Did I really just high-five someone who crapped in a plastic container that I now have to empty and clean by hand?
Yes. Yes, I did.
…not from the Husband, anyway, who watches it “all the time.”
What the what?
Dictator and I walked to the grocery store after dinner tonight to grab a few things. As we were leaving for the store, Dictator asked if she could have a treat when we got there. Occasionally, this means ice cream at the DQ across the street. This wasn’t going to be one of those times, so I said no. Because I’m a mean mommy.
My “no” didn’t faze her, though, mainly because I told Dictator that we could take the wagon to the store. This was the first opportunity we’ve had to use the wagon this spring, and it was apparently such great fun, the only reasonable response to sitting in it was to yell “wheeeee!”. Repeatedly. The entire way to the store.
Which is a thirty minute walk away.
After two minutes of “wheeee!”, I reflected on the way kids really do teach you to appreciate the little things. I wished that I could still be so excited about something as simple as a ride in a wagon.
At the seven-minute mark, I had perfected the “aren’t kids delightful?!” sheepish smile that you give to strangers when you pass them on the street while your kid is doing something cute but vaguely strange.
Twelve minutes in, I was wondering how long she could possibly keep that up, and plotting ways to get her to stop without crushing her happy little spirit.
By the time we made it to the store, I did what any parent facing another thirty minutes of that sound would do. I bought that kid the biggest Drumstick I could find so that her mouth would be occupied the entire way home.
Pretty smart way to get an ice cream cone, if you ask me.
I read Via Ukraine’s post about RESOLVE.org’s National Infertility Awareness Week Bust a Myth project and wanted to lend my voice to the Domestic Adoption category (share my thoughts? Shocker of all shockers, I know).
RESOLVE listed a number of myths about domestic adoption, but let’s focus on “The birthmother will take the child back”, shall we?
Although we did our best to educate family and friends on the nature of adoption while we were going through the process, when Dictator finally arrived, one of the first questions was invariably “Aren’t you afraid that her birthparents are going to take her back one day?”
Here’s the Cole’s Notes version of the way private, domestic adoption works where I live:
- A pregnant woman who is considering adoption gets in touch with an adoption agency, which spends a significant amount of time educating her on her options (all of them: adoption, abortion, parenting). This serves to ensure that she is making a very conscious, very informed decision. If she decides to pursue adoption, she creates a profile of the kind of adoptive family she wants for her baby, and is shown the files of prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) that match her profile (presuming that she also matches the PAPs’ criteria).
- Once a match is made, both parties meet and decide if they want to pursue the adoption, and Intent agreements are signed. (Nothing’s official yet, but this means that the PAPs’ file can’t be shown to another birthmother, and the birthmother won’t be shown any more PAP files.)
- Until the baby is born, the prospective birthmother and the PAPs may spend some time getting to know each other through visits, emails, etc.
- Once the baby is born, the prospective birthmother cannot give legal consent to place for adoption until 48 hours after birth. This gives her time to bond with her baby and reflect on her decision. If she still wishes pursue adoption, the child will typically be placed with the PAPs shortly after consent is signed (I say “typically” because some PAPs choose to have a third party “friend” of the adoption agency care for the baby for the first 21 days after consent).
- For 21 days following consent, the birthmother has the right to change her mind. During that period (I call it the Waiting Game), the agency encourages a number of visits, which become more and more spaced out throughout those three weeks. These visits are meant to help the birthmother see that her baby is well and being properly cared for; this often helps her grieving process. (Birthmom also remains in close contact with the adoption agency, which provides her with support in the form of post-placement counselling.)
- After that, there is still a 30- to 60-day window before the courts approve the adoption, but the birthmother no longer has legal recourse for changing her mind (unless coercion/bribery/other bad, bad things can be proven).
Okay, so I lied about the Cole’s Notes. But hear me out: The reason I gave you so much detail is to illustrate that the whole process is designed to ensure that everyone involved is educated properly, making well-informed decisions, and comfortable with each other (this is a relationship you’re going to have for the rest of your lives, after all). No one involved arrived at the decision to pursue adoption lightly.
