Cath Comments

I hesitated to respond here, as I felt it was a bit cheeky of me to offer my opinion when you don’t know me. However, I discovered your blog about a month ago and have been moved and impressed by so much that you’ve written. It sounds as if the unfulfilled promises for openness have been so hurtful, and I can see Lori Lavender Luz’s point about the value of setting boundaries for your family.

In the next two or three years, though, I wonder if you would start to see contact being initiated more and more by Cricket. (My 9 year old has an email account (supervised) and sends off messages to friends and family on her own initiative.) Right now, Cricket’s very young and doesn’t have much autonomy. It’s easy to squash a three or four year old’s requests to talk to someone. It’s much harder to do so with a seven or eight year old, and gets harder (eventually impossible) as they grow. You may be closer than you realise to being able to have more direct contact with Cricket.

Soon, he will be able to read cards and letters you write to him. Perhaps, instead of being opened by Ruth and read to him, they will be saved for him to open and read when he comes home from school. They may even encourage him to write back – you never know. And if things are kept completely open, Ruth and Nora may be more likely to indulge a request from him to “Skype with Mama Susie tonight”, Ruth obviously feels comfortable right now texting you with a question to keep Cricket happy, even if she is not particularly concerned about keeping you happy. I have the impression, from what you’ve written, that she’s fairly oblivious to the fact that you are unhappy about it – or perhaps she’s aware and just doesn’t care enough to do anything about it.

But. If you lay down any lines in the sand, however delicately articulated, however tactful (you seem as if you are extremely discreet and careful in your language), any references to the broken promises and disappointment will be taken as criticisms. And doing so at this point may well result in Ruth and Nora limiting Cricket’s contact with you at precisely the time when he may just be starting to reach out. If Ruth isn’t speaking much to her own family, she is likely capable of hanging onto her bitterness tenaciously. If she feels criticised by you, she may be less likely to encourage Cricket’s interest in making contact with you in future. You don’t have much power in this relationship with Ruth, and I realise that really, really stinks. Cricket, ultimately, will have much more power with Ruth than you. He doesn’t yet, but things are going to change, in subtle but significant ways, in the coming years. And if Ruth feels … well, safe, and … unthreatened … by you and Mr. Book, I can imagine that she would be less inclined to get in between you and Cricket .

Again, please excuse the audacity of this coming from a stranger. I’m sorry. It’s just that I’ve read so much of your blog, and I feel like I know you a little, even if you don’t know me.

You make some good points. I’ve been talking about this stuff with Mr. Book, and a couple of friends, and what it comes down to is that I just can’t handle it right now; the stuff with Joey, and being in some ways an acting single parent right now, and just having two tiny (wonderful) wild kids running around—I am not coping as well as I would like, and the adoptive relationship is one issue that I can simplify right now. At the same time, Mr. Book doesn’t want to lose even the chance of contact; so I’ve written a few drafts of a message, and I won’t send anything until after Kit’s birthday, but this is what it looks like right now:

Sometimes I want to walk away from the adoptive relationship. Not because it’s too hard to be in contact, but because it’s too hard to expect and hope and then be disappointed. It’s been two months since Nora said that we will definitely Skype once a month, maybe more often, and then made no further contact; it’s been four months since we were supposed to hear “soon” about dates for a visit this year. You seemed to notice my slip, Nora, in saying that my top priority is for the three boys to have a relationship; I no long hope for a relationship with Cricket in the foreseeable future, because it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen. Mr. Book doesn’t want to pull back or lose any opportunity for contact, but I’m getting to a point where I am hurt and frustrated enough to say: Don’t contact me. Don’t assist Cricket to contact me. I will send a birthday gift and a Christmas gift; I would appreciate it if you would send pictures as outlined in our agreement. If you want anything more, talk to Mr. Book. These tiny, unpredictable contacts are breaking my heart. I need to believe that you will do that you will what you say you’ll do or I need to stop hoping, which means closing the door, at least for now.

I know that I have no leverage of any kind, which is part of why I’m being so blunt; surely there can be no harm in it, as I have nothing that you value except possibly contact for Cricket with Joey and Kit. I do worry about them being hurt by Cricket’s unavailability, but that’s some ways down the road.

