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.

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The Letters I Don’t Write

Dear Ruth,

When we visit for Cricket’s birthday, I want to bring something. Can he eat birthday cake? No.

Dear Ruth,

I know you’ve got Cricket on a pretty careful diet—is there a birthday exception? Or is one year the limit on wheat, salt, sugar No.

Dear Ruth,

Is there any way I can contribute to a birthday menu that Cricket could share? And are there any updates on what he’s eating? I very much like the idea of being able to bring cupcakes or something, but I don’t know of any recipes that don’t involve wheat, nuts, eggs, salt, sugar, or honey. Is there any way you can think of for me to make something baby-appropriate, or is this an idea that would be best revisited next year? Still no. Too controlling, too desperate.

Dear Ruth,

Listen. I know this is maybe weird, but I really like the idea of being able to provide some kind of birthday treat for Cricket. Of course I have visions of cupcakes with jungle animals on them, but I know that you are being very careful in constructing his diet. I really like the idea of being able to bring something, but I don’t want to violate any boundaries or break any of your rules. Were you planning to let him play with a cupcake at his party anyway, or is this an idea I need to let go of? I suspect the latter. This is one of those weird moments, is all, where I have an impulse that I guess is parental, like when I wanted to buy him a toy for no occasion or when I wanted to pick out an outfit for him. So I guess that means that I shouldn’t consider it seriously or let myself dwell on it. I don’t want to bother you—that is really, really important to me—and I don’t really know what to do with these feelings except sit with them and be sad. I want to do some of the more fun parental things, but I am not a parent.

Maybe I’ll have a kid of my own that I can keep one day. That is the kid for whom I can make a cupcake with an elephant on it, the kid who I can dress up when we have company. And the kid who vomits on me, and throws tantrums at the market, and needs me to wipe his bum for a few years—I don’t think I’m too naïve about what parenting means. But I really feel ready for that now in a way that I couldn’t have imagined a year ago, and I’m almost sorry that I’ve matured this far; it only makes the adoption harder at times like this. Okay. Time to close my email and give this one up as a bad job.

***

And now I’ve found a recipe for dairy-free, wheat-free, sugar-free, salt-free vegan cookies. *sighs*

Why’dja do it, huh?

Yesterday and today I am answering questions from fabulous commenter Artemis: “Hi. I guess my question is why you decided to place, and how you came to that decision? Maybe you covered that already but I only discovered your blog about a month ago. And what made you choose Ruth and Nora?” If you have a question, lay it on me.

I’m a little nervous about answering this one. Part of that is that there are reasons here that I never gave to the agency, or to Ruth and Nora, or to anyone, really—there are dumb things and petty things. I tended to give people my good and overwhelming reasons: “I am extremely poor and not ready to parent.” True, and it seems like enough…but there’s always more to the story, seems like. As soon as I had given birth I felt ready to parent—hell, I did parent for that one day—but I literally would not allow myself to consider any alternative to adoption. I didn’t want to let Ruth and Nora down, I didn’t want to look weak, I didn’t want to trap my boyfriend—and of course my list of reasons going into the process was still mostly present. And it was an actual, physical list; when the agency told me that many women falter after birth, I decided to write a list down so that I could look at it if I needed to. The list was full of self-hate, and I kind of wish that I had been able to get some counseling during the adoption process: it started out “Listen, you stupid f%ck%ing b%tch.” Yes, that is what I had to say to myself. So I guess that’s one reason for choosing adoption that I never put on any list, not even in my head; I sort of despised myself.

I had a lot of reasons for choosing adoption: some of them were good reasons, and some of them, frankly, were pretty crappy. I’m going to give all of them because I do myself no favors by holding back on this blog and because I think it’s usually a complicated decision. So here they are, in no particular order:

  • My partner, the future Mr. Book, was planning on going to law school and wouldn’t be able to do that if we had had a baby. It’s still going to be at least another year, but a child would have pushed that back several years.
  • I wanted to prove to my partner that I hadn’t gotten pregnant on purpose.
  • I have a history of serious depression, and worried that I would suffer from post-partum psychosis. My mother had pretty bad post-partum depression and abused me and Tammy as infants—I began, in a weird way, to see the pregnancy as a trial run, a chance to see whether I could have a baby and not lose my mind. I managed to keep taking care of my cat and remained affectionate and attentive to him even during the worst of the aftermath, so I’ve decided that I can probably have a baby and not go dangerously nuts.
  • My parents had all of us kids while they were poor and my dad was in school, and things were pretty dire sometimes. I wanted my kid to have toys and adequate indoor heat and health insurance; stuff I didn’t have when I was little. My memories of my childhood are not good, and I didn’t want to raise my son the way I was raised.
  • My partner had very much wanted me to have an abortion, and told me that many times. Maybe this sounds weird, but I didn’t want to raise a kid whose life we’d talked about ending. I’m trying to find a more rational/less emotional way to phrase this one, but this is the best I can do. Not that we ever would have told Cricket, but I didn’t want to have that in my head, even.
  • I told my partner that I worried that ten years down the road, he’d resent me and feel that I’d trapped him…and he didn’t say anything. Right, I thought to myself.
  • The only night of my life that I had unprotected sex, I got pregnant. I decided that this meant that I’d gotten pregnant for a reason, and that the reason must be that God was punishing me by making me carry someone else’s child and then give the baby to the real parents. Catholic guilt can really do a number on a girl, huh?
  • When I was pregnant, I was unemployed, living with my parents, and in a long-distance relationship—if any one of those things had been different, I might not have placed. Even now, I’ve had a couple of bad moments where I look at Mr. Book and think, I should have kept Cricket instead of marrying you. That’s not fair of me; if I had told Mr. Book that we were going to be raising this baby, he would have married me and stepped up to be a dad. But we were both in bad situations, and we didn’t want to make a baby carry part of the burden.