I don’t want to minimize it - reversals do happen - but because the law is clear and because the adoption agency is required to educate both parties
up the yin yang very thoroughly, a) reversals are very rare, and b) they’re not constantly hanging over your head. Knowing that there was a finite period of time in which Dictator’s birthparents could revoke consent made getting through the Waiting Game a lot easier. (So did birthmom’s “You know we’re not going to change our minds, right?” at a visit on Day 15, actually!).
And while we don’t ever worry that Dictator’s birthmother is going to “take her back”, we do still get that question on occasion. It’s usually in connection with a discussion about seeing birthmom recently, which makes me wonder if people hear “open” adoption and think “temporary” instead…
I think that’s a post for another day.
When I applied for the job of Parent, I understood that part of the job description involved poop. Lots of poop. And vomit. And limited sleep. And resisting the urge to cringe or gag whenever I was commanded to kiss the filthy injured finger/knee/elbow that was thrust in my face. I even expected the laundry.
What I didn’t expect was the amount of laundry I would do by hand, because dudes – little girls’ dress-up clothes can’t go in the washing machine! Clearly, these things were designed by childless sadists (or masochistic parents, I suppose).
Because inevitably, there will come a time when your little girl (or guy) refuses to wear anything but princess dresses and tutus and fairy wings. All of which will be
poorly delicately stitched, tulle-covered, sequined, and lace-edged.
And because s/he will refuse to wear anything but the aforementioned outfits, there will be spills.
And because s/he will invariably have very clear Preferences about which one s/he wants to wear right now (and because you value your sanity and the ability to hear), you will have to remedy those spills immediately.
And because the only way to do that is by hand, you will find yourself up to your elbows in laundry detergent in the bathroom sink, cursing while cleaning chocolate milk out of purple velour. And then blow-drying the dress. Daily (occasionally more often if you have a spilly kid like mine).
When Dictator grows up and reaches that rite of passage hallmarked by screams of “If you loved me, you’d let me [insert ridiculous teenaged demand here]!”, this is the thing I’m totally throwing in her face.
Let’s ignore the fact that I kissed your grubby injuries and cleaned up any substance that exited your body and developed impressive under-eye bags due to lack of sleep, shall we?
I hand-washed your princess dresses, Kid. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
- Bayshaball (baseball)
- Chapchap (ketchup)
- Cheesecake! (When asked to say "cheese" for the camera - no idea how it morphed into "cheesecake")
- Chockick (chocolate)
- Hottey (hockey)
- I dream (ice cream)
- Ispymydaeye (I spy with my little eye)
- Jackick (jacket)
- Makey puh-juhls (making puzzles)
- Manana (banana)
- Manila cuh-kicks (vanilla cupcakes)
- Mini-apple-juice (Minneapolis)
- Oh-chitch (orange)
- Schtawbees (strawberries)
- Sin-in-illa/Si-rerr-eh-ya (Cinderella)
- Tar (guitar)
- Tinkbell (Tinkerbell)
- Yewwow memmen (yellow lemon - oddly, she says "lemon" perfectly as long as she's not also telling you that it's yellow)
First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.
May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.
When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half And stick with Beer.
Guide her, protect her: When crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.
Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels.
What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.
May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.
Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen. Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.
O Lord, break the Internet forever, That she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.
And when she one day turns on me and calls me a bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that shit. I will not have it.
And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back.
“My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.
(From Tina Fey’s “Bossypants”)
Not in my opinion, no.
The way you’re talking makes me think that you plan to be honest with your child about their adoption, and I’m glad for that. I wholly believe that you should be open and honest with your children about where they came from. Barring extremely traumatic situations, I believe that hiding a child’s birth story is for the parents’ benefit, not the child’s. It allows the parents to avoid having difficult conversations, or fearing that their children won’t love them if they find out they’re not their “real” parents.
Please know that the level of openness or ongoing contact in an open adoption is up to the families involved, and is spelled out in a formal Openness Agreement. If you agree to one letter per year, you’re only obligated to share one letter per year; you’re not obligated to take phone calls or have visits, etc. (unless you want to). You decide what’s right for you. Open adoption can be amazing if all parties enter the arrangement willingly and with an attitude of “we all love this child and want what’s best for him.”