So for now, what I’m saying is that I can’t deal with things going on as they have been. I am frustrated and angry and I have just had enough. If you aren’t willing or able to change the way we deal with each other, visit Mr. Book this year; if you want to talk, talk to him. If you wish, we could revisit this setup in a couple of years—but until then, I would close off all other avenues of contact as I am able.

This leaves open as much contact as they want or are willing to have with my husband, and might even mean that they visit him this year, which he would love—and certainly wasn’t expecting. If after I send a message they haven’t taken some major steps (say, bought plane tickets for a visit this year) within a month, I will block them on Facebook and my phone and go from there.

I hear what you’re saying, Cath; I know that it is going to be more and more possible for Cricket to have and express a desire to communicate with his Bookish relatives. But it’s been almost five years now that I’ve lived in fear of their disapproval and rejection, and I just can’t do it anymore. I did finally make it to a dermatologist, and she told me that my hair loss is the result of stress. This means, she says, that it will grow back once my stress levels go down. It’d be too dramatic to say that I’m cracking up—I am taking good care of the boys, I am cooking, I am maintaining a loving and close long-distance relationship with my husband—but I’m not doing okay. I need to make changes, and I am pretty sure that that will entail my being sharply critical of Cricket’s moms.

One thing that Mr. Book and I have talked about is that we have less need to keep Ruth happy now, regardless of how much contact we want . . . if only because Nora has custody of Cricket the majority of the time. But I wouldn’t send a message that was in any way critical of their behavior unless I was willing to accept the risk of not having contact with Cricket again until his adulthood (hopefully he would entertain the possibility of contact then. I am really trying hard not to take things for granted). I’ve just hit my limit.

Lori Lavender Luz asks

May I ask what drew you to them in the first place? Maybe you’ve covered this here and I’ve forgotten.

I’ve talked about why I chose Ruth and Nora before, but of course I continue to understand that period of my life slightly differently and slightly differently. This time I’m going to divide my thinking into two sections.

Good Reasons

  • Ruth and Nora said that they wanted us all to be like family. I now think that it is important to define what that means for each of you before anyone signs anything—I talk to my sister Kate once a week, and Tammy and I wish that we could talk that often but do check in warmly and as often as we can manage. Ruth has cut off contact with most of her family, even skipping her sister’s wedding. Our different experiences have left us with different expectations.
  • Ruth and Nora lived near to the city that we were going to move to—but not in the same city. It seemed important to me to have a little distance, but to close enough to visit without it being a major production. I also wanted Cricket to grow up in a city, since Mr. Book and I, having lived in several places of varying sizes, agree that a city is the place to be.
  • I liked it that they were Jewish; I wanted Cricket to grow up in a household that valued religiosity, but wasn’t conservative or overly concerned with hellfire and damnation. Liberal Jewish lesbian mothers seemed like a safe bet, whereas I dreaded the idea of wading through Christian couples and finding that people were anti-choice (for example). I’m Catholic, but didn’t see any couples describing themselves as, say, Catholic and big fans of liberation theology. But that would have been great.
  • Ruth and Nora looked genuinely happy in their profile picture. That was much rarer than you’d think—and I looked at a whooole lot of “Dear Birthmother” letters.
  • Ruth and Nora wanted to adopt more than one child. Not that only children can’t be perfectly happy—a couple of my favorite people were only children—but I treasure my siblings, and want my own kids to have that experience, too.
  • They liked to travel. And this one, I should say, has totally panned out; Cricket has been around the country more than once. Not the most important reason, but a reason.
  • Ruth and Nora expressed a commitment to open adoption. They talked about how much they wanted a connection with us, and said that we were and would always be important to Cricket.
  • Ruth in particular was very clear in her understanding that I could change my mind and parent, and that that would be my right. I did not understand that for them, this ended with “. . .  but after you place, he’s ours, full stop. You had your chance.” Don’t get me wrong, I never expected to coparent. But I did expect more respect, and more information. I don’t expect input into parenting decisions, but I’d like to hear about his life much more than I do.

