Aw, Nuts

I’ve been largely vanished this week because the baby’s been under the weather—he seemed to be getting better, and then Thursday and Friday were pretty ghastly. He was howling and howling, and he’d want to nurse and then refuse the breast, and he just kept spitting up. . . . It wasn’t until after I’d had supper on Friday that it started to come together. He had only had one other day like this, some time ago, and I remember wondering whether it might be a dairy sensitivity—but I eat dairy every day! Of course, on that particular day—and on these last couple of days, now that I think of it—I’d been drinking a lot more milk, because I was eating peanut . . . butter . . . sandwi—oh bugger.

When Mr. Book trudged home at 10:30 Friday night, he was greeted with a good news/bad news: the good news is that I’m pretty sure I know what’s wrong with the baby, and I can fix it! The bad news is that I can’t have a Reece’s cup for EVER. Mr. Book has a big basket of food allergies that express themselves gastrointestinally, so I probably should have seen this coming. Poor little tyke. I spent Friday night festooned with spit-up, rocking the baby and telling him that although I was very sad about the necessity, I love him more than peanut butter and that this won’t be happening again. At least, not until we find something else that he’s sensitive to. These things go away sometimes, right?

Joey remains a sweet and cheerful child, when he’s not being sort of poisoned by his careless, allergen-ingesting mother; even on those rough days, he had periods of great sweetness and cheer, generally just before I got hungry enough to eat peanut better again. I am very fortunate. More soon!

How Could I?

Things have been a bit nuts here and I hope to write about that, but I wanted to quickly put up the reasons why I think I can ethically write this letter of reference and once again successfully avoid conflict. For one thing, no person making an adoption plan will ever see this letter; it is for the agency’s eyes only. The other biggish reason is that Ruth and Nora are going to be approved to adopt again by this agency no matter what I write or don’t—I can’t stop that, and I don’t know that I would—if they can find someone whose expectations better match theirs, that might be a great adoption. My problem (one of many, I guess) is that I didn’t have a clear idea of what I would want after I placed. I wanted contact, I wanted to send birthday gifts, and the idea of being family sounded very reassuring. If there was a more clearheaded pregnant lady out there who just wanted a visit each year and also some pictures, yahtzee!

Of course, there’s the Other Reason; I don’t want to cause trouble. I’ve figured out how to write an honest letter. All I have to do is describe positive events or statements. I won’t say anything about how satisfying the relationship is, or how I would choose them again in a heartbeat.

Okay, I still have some guilt about the letter. But I think I have a few months to sit with it and stew.

Distance

We had a visit on Saturday. It was not what I’d expected, and I’ve been sitting with my feelings for a bit, in part because I think they’re upsetting.

We didn’t find out until Friday morning that they were coming, whi9ch was stressful, but we got ready and washed Joey and they turned up a little after noon on Saturday. I had suggested that we go to a children’s museum, but Ruth felt that we should stay in and have “quality conversations” with Cricket. Boy, do I wish we’d gone out—he is thoroughly a manic, screeching two-year-old, and I think that might have worked out better if there had been more room for him to run around and tire himself out. Cricket is bright and engaging and completely besotted with Mr. Book—I’ll follow this post with a few pictures, and there are a few reasons that none of them include me. Cricket was not interested in me or in Joey, and Joey slept almost all day—unusual for him, and possibly a response to my stress.

Here’s the weird/cruddy part: Mr. Book and I discovered that we currently feel pretty neutral about Cricket. As soon as they left (at 6:30, and yet we were exhausted), Mr. Book and I started talking about that. I’ve come up with several possible reasons for the change:

  • Cricket is very clearly someone else’s child at this point. He looks different, has a different diet, and even behaves differently than he would if we were parenting him. He is honestly kind of annoying right now, which is I think partially just his developmental age (constant screeching) and partially their parenting (they have apparently chosen not to teach Cricket about using what I grew up calling an “inside voice”). I’ve heard birth parents talk about it being hard to watch someone else parent a placed child—perhaps this is my version of that feeling.
  • The seven-month gap between visits this time was the longest we’ve ever gone without seeing him. Nora mentioned hearing from someone that at this age, seeing someone once or twice per year is really a lot, and I smiled and thought Oh, please. We don’t see him and the relationship withers.
  • Joey. This might be the most interesting one, and it’s certainly the one I feel worst about. At one point, I was watching Cricket and though, I know what “my son” feels like, and this ain’t it. It makes me wonder how much of my grief was a longing to parent. Let me make something clear: I don’t think this would have happened if we had a close relationship with Cricket. But as it is, almost the entire connection was in my head, being maintained on a wish and a prayer. I can stop worrying about Cricket hating me for awhile; he doesn’t know me well enough to care.

