Open Adoption Roundtable #16

I found a version of this prompt in a set of questions written by a social worker for parents in open adoptions. As always, feel free to adapt it to your personal situation; if you grew up in an open adoption, you could look back on your actual experience.

Imagine your child as an adult describing their open adoption experience. What do you hope they will be able to say about you? How did you view their other parents? In what ways did you support their relationship with them?

One note: I deliberately avoided asking you to imagine how your grown child feels about their open adoption experience. Adoptees of all ages regularly report having more than enough people (i.e., any) telling them how they should feel about adoption. This is an exercise in thinking about our actions and choices from another’s perspective.

This past weekend, I was at a restaurant with my parents when I heard an older woman interrupt the young man she was with to ask “And which mom is this?” He replied, “My birth mom.” I liked that.

The only times that I’ve thought about teenage Cricket (the oldest I can really imagine him), I hope that when he gets really mad at me, he eventually gets over it. That’s really as far as I’ve gotten pre prompt. My husband and I talked last week about hoping that he’ll want to spend more time with us once he’s older (that is, more than an afternoon a few times a year—I don’t think we’re building up an unrealistic fantasy, but who knows). But I suppose this prompt is really more about examining my own actions and attitudes, which I’m always down for.

One of the only things stopping me from cancelling the upcoming visit is not wanting Cricket to look back and see broken promises from the birthparents. If he can say that we were always around when wanted, it will have been worth it. I hope he’ll say that we were what he wanted us to be. A nice lady at Catholic Charities asked me last week what I had imagined my relationship with him looking like before I placed him, and what I imagined now, and I said that honestly, I’m waiting for him to tell me; I don’t have much of an expectation, except that I expect some anger later on.

I hope Cricket will say that his bio siblings feel like his brothers and/or sisters. That’s one thing we’d planned for with Ruth and Nora that is coming to seem more and more implausible. I’d like to do what I can to make that connection more real for the kids, but I don’t really have any idea of how. When I was pregnant and I visited Ruth and Nora very late in the pregnancy, I spent some time with a little two-year-old girl, the daughter of a friend of theirs. She was just charming as all get-out, and fascinated by the pregnancy (after I left, she apparently told her mama that she had a baby in her stomach named Elizabeth)—I have  her in mind when I think of what Cricket will be like when I have the baby. If I want him to think of the little bird as his, how do I make that happen? He’s too little to see the kidlet born even if that wouldn’t be weird for many other reasons (I saw my little brother born, is what makes me think of it).

I’m going to give up on this prompt because it’s just sort of depressing; I don’t see that I can really make anything happen. I can only make things not happen.

Just wanted to mention that things have been a bit crazy over here; I owe people emails, I haven’t commented on blog posts that I really want to, and bleh. I’ll be catching up over the next couple of days—just wanted to let the world know that I am behind but working at it.

Tests

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but when I was pregnant with Cricket, I didn’t have any pregnancy dreams—and Ruth did. That made everything feel nicely fated, and it led me to assume that I’d have a similar experience this time around, being pregnant with the little bird. But no. I’ve dreamed about miscarrying and trying to find the fetus in the toilet; trying to find a nursing bra in a filing cabinet; going to a theme park with my sister and having to skip scary rides because I am worried about miscarrying; seeing the little bird kick so hard that the outline of her foot can be seen through my stomach; and many others. I really thought that this wouldn’t happen, and yet here I am, boring my husband (and the internet) with the details.

This is, I guess, going to be an “I am really pregnant” post. The other day I decided that it must be an ectopic pregnancy, despite the fact that I would be dead by now were that the case; I had a brief cramp on my left side, and that was enough to set me off. I later decided that I wasn’t pregnant at all, that I was having some kind of other problem, and tried to convince Mr. Book that we really need to buy some pregnancy tests. He explained to me that this is dumb, and that we’re not spending money on pregnancy tests.