If having your child’s birthparents “involved” freaks you out, please either spend some more time talking to people involved in open adoptions, or consider international adoption (where birthparents are often unknown) or closed adoption, where records are sealed (if that’s something that’s possible in your country/state/province).
But keep in mind – it’s human nature to want to know your roots. Your child may decide at some point to try to learn more about where they came from. Why not help them with the answers?
Our adoption file indicated to prospective birth parents that we would be comfortable with up to four contacts per year (the max number listed on the standardized form). Contact was important to us. We didn’t want to have awkward annual visits because we didn’t see each other often enough to get to know each other. We wanted Dictator to know her birthparents, not just know about them, and we didn’t think that she’d ever really get to do that unless she saw them regularly.
I think if a prospective birthmother had wanted less contact, we would have considered that, but it wouldn’t have been our ideal, and we may not have pursued the match. I’m so glad that Dictator’s birthparents found us. We (and that’s the collective we – I truly feel I can speak for Dictator’s birthparents on this one) see our arrangement as the very best thing for Dictator. She has the opportunities that her birthparents wanted for her, she has loving relationships with all of us, and she gets to know where she came from. While I fully anticipate that one day she’ll want to know why her birthparents chose adoption, she will have grown up knowing for a fact that they love her, so the sting of “How could they give me away?” will (hopefully) be tempered by that. It will (again, hopefully) be easier to explain that her adoption was more about circumstance than anything else. How can that not be a benefit to her?
The relationship that we have with Dictator’s birthparents (and their parents – yes, we see them, too) is unorthodox, I know. We have far more contact with them than anyone I know in real life would consider having.
BUT – there are limits and boundaries, and mutual respect for time and privacy. I would never drop in on them without first calling and arranging something. They have never just “stopped by”, and on the rare occasion when they have asked to come by on relatively short notice, we’ve said no if that didn’t work for us (and they’re cool with that). It’s kind of like extended family – cousins, aunts & uncles, people you’d see periodically and keep in regular touch with by email, phone, etc., but who aren’t likely to just drop in when you’re not expecting them.
(Very) long story short, we like spending time with Dictator’s birth families, so we do. But we don’t feel any obligation to “give them access” to Dictator at their whim. It’s a balance.
Ultimately, you have to do what you’re comfortable with. If, after learning more about open adoption, you’re still uncomfortable with the idea of it, then it just might not be for you.
I’m glad you contacted me, but please talk to other families in open adoptions and to adoption agencies who can better educate you on what open adoption really is. We are undeniably not the norm, although I wish more adoptions were like ours. Please don’t let our story scare you away from open adoption.
P.S. Re: “Dictator” – thanks, but I can’t take credit for it! Rebecca Eckler calls her daughter The Dictator in her book Wiped: Life with a Pint-Sized Dictator, and the name just fits (as it does for most small children, I’m sure!).
Maggie is working on her “Dear Birthmother” letter, and asked for suggestions. Unfortunately, Tumblr limits the number of characters you can use in your response and I am… How shall I put this? Wordy? A Chatty Cathy? The exact opposite of concise? At any rate, I gave her a quick response and decided to answer more fully here. Here goes:
I’m with you, Maggie. The term “Dear Birthmother” sucks. I still find it ironic that despite the fact that a woman is not a birthmother until an adoption is finalized, and despite the fact that our adoption agency drilled that into our skulls during
hazing initiation our education seminar, they insisted that we start our letter with the words “Dear Birthmother”. (I tried to get around it by saying, “Hi there”, which is the way I start most casual notes and emails, but they nixed that when they reviewed our letter – and yes, they reviewed it. And made us forced us strongly suggested we change a couple of things.)
We knew what the agency required us to include: No more than two pages of basic biographical information and thoughts on how we planned to raise our family, plus photos that supported the things we were saying. We started writing, and what we wrote sounded like a cover letter for the position of Parent at GimmeAKid Inc.:
To Whom It May Concern,
Please accept this letter as an expression of my interest in the position of Mommy within your organization.
I am responsible and stable and feel that I would be an excellent parent to any child I might be fortunate enough to raise. Should you be interested in arranging a meeting to further discuss my credentials, please don’t hesitate to contact me at your earliest convenience.