I still feel a strong sense of obligation to Cricket, but I’m tired of having my hand sapped by his moms. Ruth asked whether we’d like to talk to him on the phone some time, and I responded quickly—Love to! Name the time!—and she never mentioned it again. After checking with her about his diet, I made brownies for them (him) at the visit: he wasn’t allowed to have one. Okay, you win. At dinner, Nora suggested that we should Skype with Cricket, and our response was disinterested: maybe. We’ll see. You can’t get us to reach out after nothing again right now. I gave a couple of shirts and a pair of shoes that he’ll probably never wear, and I just feel done. If they want to talk, they can reach out (okay, I did email them visit pictures they’d ask for). I’m not holding my breath.

That said, we’ll still do the same things for Cricket that we have been: holiday cards, birthday and Christmas gifts. But I’m not emailing or calling them, or trying to set up a visit, or even mailing them the pants they forgot here until they say something. I’m at the end of some kind of rope.

What You Were Born To

I’ve got a confession, a question, and a request.

 

Before I ever got pregnant or really seriously realized that I could, I had two girl names and two boy names; I wanted to have two kids, probably, you see. I kept tweaking the second boy name, but the others were sure. And then, when I was pregnant with Cricket—knowing that his name would be changed—I didn’t give him any of them. They’re all family names, or at least all have family names in them, and Cricket wasn’t going to be part of our family, so. I gave him a family name after all—his first name is the same as his birthdad’s—and then I picked out an excellent saint for the middle. I’d give that middle name here, but in the end, they kept it. Who knew. Here’s the thing: I didn’t give him the name I would have given a boy I thought of as my son. I feel a bit guilty about that now, but I can’t imagine giving him one of the two only to see it changed and gone.

 

Which brings me to my question, which is also my request. How have other people done this? If you’re an adoptive parent, do you know whether the name on the OBC is the name your child’s firstparents would have given a child they planned to raise? Did you all pick out a name together? Did you keep whatever name the birthparents chose? None of the above? For other birth/first parents . . . shoot, you can see this one coming. Did you give a name you would have named a child you planned to keep? Did you get to name your child at all? And any adoptees: What do you think about all of this? That one’s also for everyone, I reckon.

 

I also want to know how bad I should feel, which probably no one but Cricket can tell me. Joey’s name is top to bottom Book ancestral stuff, first, middle, and nick-. It is very not Jewish. I think a little of my guilt on this is tied up irrationally with the fact that when Ruth and Nora were deciding between their top two name picks (and wanted my opinion while I was in labor, I suspect as a tiebreaker) I didn’t like either one, and don’t like their choice still. Of course they still would not have kept his birth name if I had given him one of the “really my child for real” names, and I still wouldn’t like his name now, but I’m not a super logical person.

The Unnumbered Questions

Well, O Solo Mama put up some questions about open adoption, and I’m one of the people taking a swing—I’m trying out the questions that came before the list, however. I addressed a couple of the others over on Dawn‘s blog, but it turns out I wasn’t quite finished.

No seriously, how do you watch your child being parented by someone other than yourself? Do you take some kind of pill every day? Or do you grieve for a long time, so long, even, that it impairs your relationship with your child or with your subsequent chidren? And then who helps you?

My first impulse is to ask a question in response: Why would closed adoption be easier? Yeah, being a birthparent is hard, and you grieve. But not knowing whether he was alive or dead—that’s not an improvement. I don’t, at least so far, have trouble hearing my son call his moms “Mama” or “Abba”; I was pretty clear on the fact that placing him meant that he was going to call someone else mama. If you place a child for adoption, someone else will be the parent to your kid. Period. Maybe a closed adoption lets you imagine that the child is pining for you always, or thinks of you as his or her “real mom,” or that the child died and that you have no hostage to fortune out there in the world, but I just can’t bring myself to put “birthparents (or adoptive parents, for that matter) can more easily lie to themselves” in the “pro” column for closed adoptions.

