Tidbits

Well, I’m writing this post on Wednesday night because I’m going to be cooling my heels at the airport come the posting hour—so I’ll write about a few random things. First: where my pseudonym comes from!

When I was 2–4 years old, I would sometimes put a doily on my head and explain to my bemused mother, “Look, mommy! I Susie Book!” My mom maintains that I spoke and acted completely differently while I was being Susie Book. I don’t remember making it up, and I have no idea where “Susie Book” came from; my middle name is Susan, but I’ve never gone by it or “Susie,” and I certainly wasn’t reading at that point. At any rate, when it came time to pick an adoption handle, the me-who-ain’t-quite-me piece of my past appealed strongly.

So our open adoption agreement calls for Ruth and Nora to send us hard copies of pictures with captions twice a year. We got the first set in May, with a note explaining that they planned to send pictures around Mother’s Day and again around Cricket’s birthday every year. That first photobook had no captions, but that was okay. Well, as Cricket’s birthday approached, I started to expect pictures again—but now the year is essentially over, and we have no second set. I don’t think this is because Ruth and Nora plan not to send pictures—they still link us to pictures online every couple of months—but I think it’s just not on their minds right now. So I ordered prints myself from the website they use to share pictures with us, and I’ve made up a photo album that is what I secretly wanted all along. I thought this would be an encouraging adoption anecdote—look, I problem-solved!—but it looks slightly less optimistic written down than I anticipated. Ah, well.

I’m wearing a maternity dress to my sister’s wedding, and it’s creeping me out a bit. She wants us all to wear black dresses, doesn’t care beyond that; I only have one black dress, and can’t really afford to buy another right now. This dress doesn’t look super maternity-y—it’s a Gap dress, and gathers at the breasts. I of course haven’t worn any maternity clothes since Cricket, and when I pulled it out of the box, I was mildly uncomfortable with the idea of putting it on. Hopefully I won’t have a little meltdown on Saturday.

Let’s end on a high note: I made candied limes! And covered them in dark chocolate! And then made some white chocolate orangettes. I used to cook for my family all the time, so now I try to bring or make something when I visit. I’m worried that the limes will be a bit bitter—I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

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I Am Cranky

Going back to the homeland tomorrow! I’m not a big Joni Mitchell fan, but whenever I’m going back, I can hear her voice in my head, yodeling just how I feel: California! My sister Kate’s wedding is on Saturday, I am a bridesmaid, and Mr. Book is not able to come. He’s pretty sad about it, but what can you do? Crappy jobs is crappy jobs. I am sad to be ringing in the new year without him, but my sister and I may make Skittles vodka for her bachelorette event and watch MST3k, and that sounds like a pretty good time to me.

Since it came up in comments, I thought I’d detail my agency situation. I don’t know whether it’s kosher to name the agencies I was involved with—no one seems to, and I just assume there’s some reason. But there were two. When I started to think about adoption, I contacted the agency mentioned in Dan Savage’s book; they told me that they weren’t licensed in my state, and that I’d need to work with A Crappy Agency (hereafter ACA). The crappy agency treated me badly and also treated Ruth and Nora poorly—a couple of months ago, Ruth told me that they were not only lying to me, ACA was lying to the prospective adoptive parents. By the beginning of December—just over a week before Cricket was born—the situation with them had devolved to the fact that I sent them this email! (reprinted here in its entirety)

“I am not willing to talk to you on the phone at this point–I want a written record of what you have to say. I am deeply unhappy with some of the actions recently taken by the agency.”

