In Slightly More Cheerful News…

Even during my pregnancy, I was talking about getting a tattoo for Cricket. Before he was born, I mostly called him “the mouse,” as in, “the mouse kicks whenever I rest my laptop on my stomach.” I worried that calling him “the baby” or by the name I had chosen would make me sound less pro-choice–and in his first ultrasound, he did look awfully like a mouse. Well, I just pulled the bandage off. It’s still a bit red and sore, but I’m super pleased.

It's just above my ankle

Sorry about the crappy cellphone pic. Here’s how it ends!

The tail curls around the back.

We’re going up to the Emerald City for a visit next week; here’s hoping it’s all healed up by then.

Advertisements

Time Capsule

So after getting such sweet and supportive comments on my post last Wednesday, I screwed up my courage to go back and read those emails I have so much guilt about sending to Ruth. And you know what? They’re really not that bad. This is probably the worst:

12/29/08 As for postpartum stuff–so far, at least, it’s not nearly as bad as I had expected it to be. But then, not a lot since the birth has been what I expected; for example, I did immediately fall in love with the baby and think of him as my son, which for some reason I hadn’t thought would happen to me. And I do get sad, and I do grieve—but even at the worst of it, sitting in the hotel shower and sobbing “I lost my son” over and over, I never doubted that it was the right thing to do; that he was better off and that everyone, really, was better off with the choice of adoption. And the first email I got from you after the placement was like suddenly taking a deep breath when I hadn’t realized I was holding it in—hearing that he was okay, and happy, and loved [which I knew already, but still] was just so helpful to me. Yesterday I thought about him more than I have in awhile, and my breasts started leaking again, which I really thought was behind me—that mind-body connection is a weird and powerful thing. It can be hard to explain to people; I miss him so much, but I don’t regret my decision or want to take him away from his parents. But I miss him.

I do cringe, reading it now, thinking of Ruth reading it while holding her newborn son—but it’s not nearly as bad as I had decided they must be. It’s both a relief and a very weird feeling; at that time, I just wanted to lie down and die. At the same time, I’m really surprised and a bit confused that I didn’t tell them any of the gruesome details. It’s no wonder that I started hearing voices. Part of the reason that I tried to pack away all my grief and maternal feelings is that I worry that they are either completely repressed or uncontrollable; I guess these emails are evidence that that isn’t necessarily so.

My therapist ordered me to let myself really cry it out over Cricket, something I haven’t actually done yet, but it feels like terrible advice to me. I explained to Mr. Book that my so-far compromise has been to let those feelings in for less than a minute, several times a day—I feel a rush of grief, my eyes fill with tears, and then I slam the door. He asked how this procedure makes me feel: “Terrible,” I could not but realize. I just so resist the idea that I need to let these feelings out all the way, even in a protected space. I don’t think this is an issue of “drinking the adoption kool-aid”; it’s not so long ago that I was getting in touch with my anger. So why does the idea of really feeling my loss and grieving that so repel me?

My husband’s father died a few years ago; it was lung cancer, and pretty fast/ghastly. My husband left school for a semester to care for him, and he was the one who was there for the dying man in the end. And it took him probably two and a half years to mostly “get over it” (that’s a lousy phrase, but I can’t think of a better one), and even now he feels guilty and sad whenever he thinks about his dad. And he thinks about his dad a few times a week.  I have never lost anyone but Cricket, so this is my model for what happens when you grieve, and I don’t want it. I think that without realizing it, I had come to find the idea of grief-stricken emails to Ruth reassuring; maybe I did grieve loudly, and I’m not repressing anything—I’m just past it. So to read my careful (if not quite careful enough) missives to her from last year suggests that I’ve still got some wailing and gnashing of teeth coming to me.

In fact, when I think back to the first weeks post-placement, the thing I remember feeling most is bewildered—I simply could not understand what was happening to me. I had spent a goodish chunk of the pregnancy thinking of Cricket as not mine, as myself as a surrogate (yes, I now know that these are not great signs/strategies, but having no counseling and no clue at the time…), and then I met that baby and he seemed so obviously mine. And then he was gone. And of course my agency had no interest in me once I had signed the papers, so I was mostly alone with these feelings, and I drowned some. But at least I have confirmation now that it was quiet, polite drowning that didn’t bother anyone.

I was going to end this with the preceding sentence, but then realized that it sounds very like something that happened when my grandfather died. I was only seven, so I wasn’t really processing what was happening, but I did know that he was gone forever. The reception was at my grandmother’s house, which had a pool in the backyard: mostly kidney-shaped, but with one sharp corner. While walking around the pool in my grey dress, I stepping into the corner and sank. I still remember that experience with a weird vividness; I couldn’t swim, and just stood for a minute on the bottom of the pool in my party dress, looking up. I remember seeing through the surface of the water, the shifting, blurry sky. And then one of my uncles saw me and dove into the pool in his suit to fetch me out. So maybe drowning quietly has always been a priority.