Bad Reasons

  • Ruth is in some ways like my mother. Not good ways, either. I wasn’t able to see this at the time—going through a crisis pregnancy really did nothing for my critical thinking and objectivity—but in hindsight it is embarrassingly clear.
  • I wanted a gay or lesbian couple because I wanted Democrats (and knew that that upped the odds massively), but also, stupidly, because I wanted a couple who weren’t experiencing infertility grief and hadn’t had ART as their first choice. I was reading adoptive parent message boards, and the number of hopeful adoptive mothers who felt rage and hate directed at women like me—who got called sluts, and stupid, and easy—because we fell pregnant. I didn’t know how to pick those women out in real life, since obviously they could not be saying these things to the expectant mothers whose children they wanted . . . so I wanted not to choose a straight couple. When Cricket was a year and a half old, I found out that Ruth and Nora actually did try ART before adoption, and I kind of freaked out. And now I understand that you can go through ART and still come to adoption with joy and excitement and no venom for the first parents—but too late, alas.
  • Ruth and Nora were incredibly dishonest with us. Their relationship, I now know, was already in bad shape; they withheld some things from us that while personal were definitely pertinent. Of course they put their best face on things—we all did—but I am rather bitter now about how far their presentation ended up being from the truth. So the bad reason here, I guess, is the picture of their relationship.

Roundtable #48: Why Has or Hasn’t Openness Worked for You?

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.

In her OAB blog post this week, Kat Cooley wondered if there is some way to predict whether (adoptive and first) parents entering into open adoptions truly understand the importance of openness and are really committed to doing what they can to make it work. She asked readers to comment on what drives them to maintain their open adoption relationships. It sparked some great–still ongoing–conversation in the comments section. I encourage you to read the post and comments for yourself.

Reader Racilous suggested that we continue the conversation in a roundtable, which I thought was a great idea. (And for those of you who left comments on Kat’s column, you already have your roundtable post started!). In Racilous’ words:

Why has or hasn’t openness worked for you?

If you are in a healthy functional open adoption, why do you think it’s working? If it doesn’t work, why do you think it stopped working? Do you think the success or failure was about education and expectations going in? Do you think it was that your personalities matched or clashed? Do you think there is something you do or did during the relationship that kept it going or was there a certain point that it changed the relationship from bad to good? Was it a mixture of all of these things?

What a strange and appropriate time for me to get this prompt; Mr. Book and I are in the middle of a long conversation about whether to tell Ruth and Nora that we may need to officially switch to a semi-open adoption (I say officially because Mr. Book contends that we are already in a semi-open adoption). I’ve also been working on a message to them about this, which is a much-gussied-up version of: You break promises to us over and over again. That sucks, but we can deal with it. But once Kit is old enough to notice (being as Joey doesn’t care at all), if you’re still not doing what you say you will, we’re done. Send us pictures if you feel like following through on that part of the agreement at some point, and we’d appreciate an email once or twice a year about how Cricket’s doing; we will send him birthday and Christmas gifts, and will make sure that you have our contact information. But that’s it. I will stop writing to him, we will stop badgering you to Skype, don’t visit us, don’t contact our children, and don’t help Cricket contact us.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever send that message. If I did, we would still talk to Joey and Kit about Cricket—we’d say that his parents aren’t able to make a relationship work right now, but that we can try to get to know him when he’s grown up. Or something like that. Even if we do decide to pull back, there’s probably no need for an announcement: If I stop nagging, I am confident that contact will dry up entirely. The other night, I got a text message from Ruth containing a question from Cricket, and I was just angry—contact only happens when it is useful and convenient for them. Please, interject yourself into my evening and then vanish again for months. No, really, feel free. (I answered the question and was friendly.) I could run down a list of broken promises from them, but really, what is the point? They cover all the bases, from visits to contact to photos to Skype.

The most likely outcome, I think, is that I will send a message that—if there is an assertiveness scale from 1–10, and if the last message was a 2—is more like a 4 or 5. Here are things you have promised to do and failed to do, here are my concerns, I can imagine that in a year or two we may end up mostly cutting contact with you because of this and because of Kit and Joey.

How did we get to this point? Well, I don’t think Ruth and Nora think that we have a failing open adoption, so this is just to note that they would give a hugely different answer from mine and ours. But I would say that when we all agreed that we wanted to be like family, it would have helped to know that Ruth has cut off most of her family; since the adoption happened, she has also ended her marriage, and her best friend has ended the friendship. She doesn’t seem able to sustain relationships, and ours has lasted this long only because we want so desperately to have a connection to her son—but as that feels less and less likely, we too are thinking about walking away. I still believe that Nora never wanted an open adoption, and sometimes wonder whether she ever wanted to be a parent.