Oh, those were good times. In short, ACA told me when I asked that the health history I was about to fill out would go only to the court, and then Ruth and Nora were mailed a copy; they told me that while I was signing a release saying that anything I said in counseling would be repeated to Ruth and Nora, that didn’t really mean anything (somehow I ended up not getting any counseling); that I shouldn’t put Mr. Book on the birth certificate, but instead claim that I didn’t know who the father was; told me that I shouldn’t breastfeed Cricket, that it would make things harder for him; never, ever asked me whether I wanted to parent, or wanted to hear about resources that might help me parent, or told me that I could take time to decide and didn’t have to sign irrevocable consent twenty-four hours after the birth. What ACA did to Ruth and Nora is lie to them about the expenses involved until they’d written the first (nonrefundable) check; had them sign a contract saying that if I ever expressed unhappiness with the agency, they would rat me out (Ruth says she looked at Nora, not even having met me yet, and said “Well, we won’t be doing that”); consistently (again, according to Ruth) misrepresented what I was saying, which was easy to pick out since Ruth and I were emailing each other every few days; told them that I was probably changing my mind when I told the SW that I was definitely placing but didn’t want to talk to the agency because I felt manipulated and lied to; dragged their feet and misplaced paperwork after the placement, delaying the finalization of the adoption by a couple of months; obstructed their efforts to have the open adoption agreement filed with the court, perhaps assuming that no adoptive parent would actually want a legally enforceable agreement.

In the end, I freaked out, talked about trying to do an independent adoption, or move in with Ruth and Nora for a month, or anything to avoid finalizing with ACA. Ruth, God bless her, never blinked; she researched options and got back to me. Reading that email, I realized that I needed to stick it out for them—I finalized with ACA, but without ever having to have a conversation with those people again.

Luckily for Ruth and Nora, they were working with a genuinely excellent agency that continues to provide them support; unfortunately, since I wasn’t able to work with them, I’m also not eligible for any of their services to birthparents. ACA won’t take my calls, which is perhaps just as well; I don’t want to talk to them ever again. Still though, the one time I did contact them about paperwork, I never got a response. What can you do?

Not Sight, Not Sound, Not Touch

There’s one birthmother in my group therapy, a woman older than my mother, who is in reunion with her placed son and has never met his mother. She seems very angry at the adoptive mother, and says that she wouldn’t agree to meet her if asked. While I can’t condemn her for her pain, I’ve always been uncomfortable with her position; her son’s mother hasn’t done anything wrong, she just adopted a baby and mothered him. That’s a good thing. Yes, her gain was the birthmother’s loss, but that wasn’t the adoptive mother’s fault. I’ve heard prospective adoptive mothers say that they can’t reconcile themselves to the idea of causing the kind of grief they see in birthmothers, and my answer to that is pragmatic and maybe not great: If she’s going to place anyway and you’ve done everything in your power to facilitate an ethical adoption, maybe it’s better that you parent her child than someone who doesn’t give a hoot for her rights or her pain. I know there are problems with that answer, believe me, but it’s the best one I’ve got.

And. Sometimes, recently, I think I want him back, and I feel angry for a second. It doesn’t last, I don’t have any impulse to call a lawyer or hassle his moms. But at the moment, they are the people preventing me from seeing him. If that’s a source of my groupmate’s anger, I think I can understand. I don’t want to make the (in my opinion) mistake of going on to actually blame Ruth or Nora for my feelings, but I miss my son, and they have him. That’s hard. In my case, I also feel that I have to guard against resenting their control over me. They could make sure that I didn’t see Cricket again for seventeen years, and it wouldn’t even be difficult. I wish we had the kind of relationship where I didn’t think about that. I think I was working toward that when I asked whether I could talk about hard things: if I tell you that it’s really hard sometimes, or that I cry about him still, and you don’t close the adoption, you’ve just relieved me of a major worry. I am slightly paranoid about what I should and shouldn’t say. He still smells like my baby, which is the strangest thing, but I think hearing that would offend them. Can any birthmothers tell me when that stops? Because it is weird and hard, and I didn’t expect it.

When we were leaving at the end of our December visit, Ruth said that she’d send an email soon setting up the next one. I asked if we could sketch out the next few (which is what she did earlier this year), and she said that she liked that idea. Well, we’ve emailed a couple of times and visits have not been mentioned. And you know what? I’m not going to mention them. For the second half of this year, they asked for a visit each month; I don’t know what they’re thinking now. I don’t know long it would take before I asked about another visit. Maybe I never would.

