Another’s Loss Is My Pain

IMG_7447His fifth birthday has rendered me contemplative.  Perhaps all birthdays do to some extent.  But this one has pulled at me decidedly and fully.

At first I thought it was because he’s my baby.  The baby.  My youngest and my last.  Watching transition after transition, milestone after milestone has left me more than a little not to mention noticeably brooding.

But I realized tonight it’s not that at all.

It’s because I’m thinking about her, about his birthmother . . . and how five years ago tonight a very young woman made a very courageous decision, took an unparalleled leap of faith.

It’s so easy to get lost in the mire of stereotypes—of presuppositions and prejudice, to put birthmothers into a single, constricting category.  As a society we still have not disengaged from the verbiage that limits our thinking about adoption:  mothers giving up their children . . . the phrasing alone speaks of quitting, of desertion.

But tonight, on my youngest son’s fifth birthday, I am struck particularly by the enormous sacrifice his birthmother made, the selflessness of her decision, of my colossal luck that she chose for him this life, his life.

And I am pained by her loss tonight.

Because I know him and she does not.

Because this is suddenly so hard, and I never knew it would be.

Choosing Adoption at Ages Eight and Nine

IMG_5121The sceneOscar, age 9, in the top bunk, very, very tired after a long night of football and Minecraft but still remarkably lucid; Edgar, age 8, on the bottom bunk packed with two dozen stuffed animals, four pillows, two blankets, and a beleaguered mother nestled in temporarily to say goodnight.  Edgar is characteristically chatty and full of nighttime questions. 

EDGAR:  “Mom, do you think I’ll get married some day?”

ME:  “If you meet the right person, you’ll know it.  And if you both want to get married, then you will.”

EDGAR:  “How about kids?  Do you think I’ll have kids?”

ME:  “If you and the person you marry want to have children, then you will.”

EDGAR:  “I think I want to adopt one boy and one girl and name them Steve and Elizabeth.”

ME:  “Well, if you get married, it’s not just up to you, you know.  Your spouse would have to agree.”

EDGAR:  “Really?”

ME:  “Yes, really.”

EDGAR:  “Well, we’re adopting no matter what.”

OSCAR:  “Me, too.  But I’m adopting just one child, a girl.”

ME:  “You know, there are lots of ways to form a family.  Adoption is one, but there are others.”

OSCAR:  “Yeah, but adoption is cool.”

EDGAR:  “Yeah, I love adoption.”

MEPause.  “Yes, it is.  And so do I.”  Another pause.   “Goodnight, boys.  I love you.”

OSCAR:  “I love you, Mom.”

EDGAR:  “I love you, too, Mom.”

And the mother, renewed and a little less beleaguered, nestles in further and decides to linger because, really, where else would she want to be?

Open and Shut

IMG_3970I have checked my email two dozen times this morning hoping each time I click on “Inbox” there will be a note, a sentence even, telling me she has changed her mind, that she made a mistake in what she wrote last night—that she wrote it in anger, frustration, or sadness and that the light of day has made her realize this is not a relationship she would ever want to sever.

August’s birth mother, when his adoption plan was created, initially requested six visits per year.  We settled on four and have been steadfast in adhering to our agreement.  Even when she was not able to come to a visit, we continuously endeavored, sometimes amidst our own frustrations, to find a work-around that would make sense, understanding that our son’s positive contact with his birthmother is a gift unparalleled.

It hasn’t always been smooth—far from it.  The most recent attempt at a visit ended up heart-wrenchingly sad: a four-year-old boy, eager to see his birth mother, understanding precisely who she is and why it’s important that he see her, deliberately and thoughtfully garbed in a Christmas sweater and dress pants and armed with a handmade gift, wandering through the food court of a nearby mall, hand-in-hand with his mother who was watching the minutes tick by far too fast with his birth mother nowhere to be found.

When the only reasonable option was to leave, lest we prolong the inevitable result, August cried.  I lifted his forty-five pound body in my arms, and between heaves and tears he said, with the full force of his four-year-old sense of injustice, not to mention cause-and-effect, “She lied to me.  I don’t ever want to see her again.”

I brought him to the car, gave him kisses and some water, and then we talked.  I told him she didn’t really lie, though it may seem that way to him.  Something happened and she couldn’t come.  I asked him to please consider seeing her because not seeing her would hurt her feelings.  He said she hurt his feelings, so we paused.

By the time the ride was over, August consented to seeing her again.  I allowed him to dictate the terms:  the zoo in the summer.  I proposed the plan when we got home and in return received an email in which his birth mother–in two mere sentences–declared she was not going to see August anymore.

I read her words too many times, thinking it was quite possible I was misreading them, that they were an illusion.  When it became apparent that they weren’t and that her mind had been made up, I had to tell my son.