“How many pregnancy tests did you take?”

“. . . Two.”

“Really? Two?”

“Well, I took two myself, and then someone else tested me once.”

“So you’ve had three positive tests, one administered by a professional. You’re pregnant, this is dumb, and we’re not buying more tests.”

He asked when we can get past this particular stage of nonsense, and I said that it’ll get better once we hear a heartbeat, and better still once I can feel movement. Both of these things are getting close—I’ve been approved for health coverage, now I’ve just gotten confirmation that the provider I’ve located has a decent reputation, and have an appointment for a consultation soon.

Dork Like Me

I only started reading about Nature v. Nurture after I’d placed Cricket for adoption, and occasionally it leaves me distressed. I will burst into whatever room Mr. Book is reading in, or reading the news in, or trying to take a nap in, and worry aloud that Cricket will be a tiny Book in the Victrola house, and that he won’t have things that we love. These aren’t big things: “If you say ‘unstable molecules,’ his parents won’t know what you’re talking about!” I say to Mr. Book.  “They don’t know who J’onn J’onzz is!” My husband rightly points out that (a) these things aren’t individually that important, and (b) maybe he won’t grow up to be a geek.

Myself, I’m a huge geek; it doesn’t come across on the blog that often, I think, but I have racks of videogames and stacks of graphic novels and I’m hoping to go to PAX this year. I think Red vs. Blue is funny. I have Star Wars novels (just four!). When I was pregnant with Cricket, I bought a fantastic Spider-Man onesie, and thought about giving it to him—but then Ruth told me that there’s a ban on trademarked characters. Several months later, they sent us a picture of him sleeping in a Superman onesie, and I was actually angry; I wanted to give a bit of my geek to him, but they banned it, so I gave a tasteful onesie with a lamb on it (which they apparently hated)—and then it turns out that it was only off-limits to me. I know that wasn’t a rational anger—who knows what they would have said if I’d asked specifically about Peter Parker—but even writing about it now, I feel mad all over again. This is a place where I feel the loss very tangibly.

When I was pregnant and separated from the Mister, we talked on the phone every day. Some nights, he would read aloud to me from a set of choose-your-own-adventure-type books that we both love; books in which you are a vampire hunter or trapped in a haunted house or trying to save a forest full of elves from a necromancer. They’re a combination of pulp fantasy and surprisingly difficult puzzles, they’re out of print, and no one has ever heard of them (Fighting Fantasy, if anyone out there in blogland wants to prove me wrong). My husband loved them as a boy, and they’re one of his earliest dorky experiences (he’s not nearly as geeky as I am, although I keep working on him ;))—and they’re one of gazillions of nerd things that I want to share with our kids. And Cricket isn’t our kid, and isn’t going to be bathed in the kind of geek atmosphere that we live in, and I know it’s dumb to be sad about that in particular, but.

A+A=Insight

Alyssa’s comment on my last post got me thinking about power. I get the emails from This American Life in which they give upcoming show themes and ask for pitches, and just yesterday received one in which they mentioned that they were doing a show on hostages, and I thought, They should totally do a show about a birthmom (not it!). I’ve heard children referred to as “hostages to fortune,” and for birthparents I add “…whom you can’t protect, and who live in someone else’s house.” I’ve seen adoption devolve into a hostage situation; I have a friend whose son’s parents have promised to send pictures once a year if she will give up on the open adoption she was promised. Otherwise, she won’t see her son ever again, and they’ll take her to court. But I think that even in pretty okay open adoptions, that feeling can exist for the birthparents. People still occasionally ask me, when they found out about Cricket etc., “What happens if they decide not to have visits anymore?” Sometimes I give a longer answer, but it always boils down to “Then I never see him again for sixteen and a half years, maybe longer.” Ruth and Nora can’t take that off the table, and it isn’t their fault—it’s just part of the deal. I don’t think that they are likely to close the adoption, but they always can. And when people ask, I haven’t once said “They would never do that.”