Holly Jolly

Well, I got an email from Ruth on Christmas, talking about their day and still not acknowledging that we had invited them to spend the holiday with us. I’m wondering now whether she was offended by the invitation; they want very much to keep Christmas away from Cricket. Both of their extending families celebrate Christmas, so it’s a bit complicated—they did spend some time on Friday with Nora’s mom, but they didn’t stay for major Christmas activities. In some ways I’m sympathetic to Ruth’s goals (and I do believe that this decision is driven by Ruth, as Nora is not herself Jewish, although she attends services with Ruth). If I am lucky enough to parent one day, I won’t want my kid to have electronic toys when s/he’s little. Yes, this is out of step with the culture, but I find them annoying and kind of depressing—I like the toys that require more input from a kid. (And for whatever reason, I don’t find this inconsistent with my love of videogames. Shoot, I love movies, too—but no tv for the baby!) So while I am going to be frustrated sometimes by the effects of her anti-Christmas policy, I have some respect for the decision.

I haven’t responded to her email yet—this is part of a conscious (and possibly lame) policy on my part. I have been treating her like a friend, albeit more carefully; I almost always respond to emails within a day, then wait for her response (usually a week to two weeks, although sometimes only a day or two). Now I’ve decided that I need to build in a little more turnaround time—nothing drastic, just three or four days—in part to help me remember the distance that exists between us. I am trying to think of us, for now, as in more of a business relationship. I know that this is in part a lame attempt to keep from having my feelings hurt again, but I think it might be a better model for me to use than friendship. In business emails, I am polite, friendly, and usually enthusiastic: this is appropriate. I guess I feel like my new assignment is to keep being the Good Birthmother ™ with Ruth and Nora, and be more genuine and complicated in my feelings outside of those interactions. My therapist says that you can only keep up the Good Birthmother ™ act for so long before you have a little breakdown, and I suspect that at least in my case she’s right. So I’ll segregate that part of my life as best I can, for my good and theirs.

Road Trip

When Heather recently mentioned that her daughter’s birthmother had been out for a weekend visit, I was impressed. Gosh, I thought. I need a day to recover after just eight hours spend with Cricket’s family. I can’t imagine! And yet Heather seemed both calm and pleased. Well, Beth probably lives eight hours away, and options are limited. What a practical solution. But I went ahead and asked: Do you like these long visits? Really? Is it cool?

Heather explains that Beth lives an hour and a half away, and that

“If you’re trying to approach open adoption the way we are, which is to integrate adoption into our regular lives to the extent that it’s possible and appropriate, I think there are two fairly simple means: either to have an ultra-local adoption, in which people live close enough to easily drop by for a meal or come to a dance recital, or to spend longer strings of days together. The sporadic day visits have always felt stilted and oddly segregated from the rest of our life, to me. It’s hard to get to know people very well. I was worried when we moved that we were losing the chance to have a certain casual familiarity with Ray and Kelly, but what we ended up gaining by doing extended visits turned out to be better for our particular open adoption (again, from our perspective). When we first were getting to know Beth, both Todd and I both expressed the hope that she wouldn’t feel like she lived too close to come up and stay with us sometimes, because we really wanted to have those longer times together.”

I asked Mr. Book whether he would want a weekend visit some time: No, because “I just don’t enjoy their company enough to be around them for a few days . . . and that much time with the baby would be too hard.” We live three hours away from Ruth and Nora, and they’ve offered to let us stay over  before, but we’ve always opted to drive back.

