It's been a few days, I've been able to sleep a bit, and now it's time to blog about conference. At length. Forgive me...but I must. I am a novelist, and it's naturally hard to be concise. Besides, in this situation, why would I want to cut short my opportunity to share with you?
Mostly...it's my blog, and I can ramble if I want to. ;)
The national conference of Families Supporting Adoption was an amazing experience. For me, it started Thursday evening when I arrived with most of the national board to help set up the conference store. I have to tell you, that I love moments like these. Standing with half a dozen people folding cute onesies that say "Adoption: It's About Love" is a bonding experience that you just don't get any other way. It was the perfect marker of the entire conference: a bonding experience.
Friday morning started with me feeling like an idiot. I had been given my national board shirt, but nobody actually told me that I was supposed to wear it. I should have put it together, but I sure didn't until I entered the conference room Friday morning, and everybody else was wearing their shirt! Yep, I felt like an idiot. But I quickly shoved it aside. I still looked cute, and at least people wouldn't be asking me silly questions all day. ;) We dispensed schedules, gave last minute notices, and said a prayer. Then we were off and running.
I think that I should have been an actress. I have found that I'm surprisingly successful at projecting an air of confidence even when my stomach is practically cramping because of butterflies!
We started off with a session called "United by Love," which I think we would do differently if we choose to do it again next year (Melinda has already laid claim!) It was still a great kick-off. But then it was off to the first of my own presentations. It was a session for adoptive families called "What We Wish Our Adoptive Couple Knew." There were two of us, and I wish now that we had had a moderator to direct the session better. But overall, it went quite well. There were lots of questions, and the audience seemed quite engaged--even though there were over 100 of them!!!
Lunch was on our own, and I went back to my hotel room to take deep breaths and think about nothing for a few minutes. Then it was back into the game. After lunch, the birth parent sessions split. We had "Being a Birth Mother is Just One Part of Who I Am," which I hear was phenomenal. I had the fortune to be in "Adoption Advocacy: Sharing Your Passion for Adoption."
Let me pause to explain: each member of the National Board was given a set of responsibilities each hour (some people had free time. some people had hours off. I will let you conjecture on whether I was one of those people.) Basically, between Melinda and I, we had to be in each of the birth parent classes each hour. The problem with having so many classes is that you miss really great ones!!
Anyhow, the next hour was "Husbands of Birth Mothers", which was easily one of our most popular classes, and "Navigating the Difficult Conversations." I was in this one, and it turned out to be a particularly fascinating class. It was taught by an adoptive mother AND a birth mother, and we discussed many of the difficult conversations that come up in an adoption relationship, and how to handle them. I loved the dichotomy between these two groups, and I think it would be great to include more of both groups next year.
The last hour on Friday was "Step by Step through Pregnancy and Placement," which was a wonderful session for many of our expectant parents--of whom there were a LOT more than I expected to see! It was fun to have so many cute pregnant bellies wandering around. Part of the reason birth parents were not included for so long was the fear that there would be weird/negative interactions between them and the adoptive couples--the "baby hungry" adoptive couples. But as far as I know, there has been nothing of the sort.
Also there was "What Adopted Children Need From Their Birth Parents," which did not turn out as expected. If we do the session again (and I think we should), we would include a lot more adoptees and parents from open adoptions. That is the way the world is trending, and we needed that voice to balance things out in this session.
Friday evening was the Awards Banquet. It was fun to see the birth families and adoptive families mingling, chatting, talking about the day's sessions and just about life in general. It was also great to see the first birth parent presented with a "Friends of Adoption" award! I love the growing impact that we are making in this circle.
First thing Saturday morning Melinda and I were dealing with missing panelists--one was there the whole time, one was reunited with her adoptive couple for the first time since placement, and one had misunderstood the time and came late. But we got them all together, and then it was time to start!
We started with the general sessions, which included EVERYONE at the conference. First was our keynote speaker, Troy Dunn. He was a wonderful presenter! He made me laugh. I'm glad the session was recorded, and when it becomes available, I heartily recommend watching it. He told the story of a birth mother that made me cry! Such a good presentation.