Alyssa wrote, in part, that

It is really important as an adoptive parent, at least for me, to be able to really believe that I became the parent of my child because that was the only/best option for that child. This is the case because I believe that children should stay with their natural parents if there is any positive way for that to happen. I imagine (may not be true but I imagine) that Ruth feels the same way, that it is important for her to believe that relinquishing Cricket was the only real option for you. Otherwise, she took someone else’s child and that isn’t something an ethical person can live with easily.

So I imagine there is a part of her that does not want to perceive you and Mr. Book as stable and ready to parent a child. She needs to work on some stuff, I would imagine (I know, lots of projecting here) in order to let this pregnancy be what it is and not feel like it is some sort of commentary on your last one, the one where you were carrying the child that she is parenting. Also, she may try to be involved the way a more experienced and slightly overbearing friend would – to offer parenting tidbits and couples advice on the big change. Not appropriate probably, but a kindly impulse perhaps.

Also interesting is that I think you are starting to see this pregnancy and this child as shifting the power balance in your relationship with Ruth and Nora. I could write more on that but I don’t think I will this time.

The thing is, I too am struggling with having this pregnancy be just what it is and not a commentary on the last one; I’m more angry right now about having placed, and I’m angry at myself, but it’s because I’m carrying a child whom I’m going to parent and thinking “I should be parenting Cricket, too.” Those fears, if she had them, would be totally founded. On the other hand, I don’t think they were anything less than ethical, I know they’re good parents, and I have no desire to tell her that my husband and I both regret the decision, have for a long time, and probably always will. But that is something that is true. I don’t think that I will regret the decision less or miss Cricket less once I’m parenting, but I do think that I’ll have another focus for my parental energy and love. There are ways in which that feels incredibly empowering. A small and slightly stupid example is the family connections one can list on Facebook—Cricket isn’t listed as my kid, which seems reasonable. But now that I’m going to be listing a child soonish, do I just list the little bird, or do I list both kids? It’s not that long ago that I would have agonized about the decision, because I do think that Ruth will probably be bothered either way, but right now I’m pretty comfortable just saying that I’ll list the child I’m raising and leave it there.

The power thing is I think related to the statements I’ve heard that are intended to help adoptive parents warm up to open adoption: that they can afford to be generous, because they have the kids. There is a not-lovely part of myself that thinks “And soon I’ll have the kids too. How about that?” I think that’s connected to the fact that for me, the adoption was profoundly disempowering; I have personally never failed more colossally than I did when I placed Cricket, both because I think it was a bad decision and because getting to the point in your life when you feel like your baby will be better off with other people means that something has gone badly wrong. Becoming a parent—while it’s also terrifying and entails crushing responsibility—is empowering. Ruth and Nora have never seen me empowered, and I don’t know what they will think of the person I’m becoming.

Re:

I stayed up all night and wrote (and sent) a long email to Ruth. After getting a couple of emails from her that really didn’t sit right, I had just sent a “That date works, anyway bye” kind of email (uh, slightly more tactful than that one), and then announced that I was never writing back ever, and that she’s not invited to my birthday party. The problem was, in part, that the only response I had to her emails was pretty rude, and I can’t imagine it being helpful to actually send that kind of response. But she had raised an issue that it seems important to address at least at some point—she thought that we might be stressed about how our relationship is going to change. So I decided to write an email that was about what’s going on and also wasn’t really a response to hers. When I emailed her about the pregnancy, I was careful to sound extremely positive about it; I was trying to give her cues on how to react, which she didn’t really go for. So this time, I didn’t worry about sounding positive, and I don’t think that I did. I’m going to put some of the highlights up on this site because I’m looking for feedback: probably should have done that before I sent it, but that’s just not how I roll.

