Keeping Warm

Mr. Book is going to be able to visit in April—for his birthday, and maybe Easter. This is a lifeline for both of us right now. We had hoped that he’d be able to visit next month, but then our rent went up, and that was no longer a possibility. Even in April, it’s hard to face losing a week’s pay—but we’ve just got to see each other, and the boys have got to see their Pop. My parents are buying Mr. Book’s plane ticket as a birthday gift, for which we are truly grateful.

I’m still having a hard brain time. This is the most boring non-news, but I don’t know how else to explain why I’m not writing much and why I am not getting done as much as I wish that I was. But I’m trucking along, drinking tea and changing diapers.

When we were first dating, I made Mr. Book a scarf—nothing special, just grey and green garter stitch with a fringe. That’s what he was using at the beginning of this winter, but last month it vanished. Since it is still bitingly cold in the Midwest, I’m knitting him a replacement (almost done!). In some ways it’s nice to have the chance; I had asked him to let me replace that scarf before, as I’m a better knitter now with, I think, slightly more interesting taste. But he wanted to keep the old one, being the sweet, sentimental one of us. Now he’s getting a scrap yarn scarf, nothing fancy, but ribbed and wool and almost long enough. I have as my rule of thumb that your scarf ought to be as long as you are tall, but he is awfully tall, and the scarf is about five feet long and I still have acres to go. But soon I’ll be done and I will send it to him, to keep near him.

We’re skyping with Cricket again this weekend; I sent him a Valentine that Kit made, although it probably hasn’t arrived yet. I’m going to write about this skype call, I think, because I feel like I’m letting too much just slip quietly away.

Here and Gone Again

Mr. Book’s visit was super great. He brought germs with him, and we all got incredibly, disgustingly sick after he was gone, but it was great while he was here.

We took the kids to Disneyland: me, Mr. Book, and my parents. It was a pretty great time—the kids enjoyed the storybook rides and the churros very much, and my parents took charge of them for a few hours so that I could wander around with only my husband. Aside from that big event, we mostly just hung around with the boys during the day and hung out with each other in the evenings; the boys were immediately thrilled to see their dad, no warming up needed, which I was happy to see; it makes me think that we’re doing an okay job of keeping the three of them connected even at a distance.

It’s hard to write about his visit because I’m so sad that he’s gone. After a few weeks apart, we all settle into a new normal—but when he’s just left, it’s like an open wound. I miss that dude an awful lot.

Missing Mr. Book

Mr. Book is in the Midwest now. I’m very tired, but I think I have the better end of this deal; I get to spend my days with the boys. Still, Kit is going through a phase of wanting to nurse roughly every forty minutes at night, and I’m feeling pretty run down. Too, I keep expecting to see the Mister when I enter another room, or when he wakes up from his nap. I keep missing him, somehow, but some part of my brain has not registered that I’m not going to see him for a long time. At the same time, I’ve started making plans for a package to send when his birthday rolls around in April.

Joey is angry at his dad, and is working things out in his own toddler way. I was texting the Mister and Joey walked up to me, so I told him that I was using the phone to talk to daddy—so he said “Hey,” and then later, came up to me and said “Hey, Dada”; I asked whether he wanted to call daddy, he said yes, and we called. There have been a few speakerphone calls between Joey and his daddy, and Joey has already gone from pointedly shunning the phone (while listening intently) to quietly saying “Dada.” We’re planning to Skype for the first time this afternoon. I’m hopeful that it will be a good experience for Joey.

Mr. Book is pretty sad, but he’s already found a job and already been of help to his mother. The plan is basically working. I’m sending him pictures of the boys every day, and of course we’re talking.

Things I Don’t Own

When last we were in the Emerald City, I abruptly realized that Ruth and Nora have almost certainly showed their family and friends pictures of me (with Cricket) from the day I gave birth. This horrifies me for no rational reason—okay, I looked terrible, but I had a pretty decent excuse.

The realization came when we were driving somewhere and Nora stopped to say hello to a friend of theirs who was out raking leaves. The friend said “Hi, Ruth and Nora! Hi Cricket! Hi Mr. Book! Hi Susie!” My husband has no idea who this woman is; they’ve never met. (I met her while pregnant, so am able to focus on how weird this is for him rather than having it be weird for me.) I assume that this lady—I’ll call her Alice—that Alice had seen pictures of the Mister with Cricket, and that Ruth had said something like “And here is Cricket with his birthdad, Mr. Book.” That is totally reasonable and non-boundary crossing . . . so why did it feel so gross when we met her in the car? My best guess is that at least for me, it was a reminder that I don’t and won’t (at least for the next seventeen years) have any private time or experiences with Cricket. One consequence of being part of their lives instead of central figures in his is that they (again, so far and for the foreseeable future) run and in some senses own the experiences we have with Cricket. And they can do whatever they like with them.

There is one other piece to this story: Mr. Book could have known who Alice was. There were a couple of months when Ruth labeled the people in the pictures she shared with us online, and Alice was among the people holding Cricket during that time period. But Mr. Book doesn’t look at the pictures unless I bully or trick him into it. Sure, maybe he wouldn’t have remembered at the critical moment—but it didn’t need to be quite as one-sided as it was. We’ve never met Ruth’s sister, but if she happens to wander into the room on a visit, I will know who she is because I look at the pictures. My husband won’t.

Happy Birthday

Saturday, in addition to being the birthmom panel day, was also the Mister’s birthday. I made ding-dongs in lieu of birthday cake, although you can bet that I stuck candles into one and sang; I made salsa and nachos; and then there were strawberries, hot fudge, and ice cream to finish the night. He had to work in the morning, but thereafter it was nonstop playoff hockey, goofy TV for a couple of hours, and then Mario Kart. He took a nice bath. He only heard from my family on Saturday, which was a bit of shadow over the day, but overall he seemed to enjoy the birthday very much. Happy thirty-one, dad-to-be!

Our families handle birthdays very differently—his family barely recognizes the day, even for kids, apparently, whereas for my family, birthdays are a Big Deal. The traditional family package includes the cake of your choice, presents, singing, birthday dinner of your choice, no chores for the day, getting the family to participate in activities of your choice (movies, board games, conversations that bore everyone else), and breakfast in bed. I’ve abandoned the breakfast in bed bit, since neither of us like it, but I have otherwise wholeheartedly endorsed the program. I made Mr. Book a cake back when we were first dating, because I was horrified to hear that he hadn’t had one in better than a decade; he was somewhat charmed, but confused. He has since gotten used to my ways—I just get so sad thinking that a person has no one to make a fuss on his or her birthday—but he’s still unused enough to cry a little while I sang “Happy Birthday,” holding a ding-dong, smiling at him.

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.

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.