Then it was time for the birth parent panel. Somehow, I was totally in my element, and yet it was not overpowering at all. I was there, helping to make sure everything was ready, particularly for Melinda, who moderated. I took her cell phone, I found her people she needed, and I made her spit out her gum. I encouraged Taneil, who was freaking out, and gave Martina a good-luck squeeze. Those are the moments I thrive on, I tell you.
The panel itself was great. All four presenters were wonderful. I was particularly pleased by Ian, the birth father on the panel, who was a lucky find!! He spoke articulately about the needs of birth fathers, and birth parents in general. It was wonderful to hear that point of view presented. In general, I loved the questions that were addressed, and the different points of view that our panelists were able to share. Diversity rocks!
Lunch followed the panel. I was on pins and needles, A) because I needed to find a new faciliator for one of the sessions, because our faciliator had been hospitalized for swine flu the night before, and B) because I was presenting the hour after lunch. I couldn't even tell you what lunch was that day. However, I did get to talk to an adoptive couple briefly who are from St. George, and whose birth mother came from Cedar City. Small world!
From lunch it was off to the next breakout sessions. In the other room it was "Uniting as a Birth Family," our class designed with birth grandparents in mind. Apparantly it was quite the cry session! But I was busy with "Deciding Who, When and How to Tell," with my lovely co-presenter Martina. We were recorded, which is always an adventure. To be honest, my favorite part were the eggs.
We were talking about telling boyfriends (or really anybody) about placing a child for adoption. I had a dozen (boiled) eggs. I held one up. "This represents one part of your adoption story." Then I tossed it to Martina, who caught it easily. Next I held up two eggs. "These are some pieces of your adoption story." Tossed to Martina, who caught them. Then I grabbed half a dozen eggs. "This is your whole story!" Naturally, when I tossed half a dozen eggs to Martina all at once, she didn't catch a single one. The point being, whenever you're telling someone, you don't have to share everything all at once. You share one piece at a time, and give them a chance to adjust before you toss them another egg. Once they have a chance to catch and set it down, they'll be ready for more.
The next hour was a particularly good one. In the first room was "Telling Your Children Your Adoption Story," which was really popular. A lot of birth mothers are reaching the point where they want or need to tell their children about placing a child for adoption. Some are just nervous, anticipating it someday in the future. So this session was an incredible resource. I'm glad it was recorded--cuz I was in the other room!
In the other room was "Desires, Expectations and Disappointments," taught by my own caseworker from Cedar City. This was an amazing session. In every experience, in every situation, but particularly an overwhelming experience like adoption, you are going to have desires, and you will have expectations for what will happen, and what the relationship will be like. But there will always be disappointments. The result of the discussion was fascinating. We narrowed down a LOT of the disappointments that we as birth mothers have faced directly to our relationship with our adoptive couple. Not with the child--with the couple, most often directly with the adoptive mother. We want to be friends. That was what seemed to be the consensus--that we do not want a relationship just for the sake of the child, but that we crave an honest-to-goodness friendship with the adoptive mother, and that so much disappointment comes when we are relegated to the role of "just" birth mother. This was a room full of amazing women, I'm just sayin'.
The last hour of the conference saw a consolidation once again of the birth families for a session called "Letting Go and Moving Forward." Once again, I'm glad it was recorded. This session was all about moving forward from our placement, and becoming the best we can be. It was wonderful.
We joined the rest of the conference for a closing session and raffle. I joined the rest of the national board (once again, all in their shirts but me!--but I'm not stuck on it or anything ;) in passing out the raffle items as people won them. Then I was given the opportunity to say the closing prayer. As I did so, I could literally feel the approval of our Heavenly Father radiating throughout the room. I felt a powerful confirmation that he approves of the work we are doing.
This conference was so powerful. I was impressed to see how many connections were made, the networking and bonding that went on. I can literally see the benefit that it offers. Birth mothers NEED each other, they need this kind of support system of other birth mothers, and people who love birth mothers. It will be my ongoing goal, particularly as a member of the national board, to see that birth families are given more and more opportunities like this, to reach out and lift each other up, and to reach a hand back to those who are going through our ordeal even now. Adoption is about love--love of the child, first and foremost, but now a love of one another.
Adoption rocks my socks!