Day 2

Joey has started occupational and behavioral therapies (speech therapy starts later this week). Occupational therapy was great; the woman providing the therapy is one of the people who assessed him, and she’s still wonderful. Most of the things she wanted him to do were things he enjoyed, although he was grouchy about being asked to do things—but he clearly enjoyed himself, and he wept a bit when she left. ABA was a different story. Although no intensive behavioral therapy has started (the therapists are trying to get a sense of what he’s like at where he’s at, first), they tried a couple of small things with him that he HATED. They brought two small containers of bubbles with them, and Joey wanted to carry them around wherever he went. Every so often, the ABA supervisor would say to him “In three seconds, it’s teacher’s turn for bubbles! Three—two—one—” and then she would take the bubbles from him. He would grab for them, and she’d say “In three seconds, it’s Joey’s turn for bubbles!” And so on. She also pushed him to ask for more bubbles to be blown instead of just flapping his hand at the container and whining. This unbelievably cruel treatment (if you ask Joey!) had him hiding from them, trying to get me to pick him up and carry him away, and, by the end, tantruming and weeping.  My understanding is that kids do mostly hate ABA—if they didn’t, they wouldn’t need it. But by the time they left, he was exhausted and glad to see the back of them. I don’t think he’ll be pleased to discover that they’re coming back this morning. . . .

My Kitten

I want to tell you about Kit. He’s not having any crises or anything, so he’s been less in the news, but he’s super great, and you should hear how he’s growing. He started walking at nine months, and now, at eleven months, is practically running; he’s at that stage where he thinks that naughtiness is hilarious. And you know, when he grabs my cell phone and starts his waddling run away, giggling hysterically, I pretty much agree with him. He’s a gigantic, outgoing, cheerful kid—he will saunter up to Joey, grab the front of his shirt, and start trying to snatch the cookie out of Joey’s hand. He is so physically confident (and Joey so frequently passive) that he’s able to manhandle his older brother pretty well. I intervene a lot, and both boys get lots of talk about and demonstrations of gentleness. But Kit never seems to mean any harm; he’s enthusiastic, and he doesn’t know his own strength.

 

I’ve started planning Kit’s birthday party (June 9!) and am hopefully that we might actually have some little kids attending, now that I’m slightly more active in the moms’ group. I even have a dopey pointed birthday hat for him to wear. Mr. Book will be here, and I can’t wait.

 

Kit loves to play hide and seek; it started as peek-a-boo, but now he wants to crawl away and hide behind something (because it’s funnier if he crawls, I guess) and then pop out at you—or, in the latest version, go into another room and have the two of you take turns going in to surprise the other one. It’s more fun than it probably sounds. He is desperate to eat chalk, and he loves baths and showers so much that he will stand outside the stall and yell at you should you try to shower without him.

lisaanne119 comments

“I rarely comment, but wanted to tell you how intrigued by the twist in your story that this blog is now following.”

Early this year, I had been wondering whether EfaN was morphing into a straight-up mommy blog—and thinking about what I wanted it to be. After all, adoption contact has been less than a full blog’s worth, you know? As you can imagine, the dramatic irony here is just killing me. Don’t worry, Susie: your blog, it turns out, was just being set up for new and exciting changes. Oh, and your life. And your kids’ lives.

During that Skype call, Cricket reached out to Joey several times, talking to him and trying to get his attention—and Joey completely ignored him. And that’s everybody’s experience with Joey, but it still made me anxious and self-conscious—but Cricket didn’t seem too bothered. I am, however, starting to adjust to Joey’s new label; I no longer want to avoid telling people, for example. Our next-door neighbor is a pediatric speech therapist, and my mother had asked her long ago about Joey’s speech—I thanked her, belatedly, for some handouts she gave me, and she offered to give Joey an informal assessment if I want. I told her that he’s actually had a formal assessment now, and the results, and her reply was a much sweeter “Yeah, I kind of thought so.” Every little revelation that Joey has been telegraphing this for ages in a language I didn’t understand feels like a sucker punch. Pushing him around on a scooter board the other day and then encouraging him to try on his own—and seeing him instead flip it over and sit spinning the wheels—I understand that differently now, and it’s bittersweet. I’m glad that I know what’s going on.