Technically I suppose I can’t tell you whether the placement/openness/existence of a Cricket has impaired my relationship with Joey, because I only have this relationship with him; I don’t know what that theoretical, sans adoption motherhood looks like, and never can. But I’m completely in love with Joey, and he seems to be thriving. Here’s a funny thing: one of the reasons that I placed Cricket is that I wanted him to be a longed-for child—I want that for every kid, and since he was born of a crisis pregnancy, I didn’t think that we could give that to him. But the loss of him has made Joey especially longed for, not just by me and his dad but (it turns out) by all grandparents and aunts and uncles and great-aunts and -uncles. This adoration doesn’t, so far as I can tell, have any creepy hint of “replacement child” about it—it’s just that now we’ve all in a sense been waiting for this boy for years, and he’s here, and everyone loves him. If I try to set him down for a nap and five minutes later need to pick him up because just not being held is enough to wake him up, it’s a little frustrating, sure—but it feels so good to hold him, even when I really need to get work done, even if I really have to go to the bathroom.

That doesn’t mean that I’m not grieving for Cricket—I imagine that will go on and on. But shoot, my husband still grieves for his father, who died five years ago; that doesn’t stop him having full and loving relationships now. Grief is. It doesn’t kill you. And again, I don’t imagine that the grief is necessarily any less when you don’t know your placed child’s name.

So who helps me? Well, I talk to my husband and to a counselor; I do some brain work on my own. I have to think that I’d be doing those same things if we were in a closed adoption. And I’m living my life and feeling blessed, so something must be working. I didn’t have any trouble bonding to Joey, and while I do of course think about Cricket and miss him, it isn’t poisoning my parenting or anything like. I wish our adoption was more open, in fact.

J asks:

One thing I wonder about –though it’s absolutely none of my business of course, and I’m genuinely sorry if I’m overstepping my boundary as a lurker–is why you chose Ruth and Nora to parent Cricket. I’m making some assumptions here, but it doesn’t sound as though either you or Mr Book get on with them particularly well, or that you have much in common with them.

I’m sure they both have some wonderful qualities too, but didn’t the less great stuff (like Ruth’s apparent tendency to control situations) come across while you were expecting?

I should say right off the bat that they have the most important quality that any adoptive parent could: they are just crazy about Cricket, and parent him with love and care. They don’t always make the same decisions that I would, but they are making good decisions, and he seems to be thriving.

One thing that caught my eye is that in their profile picture, Ruth and Nora looked genuinely happy together—I was a bit shocked by how uncommon that was. But of course I went into the process with a list of qualities I wanted the couple we matched with to have:

  • I wanted a stay-at-home parent, and didn’t want him to end up in daycare if possible. Ruth stays at home and, while he is in daycare, that is in part because his moms think it’s important for education and socialization. Personally, I’m not planning to send Joey to any kind of school until he’s almost six and ready for kindergarten; until then we’ll get a couple of museum/science center memberships, go to parks, learn to cook, and just generally let him goof off like a little kid. I was put into school early myself (because I was tall) and was socially and emotionally behind all the way through grade school. I definitely want to give Joey chances to socialize as a preschooler, but am pretty sure that that won’t involve preschool.
  • I wanted a religious but not fundamentalist family. Ruth is a reform Jew, and Nora accompanies her to services; they are raising Cricket Jewish, and I have pictures from his non-circumcision conversion service taken way back in the day (a simchat ben, I believe it is called). We have sort of a parallel setup over here; I’m Catholic, Mr. Book is agnostic, and we’ve agreed to raise Joey (and the possible futurekid) Catholic. I’m a very liberal Catholic who believes that there are many paths to God—at the same time, I’m pretty intense about it in my own quiet way.
  • I wanted a couple who was open to any race. Sure, it turns out that I give birth to little Aryan blond and blue-eyed boys, but I didn’t want to give my baby to racists. Now I know that there are other reasons for not being open to every ethnicity . . . but I still stand by this one—to my mind, it indicates a certain openness to what the world offers that I wanted and want. I don’t know whether Cricket as a healthy white infant was more expensive than some other babies placed through the same agency, and I’m not sure whether I’d want to. —Okay, I’d want to know . . . but how gross.
  • I wanted Cricket to be a couple’s first child. In the years since, I’ve done a complete 180 on this; I now suspect that parents who were already parenting might have been a bit more relaxed. I remember our first post-placement visit, when Cricket was almost six months old—Ruth and Nora were really obviously waiting for us to do something crazy, really stiff and nervous. And we didn’t do anything crazy, and they seemed a bit less afraid. But I guess I do hold that against them a little bit, in the context of our rather distant relationship. We are not scary. Probably I am being unfair.
  • I wanted a couple who wanted openness. We talked before Cricket’s birth about considering each other family, but didn’t talk about what we meant when we said “family.” As it happens, just as an example, Ruth and I both have nutty moms, and moms who are nutty in similar ways. For my part, I talk to my mom every week and see her several times a year—if we lived closer, I’m sure we’d see each other more often, and I’d be glad of it. Our conversations are still often awkward and sometimes awful; last week she was telling me that I am being too available for Joey. But I appreciate her good intentions and her better qualities now, and I genuinely enjoy our relationship most of the time. Ruth has cut off contact with her mother, and with her sister—her only surviving immediate family. So we have pretty different philosophies about family obligation and maintenance.