From the outside looking in, especially for those who know and understand the inevitable bumps with which such relationships are often strewn, this may seem as though it will ultimately be in our son’s best interest: If someone no longer wants to or can’t participate in a relationship with another, forcing it can only lead to disappointment and heartache.

But as an adoptive mother, August’s mother, I know the benefits and the potential benefits this relationship has—had–for him, for us, and for August’s brothers, both of whom never had an opportunity to even meet their birth parents.  I know and understand the loss.

But at this moment August feels the loss, and for him my heart hurts.  My wish then can only be that the love he feels from his family, his friends, indeed the world, will help to ease that loss, understanding full well that when we’ve had something—someone–in our life and then suddenly we don’t, that easing is the best we can hope for.  Filing is not an option.

August is a light in and to this world, a gift; and his birth mother gave him a selfless and tremendous gift in not only making an adoption plan but spending the time she could with him afterward.  I cannot presume to know the battles she faces, the pain in her life.  My hope, though, is that one day his presence will bring her comfort and that she will seek him out.

He will be here, and we will walk with him, toward her—when she is ready.

Dialing It Back

Navigating the divide between your personal goals and what is in the best interest of your children is a constant work in progress.  It’s never complete; and each new turn brings up previously unforeseen complications.

That I love to write is no secret.  What may be “the secret,” however, is why I do it.  While occasionally what I have written has garnered the attention and interest of others, the reason I am compelled to sit down at the keyboard every night is simple: I write for my children.  Every letter I type, every sentence I string together is with the thought that I am in some small way making their lives easier.

We are an adoptive family; and because of that fact we face challenges different from those faced by biological families.  Our son has epilepsy and ADHD; and because of those facts we face challenges different from those who are not contending with those conditions.   I write about the life we live because I want to share a reality that would otherwise be shrouded from others and by doing so hope to dispel misconceptions.  I write to remove some of the brambles and stones that line our family’s path so that when my children walk it, it can be with a higher head and a firmer step.

The fact that this work has led to other opportunities has been largely positive.  Reaching a larger audience means the actualization of my goal is enhanced.  The more people who read or hear my meager words, the more who will potentially understand the beauty of adoption, the trials and tribulations and tremendous victories that exist when your child is battling serious health conditions and learning differences.

What is not always positive, however, are people’s comments.  While I am always interested in what people think and appreciate the boundless support and camaraderie I have experienced through my writing, I don’t write about my family to hear other people’s criticism or, worse, diagnoses from afar.  Our twenty-first-century world has allowed the great mass of the anonymous to pontificate immediately and readily from behind a keyboard, brandishing whatever vitriol suits their fancy and never even having to sign their name.

The issue, indeed the problem, though, is exacerbated when you are writing for your children, when your writing is the legacy you are choosing to leave to those you love most.  My sons, in reading the words I have written for them, to them, won’t be able to escape the accompanying comments—the comments that occasionally question their mother’s parenting, the attempts to analyze anonymously and from afar their complex circumstances.

My skin is not so thin that I seek to avoid criticism at all costs.  I understand if you put something out there, you open yourself up to commentary.  I understand that when people are permitted to respond immediately and namelessly, the potential for ill-informed if not malicious commentary is very real. And I understand that it’s in any writer’s best interest to ignore most comments and to persevere.  I understand that if you walk away, the denigrators win.

But, you see, this is not a contest—a me against them struggle of sorts.  This is one mother writing for her three children who does not want her sons to read the nastiness that some people feel passes for intelligent commentary, one mother who does not have the inclination let alone the energy to take on every unfortunate remark.  Yes, I could explain to my sons that this is the cost of sharing our story, that these things happen.  I could tell them that years ago if someone had an opinion on an article they read, they had to write a letter, put it in an envelope, stamp it, and walk to the mailbox.  They had to sign their name.  And even then there was no guarantee it would be printed.  I could tell them that today articles get linked on Facebook or other sites and anyone can comment—impulsively and, as long as they don’t swear or otherwise violate the terms of use, malevolently.

And as I sit here tonight listening to my sons playing in the other room, I think that though this is their world, they did not ask for my participation in it.  This isn’t just my story; it’s ours.

I will continue to write because I have to.  My blog will exist because it belongs to my children.  But beyond that—the world where it’s all about how many “Likes” you have, how many visitors have clicked on your page—is no longer for me.  Today comments that would never have been published in the past because they did nothing to advance any conversation, intelligent or otherwise, are allowed to subsist online for all to see—all in the name of acquiring and hanging onto followers.  And if you want to write, it seems as though you have to live in this world.

That is, of course, unless you refuse.

And I refuse.

Maybe we all should.