Any Average Prospective Adoptive Parent
That wasn’t going to work for us, so the next thing we did was ask Google for its opinion. (I love Google. Google never fails me!) Search “dear birthmother letter” and you will get an insane number of hits. This was… eye-opening? Occasionally entertaining? (I don’t mean to make fun of people who are putting their hearts on the line but man, there are some seriously cringe-worthyletters out there!) Luckily, we also found some very good ones that helped us figure out the kinds of things we wanted to share with prospective birthparents.
So we started over. We added our personalities. We were open and honest. We wrote like we talk.
My husband made fun of me for including this:
I sing in the car. (Loudly, and badly.) I dance when I’m cooking, but only if no one is watching. My camera is always in my hands and I can’t wait to photograph a little person’s adventures.
I always know when [my husband’s favourite team] has scored, because I can hear his “Woo! Yeah!” – no matter where I am in the house. [One of our cats] comes running when he hears this, because he knows that [my husband] will help him do a little happy dance to celebrate the goal.
But you know what? That is precisely what made Dictator’s birthparents choose to meet us rather than the other couples whose letters they read.* In our letter, they saw real people, people they thought they would like, people who seemed like them. If you’re looking for an open adoption, this is what you want – Because these people will remain in your lives, and it only makes sense that you’re going to want to like each other!
So my best advice to you, Maggie, and to any other prospective adoptive parent, is to write your letter like you were chatting with a new friend. Write it as though you were talking to them face to face. Don’t spend those precious two pages trying to convince them that you’re mature, trustworthy, stable people who are “ready” to raise upstanding citizens in a warm and loving environment. They know you’re ready to be parents, or you wouldn’t be actively trying to build a family. Don’t try to prove anything; just show them who you are.
Oh, and if you can manage to make the letter sound natural in the third person, go for it. We couldn’t (as evidenced above), so it was kind of written from my perspective, although we both signed it.
When you’re finished writing it, write it again (clearly, not advice you need, Maggie, if you’re all about the revisions. I’m not a writer, but I am a perfectionist, so I know a bit about that!). Take out anything that sounds forced or unnatural, anything that doesn’t sound like something you would say out loud to a real person.
Because at the end of it all, prospective birthparents are real people. And they want to know the real you before they consider placing their child in your arms.
*Dictator’s birthparents told us at our first meeting that this was why they chose to meet us. Which is nice, since I like being able to prove to the Husband that I’m right.
This post reminded me of sitting in our education seminar 1,000 years ago when we first began the adoption process. At the start of the information-overloaded weekend, each couple was asked to tell the group a little about themselves, including why they had chosen to pursue (or at least learn more about) adoption.
As we went around the room, couple after couple described their struggles with infertility, most of them banging their heads against the IUI and/or IVF walls for many years. The couple that sticks out in my mind the most tried for more than a dozen years before finally throwing their hands up and looking into adoption. (Twelve years! Twelve years of scheduled sex, temperatures, hormone shots, inseminations, sperm “deposits”, egg retrievals, embryo transfers… It exhausts me just thinking about the financial and emotional turmoil.)
We never bothered with any of that. We knew, going in, that biological children would not happen for us without medical intervention, so we never tried. We knew that we wanted to have our family young, and that we didn’t want to spend time and money on what could very well be a fruitless effort, so we made a conscious decision to adopt straight away.
But that seems not to be the norm. I find that people often view adoption as a second choice, a back-up plan, a last resort. It never felt that way for us, and I’ve struggled to articulate that properly (or succinctly – I always felt like I had to explain our entire decision-making process whenever someone asked why we didn’t “try” to have “our own” kids first).
Then yesterday, Viaukraine said it perfectly (and in just fifteen words!):
I never felt sad about adopting. To me adoption isn’t something I am settling for.
That’s not to say that I was never sad about the fact that I wasn’t going to be pregnant - I was, no doubt about it. (Truth be told, I still am, some days.) But what I grieved was pregnancy, not biological children.
To each their own, of course. I don’t fault other couples for wanting to try medical intervention to have their families. Maybe we were just further along in the grieving process, having known all along that it would be difficult to produce biological offspring, but when it comes right down to it, adoption was never a consolation prize for us.
It seems silly, given how simply she put it, but thank you, Viaukraine, for finally giving me the right words!