Even Here, He Is Barely Visible

I think that I should say a word about Mr. Book. He is, in almost every way, better than I am—better looking, cleverer, gentler, and more thoughtful. I don’t tend to emphasize this in my day-to-day posting, but he really is my better half. Because adoption was really my decision and I do almost all of the adoption relationship maintenance, he tends to show up here only as my audience or foil. Adoption was his last choice; he wanted us to have an abortion, and when it became clear that that wasn’t on the table, he wanted to parent. I didn’t really get that, in part because I was pretty self-absorbed during that time and in part because I wanted to parent, so I assumed that he was just telling me what I wanted to hear. He didn’t push it because he thought that the decision about how to conclude the pregnancy had to be mine, and so it wasn’t until after the adoption was finalized (six months and change after TPR) that I got that—he wanted to parent. Oops.

He was only partly visible during the process as well; the agency wanted me to leave him off the birth certificate, and was pretty miffed that I insisted that he must be on the certificate and in the open adoption agreement. Ruth and Nora were willing to talk to him, but he mostly kept his head down and lived several states away from me when they visited. I think there’s a general assumption in the adoption community (not universal, but common) that if the birthfather was worthwhile, there wouldn’t be an adoption plan. In my case, if I had listened better and he had communicated more forcefully there would not have been an adoption plan. As it is, he’s always willing to go on a visit, he cares for Ruth and Nora, and he’s affectionate with (and fascinating to) Cricket. More than that, he grieved the adoption deeply—he didn’t talk about it, not seeing the point, but he felt the loss of his son—and still does. He also essentially lost half of his family as a consequence of the adoption; his mother and all her relatives think he must be some kind of monster to have gone through with it. His mother even tried to find a way to legally stop the adoption. He’s never blamed me for any of it, although I think he’d have every excuse.

Mr. Book agrees that open adoption is (potentially) best for adoptees, but left to his own devices, I think that he would de facto close the adoption—just never initiate contact and wait for the relationship to die. He thinks that Ruth and Nora are great people, but every time he sees Cricket, he feels the loss unbearably. I’m hoping that this will get better as we work on grieving together. He’s pretty unlikely to seek counseling, at least until we have more money (or insurance) and until I’ve worked on him awhile longer. Unfortunately, he thinks that since his issues appear less serious than mine, that means that he doesn’t need therapy. What I’ve done so far is to take what I learn in therapy, talk to him about it, and then ask him what he thinks—sometimes there are useful secondhand effects for him.

His father was a pretty bad father, and his family thinks that Mr. Book is the worst kind of father for placing his son. He is terrified of letting Cricket and futurekid down the way his own dad let him down. I tell him that that very fear suggests that he won’t make the same mistakes (he’ll make all new ones!), but that isn’t sufficiently comforting to him. I think that he’ll be a great father. I wish everyone in his life could have seen him on that one night that we parented, cuddling Cricket and talking to him about music while I napped on the hotel bed. He had never held a baby until I handed him our son, but he was so easy with him that I didn’t realize that until he told me later. He also thinks that he’s a bad husband, when nothing could be further from the truth—he doesn’t have a lot of faith in himself. Hopefully we can build it up together.

So if I occasionally whine about (e.g.) his inability to appreciate peanut butter cookies or seem to be painting him in a bad light, it’s in part because the fact of his awesomeness is as much a part of my world as gravity: the sun comes up every morning; 2+2=4; Mr. Book is rock solid.

Thanks

Last week, a forums user started a thread asking birthmothers what they were thankful for. I thought, Give me a break. I’m not thankful for my adoption. It would be nice if I could get to a place where I am, but that’s not where my head is at this year. And then I realized that I am thankful for my son. He was unplanned, the pregnancy was kind of awful, and now he’s someone else’s. But I wouldn’t unmake him for anything in the world, and I’m grateful to be a part of his life.

I hope all of you are able to spend the day with people you are grateful for.

The Girl I Mean to Be

I had my first individual session of therapy on Monday, with an MSW who is also a birthmother. It was pretty hard. She says that I need to feel like Cricket’s mother, that I am his mother; not his only mother, but his mother nevertheless. I tried to explain “But if I am a mom then I lost my son,” but started sobbing about two words into that sentence. So…maybe I have some grief to process. On the bus ride home, I had this pain in my throat, a sort of tugging muscle pain that I get sometimes when crying hard.