I second guess my decision to place—maybe I always will, I don’t know. But Cricket is doing well, his parents love him, and I’m meeting my obligations to him; I think that’s as much as I can reasonably hope for.

I guess that’s only half the story, tho. Before I got pregnant, I had always assumed that I would have an abortion; once I got pregnant, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to do that. I am still pro-choice, but feel that abortion is a choice not available to me personally. So when I did get pregnant, I thought that I was going to have a baby. Then I talked to my partner, and I realized that I couldn’t have a baby. I had read Dan Savage’s memoir about adopting his son, so I knew of open adoption—I emailed the agency he used, and went from there.

Narrowing It Down

Today and tomorrow I am answering questions from fabulous commenter Artemis: “Hi. I guess my question is why you decided to place, and how you came to that decision? Maybe you covered that already but I only discovered your blog about a month ago. And what made you choose Ruth and Nora?” If you have a question, lay it on me.

How did I pick Ruth and Nora? Well, although I was not able to use the agency I first contacted (instead I had to use an agency from the state in which I lived, an agency about which I have many unpleasant things to say), I started out thinking that I would be working with them—so I looked through the couples on their website first. I had a long list of things that I wanted, some more important than others:

  • I wanted a stay-at-home parent. I know that many excellent parents put their kids into daycare—and, in fact, Cricket may start daycare next fall—but I don’t like it, personally.
  • I wanted the couple to live in a big city. I’ve lived in big cities and tiny towns, and felt trapped in the small towns.
  • I wanted Democrats. Obviously I can’t choose what beliefs his parents share with Cricket, but—during the entrustment, Ruth talked about wanting Cricket to grow up with a strong sense of social justice. How great is that?!
  • I wanted a gay or lesbian couple. This was one of my more flexible criteria, and in fact I shortlisted several straight couples. Here was my thinking: I had been lurking adoption forums for awhile before I made my choice, and I saw a number of women adopting because of infertility who had a great deal of grief and rage, some of which got taken out on the birthmothers. I can’t tell you how many times I saw the “pregnant, crack-addicted sixteen-year-old” nastiness, and as a twenty-five-year-old woman who used no drugs and was in a monogamous relationship…I wasn’t impressed, let’s just say. I know that there are many, many straight couples adopting because of infertility who are generous, kind, awesome people. But I couldn’t find a way to pick them out based on their “Dear Birthmother” letters. =/ In Dan Savage’s book, he talks about feeling that being able to adopt was an amazing privilege, and I thought, What a great way to come into adoption. I want that.
  • I wanted a couple who were religious, but not fundamentalist.
  • I wanted a couple with no more than one child already. I grew up fundamentalist, and it left me with a bias against a great many things, large families among them. My mother didn’t have enough time and attention for all four of us; I wanted Cricket to be the center of somebody’s universe. That said, it wasn’t important to me that he be an only child, and if all goes as planned, he won’t be. But I do like it that he will have had a couple of years as the star of the show.
  • I wanted them to own their own home. A lot of money wasn’t important to me, and in fact Ruth and Nora are not well off—but they have enough money to have bought a house and to be able to get Cricket anything he needs.

There’s one thing that wasn’t on my list going into the process that ended up being incredibly important; Ruth and Nora looked genuinely happy in their picture. I would say that more than half of the couples in the pool did not look really happy in their picture, but Ruth and Nora seemed glad to be next to each other, glad to be wherever they were. It was a nice bonus that Ruth is a vegetarian, like me; I was pretty sure that they lived in the Emerald City, where I planned to move. I thought that I would get along best with Nora—she actually looked like someone I would have dated—but in fact Ruth and I have ended up building a close friendship, while I’m just amiably not close to Nora.

By the time that I first spoke to them, I was sure that they were the ones. They were fairly reserved during that first conversation, which I now know was a good sign—they wanted the right match, not just any match—but at the time it made me feel as though I had to win them over, rather than vice versa. After that conversation, I got a copy of their full profile, which felt to me as though I was just confirming what I already knew: Yes, yes, these are the ones. After a second conversation in which I explained that I still wanted to match with them, they planned a trip to visit. It went well. =)

It’s funny; I still look at the agency website sometimes, see who is in the pool. There are couples waiting whom I evaluated back in the day—there is even one couple I liked, but their Dear Birthmother letter says so little about them that I didn’t seriously consider them. I even—and this is strange—will pick out the couple I would choose if I had to pick today. Right now, it’s a charming gay couple with a three-year-old daughter (if you wondered).