“I think that our situation is definitely going to change, and I wonder what that will look like. The pregnancy is bringing up again some of the grief I have over Cricket, and that’s hard and weird, as much as I’m looking forward to the baby. I’m not going to take that out on you, and I have no intention of closing the adoption, but it’s eating up a fair amount of my emotional energy right now. I guess I feel like part of not taking it out on you will involve not talking as much while I’m pregnant, if only because I’m so preoccupied by the stuff that isn’t your problem. And of course things will get a little more complicated logistically once we’re four parents of little kids trying to set up a meeting, but I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”

I also asked what her ideal adoption would look like, emphasizing that I’m not trying to change our agreement or hint that major changes need to be made, but that I asked my husband last week and found out that he and I have pretty different answers, and neither of us has the same answer that we did when I was pregnant with Cricket. Funnily enough, the biggest difference was something I would not have expected: when I asked how many visits he would want, ideally, he said “They should visit us once a month.” When he asked me, I admitted that I was thinking more like once per season—and I prefer visiting them up north to having them come here.

Now that I’ve sent it, I feel pretty good. I don’t think I’ll hear back this month, as they are pretty busy, but before I felt like I would have to write the next email, and now it’s not my problem anymore. That’s a less than gracious sentiment, huh?

Bellies

Want to hear something gross?

Becoming a birthmother flipped a switch in my head that is making my pregnancy more complicated. I read a lot of blogs by adoptive and prospective adoptive parents, and I feel really connected to some of these women and their stories. And when things go wrong for them, and the process seems broken, there’s this little voice in my head that says “Maybe I should have a baby for her.” That’s really not healthy, and it would screw me up in a big way to do something like that—but that impulse exists, the thought that maybe that’s what I’m supposed to do. I mean, I can have babies. It’s at times like this that I feel sort of worried and—what is the word—I feel like I’m in a small space. Not claustrophobic, exactly, but constrained in kind of a sad-but-not-undeserved way. I do feel lucky to have Mr. Book around to put the kibosh on any “Perhaps we should make babies for nice people who want them” plans.

I feel like this is an easy segue into surrogacy, but I’m somewhat wary of expressing my views here, because I don’t want to offend anyone. One of the things about me is that I often hold strong abstract opinions that I am really not using to think badly of other people—but it doesn’t come out sounding that way. My official position on surrogacy is the same as my position on sex work: I think that it should be legal, but I don’t want anyone to do it. That said, I recognize that I’m saying that as a person who has never found herself trying to decide between sex work to pay rent or being evicted—there’s a certain amount of idealism in my belief. Similarly, while I don’t know that I believe in birth parent privilege, I certainly understand that I have fertile person privilege; I read a lot of adoption blogs, and I tend to go back and read them from the beginning, which means reading a number of infertility blogs that turn into adoption blogs. That has certainly made me more self-conscious about what it means that I can apparently, at this point in my life, decide to get pregnant and then make that happen. I’ve read women talking about resenting every pregnant woman, sometimes to extent that I find a bit shocking, but again—that shock is coming from a person who will probably not end up going through any ART.

There was a period of time, while I was matched with Ruth and Nora and then again last year, where I thought about doing surrogacy. I apparently make healthy children without too much trouble, and while I don’t exactly enjoy pregnancy, my last was uncomplicated (physically, anyway) and there were things about it that I liked very much. And the money would be huge for us. But. . . . I read a surrogacy story in the New York Times Magazine some time ago (I want to say while I was pregnant with Cricket, but that might be my mind trying to make poetry), and it was a positive story, working-class mother of several serving as surrogate for older, wealthier couple. And everyone in the story was positive and friendly, and that’s cool, but on the other hand, the surrogate needed the money in order to feed her family, so she was renting out her body. I roll my eyes at anti-adoption blog posts claiming that the rich want to use the poor as broodmares, but surrogacy does make me flinch a bit—at least in part because it would be incredibly emotionally destructive for me. And yet, if Ruth and Nora asked, I would definitely need my husband to talk me down.