My therapist says that I need to own my role as one of Cricket’s moms so that I can meet my obligations to him. I bristled at first—I sent a present! I show up for visits!—and then I started to think about what Dawn’s daughter Madison has with her birthmother, and I explained it to Mr. Book like this: “If, when Cricket is about five years old, he loves us like parents, and he wants to talk to you, and you feel fond of him the way you would feel fond of a friend’s child—then that’s not fair to him. We’re not giving him what we owe him. We owe him a parent’s love even if we don’t parent.” That is really not what I want to be true right now; I made myself stop feeling that kind of love in January because to love him that much and be separated from him was driving me crazy. I guess that part of my work in therapy will be to learn to manage those feelings without destroying them. As conflicted as I am about this new assignment, I have to concede its value. Right now there are too many minefields for me—seeing how much Cricket looks like me makes me incredibly upset, for example.

Since Mr. Book and I have been ordered to grieve together, I asked him what he thinks when he sees pictures of Cricket, or of us with Cricket. He says that he gets sad, and that he fantasizes about saying to Ruth and Nora “Okay, thanks, we can take it from here.” He says that he knows that that wouldn’t be fair to Cricket or anyone else, though. He said when he thinks of himself as a dad, the word “bad” always precedes it, and that he feels like he failed Cricket—but at the same time, if Cricket was with us, we wouldn’t be here. We’d be living in the middle of nowhere in Missouri, and he was so unhappy there that he doesn’t want to raise a child there. He says that it’s hard to look at pictures, and that he hates using my computer because the background (a picture of Ruth, Nora, and Cricket at our wedding) is just too difficult to keep seeing.

Just because I needed more adoption in my diet, I also went and talked to an agency counselor on Monday—I’m going to be one of their spokesbirthmoms. I think it was mostly a screening meeting (“Are you crazy? Are you real?”). I passed.

A recent comment by Artemis got me thinking: “Are you ever thinking that Ruth/Nora might read this…?” Which I hear as, What will you do if Ruth or Nora ever finds this blog?

I responded immediately, then edited my response to make it more comprehensive and hopefully less defensive-sounding, but I want to say more.

I don’t have this blog a secret from them so that I can complain about them, or because I have resentment toward them. I have, once, written about feeling angry at them and not having any good reason—and in the same entry I went on to talk about realizing that the anger was part of my grieving an upcoming visit, and I was able to move past it. I would say that there are two reasons that this blog isn’t something I share with them: I would write differently if anyone involved in my adoption was reading it; I want to shield them from my process. In the first month or two after placement, I sent Ruth some really sad emails; I was always careful to include that I wasn’t regretting the choice and that I was glad she was parenting Cricket, but I was incredibly depressed, grieving hard, and I didn’t have any kind of counseling or agency support. I so regret those emails now; I’m sure that they were hard to read (I can’t even bring myself to look at them now), and I didn’t want their new parenthood to be contaminated by my sadness. But she was one of only a couple of people who really understood what was going on, and she is a giving and compassionate person—and so I wrote her these weepy post-partum emails that I would now give a great deal to take back. I have times when I regret the adoption (I’d say that I think that I made the right decision about 80% of the time, and I think that with time and therapy, that number will eventually climb to the high 90s); why in God’s name would I want Ruth and Nora to know that? I need to talk about it, and this blog is where I say what I need and want to—but—well, someone at my birthmother support group asked why I don’t want them to know how much grief I have sometimes. And I said that I can’t think of a positive outcome from that; best case, they feel weird and probably sad about it, and maybe it makes their interactions with Cricket slightly more complicated for a couple of days. I don’t want that; they are good and ethical people who deserve to enjoy their son without any of my baggage holding them back. Now that I’ve started individual therapy, I’ve been ordered to grieve; this blog is one of the places that I will grieve, and I don’t want any of that to touch Ruth and Nora’s lives.

I think that if they found this blog, they would be worried and sad and perhaps pull back for a few weeks while they processed the new information. I think it might make them a little more tentative in their relationship with me for awhile; I think they would be more tentative now if they knew how much I was hurting. Those don’t seem like good outcomes to me, but they would be temporary and survivable. Maybe they would make our relationship stronger…but I have no desire to test that. If they found out that I had baptized him, I think they might find the idea distasteful, but they were pretty clear on the fact that while I was his only mother, I got to make the parenting decisions—and they respected that.

After I found that vegan (etc) cookie recipe, I asked Mr. Book whether I should explain some of my feelings and ask whether they would be okay to bring, and he said no: “They shouldn’t be exposed to our process.” That’s hard for me to keep in mind sometimes, which is part of why I started this blog; it’s a safe place for me to document my process (and get feedback from the wise women of adoption) without—I keeping wanting to use a word like “tainting” or “infecting” Ruth and Nora.

