody has seen progress toward building your families; I’d love to hear how everything’s going.

Recently, a blog I follow linked to an article in Adoptive Families magazine, in which recent media portrayals of adoption and adoptive families were given a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down.’  I admit, I haven’t seen many of the instances cataloged by Adoptive Families, but I wager that everyone impacted by adoption has either winced or warm-fuzzied (or both) upon seeing how adoption can be presented to the general populace.  Here are a few that have caught my attention, for better or worse, and I hope to hear from others about what they’ve noticed….

In the Are You Effing Kidding Me?! category….

  • Books like this that seem to emphasize speed and dodging obstacles (like expectant mothers’ freedom to choose) as keys to a successful adoption.  The words ‘Fast Track’ should not be at the forefront of any book about adoption.  It just feels tacky.  I acknowledge that I haven’t read the book, and my assumptions about its tone from the publisher’s description could be way off.  But if that is the case, the author and publisher should not title the book to capitalize upon and exacerbate many potential adoptive parents’ fixation with speed and simplicity.  I saw it on the shelf at Barnes & Noble and physically cringed.
  • On Fish Hooks, a new Disney Channel cartoon set in the fish tanks of a pet store, the main characters bring home a dog to live in their fish tank. (Ridiculous, yes, and I acknowledge the inherent silliness.)  When one of the fish doesn’t like the dog, he scares the dog into running away.  A fellow fish is horrified, and says something along the lines of, ‘Oh, no! He KNOWS! Did he steal my bike to run away and find his real father?!’  Why would they even GO that route?  The characters are supposed to be kids, and this goofy plot was about a new pet they brought home.  I was watching with my four-year-old, and HE even seemed to think it was weird.  I thought we all kind of knew by now that jokes about being adopted are insensitive and stupid.
  • Babycenter, the massive online parenting community, in which ‘Adopting’ doesn’t exist as a category.  Users can be ‘Trying to Conceive,’ ‘Expecting,’ or among several age ranges for their children, but not adopting.  If you check ‘Expecting,’ you get inundated with breastfeeding crap.  Worse yet, choosing the ‘Trying to Conceive’ option fills your Babycenter adspace with all sorts of fertility products and processes — always a good time if you’ve recently abandoned that road.  There is a choose-your-own option, but Babycenter should add an ‘Adoptive Family’ option, and steer ethical products and services to the same adspace.
  • The trailer for the movie Like Dandelion Dust horrified me.  We *definitely* need another sensationalist portrayal of adoption, in which birthparents are poor white trash, and adoptive parents are rich babysnatchers.  Awesome.  And it’s winning awards?  Fabulous.  Bring on several more years of people asking me if I’m scared that my sons’ real parents will try to take them back, among other stupidities.  Gah!  Let’s all rent The Orphan while we’re at it!

On a brighter note, the Well Isn’t That Refreshing? catgory….

  • Todd Parr, a prolific writer of brightly-colored, simply-illustrated children’s books.  Many of his books seamlessly include adoption, such as The Family Book and It’s Okay to be Different — not adoption-centric, but adoption-inclusive and positive.  He also wrote We Belong Together: A Book About Adoption and Families, which we don’t have yet, but I plan on ordering based on his great treatment of the topic in other books.  There are MANY more children’s books about adoption, even compared to four years ago when our older son was born.  I can’t attest for the tone and quality of all of them, but it’s great to have so many choices.
  • Similarly, there are several baby books geared toward adoptive families, but only a few that didn’t seem to overplay adoption.  In other words, YES, I wanted a baby book that could include my sons’ birthfamilies in the family tree section, and where we’d have space for his adoption story, but it didn’t seem right to choose one where adoption was the sole focus of the child’s birth and identity.  Some of the examples I saw felt a little over-saturated in this respect.  There is middle ground.  I picked My Family, My Journey — inclusive, without overkill.
  • The movie The Family Stone, in which a same-sex couple is preparing to adopt, and Sarah Jessica Parker’s perpetually foot-in-mouth girlfriend character asks a series of stereotypically stupid questions at the family’s dinner table, to which the entire family looks at her like the idiot she is, because this couple and their impending adoption are just another thread in the family’s story.  I liked seeing a nontraditional family portrayed so positively within their family and in general.
  • Heartsong Adoption Cards, a site selling greeting cards for adoptive families, which recently expanded to include completely customizable cards for multiracial families.  The designs are really simple, and they could stand to have more cards for birthfamilies, but I like the idea that a mom saw a need for greeting cards and announcements that include various kinds of adoptive families, so she started Heartsong.  Greeting Card Universe also has a ton of adoption-related cards.

Add more, please — for better or worse….

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