There are a few things that I didn’t pick up on at the time. One is Ruth’s strong need to control things—she was very clear on the fact that Cricket wasn’t theirs until everything was signed, that they were a part of my plan, that I could change my mind—all that good stuff. Once she was in control of the situation—once I’d signed irrevocable consent—then she started to control things. I don’t think there was any deception intended; she was just acting in ways she thought appropriate then and now. There is one such thing that I do think they deliberately concealed from us: it became clear to both of us not long into the adoption that Nora never wanted an open adoption. I suppose they thought it wasn’t relevant if she had agreed to participate in one. And we also both wonder, now, whether they believed that the birthparents would lose interest and “move on” after a couple of years. Certainly they often seem ready for us to go away and wait for Cricket to maybe someday show interest.

Ruth and Nora do have some excellent qualities that don’t come up on the blog. Ruth can be awfully funny, she’s an excellent cook, and she has a great passion to see justice done; Nora I don’t feel like I know as well, but there have been moments when she has talked about what she’d like to do with Cricket when he gets bigger, or what she particularly wants not to do (track suits, apparently) when she is enthusiastic and unselfconscious in a way that makes her beautiful. They’re not bad people—they’re just a bad match for us in some ways.

Comment

I started to respond to Kara in the appropriate comment format, but the answer kind of got out of hand, length-wise—so I’m moving it here.

I was a little sad as I read you call Joey the “child gifted to you” which seems to suggest that Cricket never was meant to be yours, wasn’t your gift. Do you believe this? I hope you don’t believe you were simply a vessel for him to make his way to R & N. 😦

I am sure I read this through my hypersensitive adoptee lenses, but again, it makes me pause.

I certainly did at the time. I very much believed that I must have gotten pregnant for a reason—you know, aside from the obvious sex-having reason. After all, I wasn’t the kind of girl who gets pregnant; I can’t call myself “good,” exactly, but I didn’t get into trouble. I never snuck out, I didn’t have a drink until I was twenty-one, and I only cut class one time—it was an accident!—I was in the school library at recess and got so caught up in a book that I lost track of time. Luckily, my teacher was entertained. I had detention one time: for forgetting to bring my history textbook to class. And children are a gift—so how could he be meant for me, the panicky person whose heart sank when she saw the positive test?

I remember the last time that I considered parenting Cricket as an option. I was on a train, coming home from visiting my sister—it must have been June. I was alternately losing cell reception and losing internet access, talking to my boyfriend through whichever medium was available to me, and crying and crying. He still wanted abortion, although he was consistently willing to support whatever decision I made . . . but just the fact that he still wanted me to have an abortion was incredibly distressing. It was a little weird. I was and am Catholic, but I’m also pro-choice—and the fact that I immediately thought of the mouse (as I called him while I was pregnant) as a person really caught me off guard. And if my boyfriend wanted me to have an abortion, then we couldn’t parent, because I didn’t want him to have parents who hadn’t been delighted about him from day one (or as close to that as any human can get). So after that conversation, I crossed parenting off my list of possibles and started trying to figure out for whom this child had been intended.

I wanted so badly for things to have been destined, and to need only to figure out what was supposed to happen so that I could facilitate it. Ruth and Nora had spent months and thousands of dollars getting ready for a baby, and they seemed very nice—so this baby must have been meant for them through me. Why through me? Heck, I still believe that I deserve any bad thing that happens to me (the bad thing being the crisis pregnancy, not Cricket).

When I talk about Joey being gifted to me, I’m not thinking about that in contrast to Cricket—but I do think that losing our first has left both me and the Mister profoundly grateful for Joey. Just this afternoon I was rocking him and trying to help him get a bubble out, and he was grisling a bit, and I teared up thinking about how glad I was to have him. Mr. Book does this thing that I misinterpreted at first; sometimes when Joey is in his arms and howling, Mr. Book will look at him and laugh. At first I thought that he was laughing at the baby, and it bothered me—but we talked about it, and now I can hear the note of surprise in his voice. He’s just so happy to see Joey, even at the howliest of times, that sometimes he laughs.