The Letters I Don’t Write

Dear Ruth,

When we visit for Cricket’s birthday, I want to bring something. Can he eat birthday cake? No.

Dear Ruth,

I know you’ve got Cricket on a pretty careful diet—is there a birthday exception? Or is one year the limit on wheat, salt, sugar No.

Dear Ruth,

Is there any way I can contribute to a birthday menu that Cricket could share? And are there any updates on what he’s eating? I very much like the idea of being able to bring cupcakes or something, but I don’t know of any recipes that don’t involve wheat, nuts, eggs, salt, sugar, or honey. Is there any way you can think of for me to make something baby-appropriate, or is this an idea that would be best revisited next year? Still no. Too controlling, too desperate.

Dear Ruth,

Listen. I know this is maybe weird, but I really like the idea of being able to provide some kind of birthday treat for Cricket. Of course I have visions of cupcakes with jungle animals on them, but I know that you are being very careful in constructing his diet. I really like the idea of being able to bring something, but I don’t want to violate any boundaries or break any of your rules. Were you planning to let him play with a cupcake at his party anyway, or is this an idea I need to let go of? I suspect the latter. This is one of those weird moments, is all, where I have an impulse that I guess is parental, like when I wanted to buy him a toy for no occasion or when I wanted to pick out an outfit for him. So I guess that means that I shouldn’t consider it seriously or let myself dwell on it. I don’t want to bother you—that is really, really important to me—and I don’t really know what to do with these feelings except sit with them and be sad. I want to do some of the more fun parental things, but I am not a parent.

Maybe I’ll have a kid of my own that I can keep one day. That is the kid for whom I can make a cupcake with an elephant on it, the kid who I can dress up when we have company. And the kid who vomits on me, and throws tantrums at the market, and needs me to wipe his bum for a few years—I don’t think I’m too naïve about what parenting means. But I really feel ready for that now in a way that I couldn’t have imagined a year ago, and I’m almost sorry that I’ve matured this far; it only makes the adoption harder at times like this. Okay. Time to close my email and give this one up as a bad job.

***

And now I’ve found a recipe for dairy-free, wheat-free, sugar-free, salt-free vegan cookies. *sighs*

Birth Rites

Reading Dawn’s post about her transracially adopted daughter’s conversations on race made me think about Cricket’s matching and not matching. While he is as white as all four of his parents, I am a practicing Catholic, whereas Ruth and Nora are Jewish (Nora is not from a Jewish background and has not officially converted, but attends services and celebrates with her wife). Before his birth, we had several conversations about circumcision; I made it clear that I wasn’t going to have him circumcised and would not choose that for a child of mine, but that I assumed that they would want him to have a bris. When pressed for my reasons, I explained that I talked to a nurse (years ago, in a women’s studies course) who refused to perform them—she said that it was cosmetic surgery on someone too young to consent. It made sense to me, and the arguments in favor never have—Mr. Book is also opposed to circumcision. Ruth tended to agree with us, but she worried that it would be one more thing making him different from other Jewish kids. I also mentioned that circumcision made sense for me as a religious gesture–I like the idea of a visible sign of the covenant with God. Ruth found that part less important, saying that if it became important to him in his relationship with God, he could have it done as an adult. In the end, however, they couldn’t bring themselves to have him snipped; their rabbi performed a snip-free conversion for Cricket, a simchat ben. I assume that Orthodox Jews would not consider Cricket Jewish, but they would also have some problems with his moms, so I guess that’s not a major concern.

I chose Jewish parents (and therefore Judaism) for my son with an untroubled mind; mine is a fairly liberal theology, I believe that most of the major religions are praying to the same God, and I don’t think you have to be Catholic to be saved. But. I made one plan for Cricket that I never told his moms about. When he was mine, on that first day, before I signed the papers…I baptized him. I used that “extraordinary circumstances” clause and didn’t even mention it to Mr. Book at the time. But it was important to me; on that day, I was his mom, and I made several parenting decisions. The others I had discussed in advance with his moms-to-be, but this one was private. I don’t know whether I should ever tell them—or even Cricket—about that, and I probably won’t. I did tell my mother later, and she cried, and told me that she was glad; that she had wanted to do it herself, but understood that it wasn’t her place. And then she told me that before I was baptized in church, I was baptized by my dad. Apparently on one of the first nights of my life, my mom started to worry that I could die before I was baptized (I was perfectly healthy, this was just new mom stuff), and she talked my dad into baptizing me just in case. So apparently I was just carrying on the family tradition.