I actually have stayed with Ruth and Nora for a few days; I visited them in the Emerald City near the end of the pregnancy, saw their digs and attended their baby shower. I had a lot of trouble eating and sleeping. I was just too nervous, couldn’t relax, and was, frankly, afraid to go root around in the fridge even after they’d explicitly given me permission. There was some talk of having me move up there to give birth, and one of my secret reasons for declining was that I couldn’t eat. I had packed a case of Luna bars, and that’s most of what I got by on—we also went out to eat twice, and dinner was formally set out once. But I thought that while I would be okay not really eating for a couple of weeks myself, it wouldn’t be right to do that to the mouse. So when I imagine staying up there for a few days now, I see myself not being able to sleep or eat breakfast—and I’m already tense enough when we’re all together without that. I’ve also gotten sick after the visits we’ve had so far (usually a migraine or just a flu-y bug)—what if I woke up sick on day two?

Looking at Heather’s list of advantages, they make sense to me, but feel like they wouldn’t apply in our situation: we have a little grownup time while Cricket naps, but Mr. Book finds it boring, and definitely wouldn’t want more; we don’t get alone time with Cricket, and I don’t think that’s something Ruth or Nora would be comfortable with; we do have visits at their home, and I think that’s a good thing. Nora suggested one time that we might meet halfway at a park or something, and I’m relieved that I never had to explain how much I hate that idea. (It just screams “Did you bring the money?” “Yeah, we’ve got the money—did you bring the kid?” kidnapping/custody battle/made-for-tv movie weirdness to me.)

There’s an event I want to attend in the Emerald City next summer, and there are people I’d like to see who aren’t connected to Ruth and Nora. I made a joke to Mr. Book about asking whether we could stay with them, but it was a joke—we’ll either commute or scrape together cash for a motel room. I feel as though the relationship is slightly in flux right now, but when it settles down, I don’t think we’ll be that kind of close.

A Credit to Her Sex

After thinking about Ruth’s email and reading the conversation over at Dawn’s blog for a couple of days, I’m left with one conviction: When, in a prebirth matching relationship, you are all answering the question “What would your ideal open adoption look like?” the answer is probably “I have no earthly idea.”

Okay, that’s hyperbolic, but in many ways I did have no idea. I certainly didn’t feel like a mom when we were writing up our open adoption agreement, and I spend those months afraid that I would do something to scare Ruth and Nora off. They were my only plan. I didn’t know that visits would be hard, and I also didn’t understand that I’d miss him. I certainly had no idea that some nights I’d wonder what it would be like to have him sleeping next to me, between us. I knew that I wanted to name him; beyond that, I think I could have been pushed pretty far. Figuring out what I want over a year into the relationship kind of sucks—my consolation is that what I want will probably keep evolving, as will the wants of Cricket’s moms.

In the meantime, I do worry that our relationship is going to suffer a bit. My natural inclination (which I’ll fight whenever I feel up to it) is to pull away—not to email as often, not to ask about the next visit. I think it would be best if I can go on as if nothing has changed…and in a way, nothing has changed. I don’t see them as quite perfect anymore, but as I said to Mr. Book last night, that just leaves them as really excellent. I think I wanted to see them as perfect in part because of story women making an adoption plan get told: if I can’t parent because I wouldn’t be the perfect mom, I really need to pick the perfect adoptive parents for my son. I suspect that those Platonic PAPs don’t exist, but there are a lot of wonderful people out there, and wonderful is surely good enough.

I talked to my mother, and she asked me to get pregnant again. The first time my parents asked me to replace Cricket was three weeks after his birth—I keep kvetching about this, but it keeps coming up. =/ My therapist said on Monday that she thinks that it’s reasonable of my mom to keep asking for a grandchild because she lost one. I think this may be my week to stop feeling sorry for myself (for a bit) and try to see from other people’s points of view.

I do feel a bit self-conscious; I done got linked, and now people new to my little blog are seeing me not at my best—this entry is being written under the influence of no sleep (again). It’s also hard for me to disagree with people in a dialogue; don’t get me wrong, I do it, but I get anxious and broody about it. I try to explain that I was hurt by what you said, yes, but that doesn’t mean I think you were wrong, or wrong to say it; that I feel that I’m being made to stand in for positions I consider but don’t necessarily advocate for; that I’m just thinking out loud here, and I don’t want to bother anyone. But after all that, I am what I am and I’ve said what I have.