I value your lens, lady. 😉

OART 22

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It’s designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don’t need to be listed at Open Adoption Bloggers to participate or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you’re thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table. The prompts are meant to be starting points–please feel free to adapt or expand on them.

Write a response at your blog–linking to http://www.productionnotreproduction.com/2011/01/open-adoption-roundtable-22.html so your readers can browse other participating blogs–and link to your post in the comments here. Using a previously published post is perfectly fine; I’d appreciate it if you’d add a link back to the roundtable. If you don’t blog, you can always leave your thoughts directly in the comments.

One year ago many of us answered the question, “How will you be proactive in the area of open adoption in 2010?”

If you participated in the January 2010 discussion, revisit your post and give us the one-year-later update.

And whether or not you participated last year, tell us about your open adoption hopes or commitments in 2011.

How’d we do?

1. I will find a new model for our relationship with Ruth and Nora: not marriage, not friendship, but something else. I will take into account their wishes and my experiences, and rely less on my hopes.

Heaven knows my hopes of a year ago are no longer steering my approach to the adoption—I’m more cynical and less hopeful. I expect not to get pictures on time, I expect not to see replies to emails for weeks if at all, I expect visits to be cancelled; good things are now a pleasant surprise, which has been a silver lining. I’m trying not to think of this as a permanent change—things could get better!—but for right now, I think it’s what works best for me.

2. I will, with the aid of Mr. Book, figure out how we want to handle the pregnancy we hope for later this year and the baby who will follow in the context of the open adoption. What will our boundaries be? What are our hopes for the relationship between futurekid and Cricket? What are our obligations to Ruth and Nora?

Well, we have a baby now—we’re still working on the boundaries part. My biggest concern right now is about not wanting Joey to be disappointed the way I have sometimes felt disappointed and not letting my grief over Cricket impact him. I think we’ve got a couple of years before these would be current concerns, at least. I hope that the boys will feel like family to each other.

3. I will make very sure that I am not looking at futurekid as a replacement for my lost son—the one who isn’t Cricket, but who Cricket would have been. That potential child is gone forever; I need to be very clear about that before I name another baby.

I genuinely and regularly thank God that this has not been a concern. Joey is himself, and he’s perfect (okay, he has cradle cap in his eyebrows, but that’s within spitting distance of perfect 😉 ), and while he makes me wonder about Cricket sometimes, I am 100 percent not confused; I’m parenting the son who has been gifted to me.

4. I will be supportive of other people in adoption relationships on whatever side; the adoption blogger community has been very kind to me, and I want to give back.

I hope that I have lived up to this—certainly I have felt honored to know more and more of you.

5. I will make our home ready for a baby; I don’t just mean washing onesies. I will be sure that Mr. Book and I are as prepared as anyone can be—he’s going to need to read some baby books, I am going to need to pray, and we’ll do a lot of talking together. At the same time, I will not let myself obsess until I am actually pregnant: no crying when I see pregnant women or babies, no setting up a nursery, no imaging the hoped-for child. I will be present in my life.

Turns out I didn’t have to worry about the wait for too long! We are not babyproofed, but Mr. Book did some reading and we’ve both done a lot of laundry and gotten some practice at things like baths and diapers. There are things I thought we would need that haven’t been used yet—he hasn’t seen the inside of the crib as of today—and things that we’ve needed much more than I realized before (he is just the grubbiest baby, and could grow filthy sitting quietly in a sterile room. The baby bathtub has been a lifesaver). And of course there were things that we couldn’t have been prepared for. Mr. Book told me the other night that he had known (roughly) how hard it would be, and that he had felt ready for that, but that he really hadn’t expected it to be rewarding yet. He has been pleasantly surprised. Even the baby howling in his ear at night, he says, feels like an amazing gift.

6. I will be for Cricket what he wants, or what I think he wants: available, warm, and unobtrusive.

Well. Certainly I have been unobtrusive; I think that I have been available. I have not been warm. I’m still stiff and nervous around Cricket, and I don’t really expect that to be better now that (a) we haven’t seen him in coming up on seven months, and (b) he can have real conversations, which I see as bringing him one step closer to telling me that he hates me. I am nervous about seeing him again, and sort of unfocusedly angry about the long, weird break between visits, and of course not sure whether they’re actually coming at all. I’m not much of anything for Cricket at the moment.

As for the coming year—I’m not sure. I hope to have the boys meet. Modest, eh?