Tuesday, November 17, 2009

From a conversation yesterday

I think adoption suffers the worst bad rep from people--adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents--from closed adoptions. Not all of them, of course. But I think some of the worst adoption experiences out there come from closed adoptions, and I think we're still paying for them.

I talk about adoption a lot. Last night, I talked to a man whose 15-year-old daughter is pregnant. She doesn't want to consider adoption because her aunt placed a baby [in a closed adoption] and has regretted it her whole life. Naturally, she has been swaying her niece against placing, for that reason.

That mentality frustrates me. Does the aunt understand why she has regretted her choice? Is it because it was the wrong decision? Or was it because she has dealt with all those unanswered questions ever since? Was it because she should have kept her baby? Or was it grief that she was never able to process?

Adoption is an individual experience. Each person goes through an adoption experience in a unique and different way. But I have met a lot of birth moms over the last year and more, and I can tell you--almost invariably, the birthmothers from open adoptions are more complete, better healed, and more at peace with their decision.

Adoption doesn't have to be agonizing. It doesn't have to be horrible. It doesn't have to be a terrible sacrifice. There is grief, there is pain. But there is also a sweet, wonderful joy. There is the peace and satisfaction, knowing that we have made the right decision--the best decision for that sweet baby.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pieces of who I am

Adoption is part of who I am. It is part of my self-identity, part of how I define myself. My name is Valerie. I'm a writer. I'm a black belt. I used to be a stage manager. And I'm a birthmom.

Each of those parts has its own complications. For instance, I have trouble talking about being a writer, especially admitting that I write science fiction and fantasy. I have a long-standing judgment (maybe I should work on this!) against people who claim to be writers. Maybe it was just how I grew up. At least half of my friends in junior high and high school claimed to be writers. They had stories in their minds, sure. But IF they managed to get them onto paper--which was rare of itself--the writing was usually crap. In the adult world, things are rarely any different. There are lots of people who have stories in their minds. But that doesn't make them writers. It's that class of wannabes that I don't want to join, especially in the mind of someone I respect. So usually I just don't say that I'm a writer at all. I have no more visible claims than the pretenders--I certainly haven't been published. In the eye of the world, I am no different. So I bluster.

Being a black belt is an interesting conundrum. If you look at me, you don't see a black belt. I'm not quite 5'3", I'm "cuddly" as my friends like to say. Of course, in the sparring ring that plays to my advantage, because my opponents never fail to underestimate me. However, when I say to a friend or a coworker or a church member, "I'm a black belt" they have one of a couple of responses. Either they bluster and say, "I could take you" or "show me your moves!". Or, if they're a martial arts nerd, they start talking about martial arts like they know something, trying to prove themselves. Or they get intimidated (in my case, this is rare). Or they simply say, "Wow, that's cool" and walk away dismissively. Or they say "Wow, that's cool" and actually do think it's cool. Sometimes, rather than deal with these reactions, I just don't mention that I'm a black belt. I'm starting to talk about it more now that I'm teaching and working toward my second degree, but sometimes it's still easier just to omit that part of me in casual conversation.

Talking about being a stage manager is hard because I have to explain why I don't do it anymore. Don't get me wrong, I love the theatre. I majored in Theatre Management for my bachelor's degree. I have never felt the full throes of academic-mental-emotional passion as I have done in the theatre. But I could not live the life I want for myself while doing theatre. I couldn't be who I want to be. So I stopped looking for theatre jobs, and settled down in a 9-5 job that I tolerate. Kind of hard to explain. So sometimes I don't.

Being a birthmom, though, that's probably the hardest one of all. I don't ever bring it up in casual conversation, not with people that I'm going to see again. I mean, I've spoken at conferences, but that's different. Those aren't people I interact with on any other stratum. Those are friends of adoption. The average person, though, that's not someone I want to talk with about adoption. I'm just not that open with it. Because there is judgment attached to it, especially in a religious setting. I honestly had a friend/ward member tell me that he was disappointed by me, to find out this part of my past. Disappointed. I was disappointed in him, disappointed by his lack of understanding.

It's hard to talk about adoption for a myriad of reasons. First of all is that judgment. In my religion, you DO NOT have sex outside of marriage. So to say, "I placed a child for adoption" is saying, "I broke the number 2 rule (after murder) that you do not break". Secondly is the misconceptions that people have regarding adoption. You should read Tamra's post over at United by Love. It's perfect--because those are the misconceptions that I face every time I talk to the uneducated about adoption. Sheesh, sometimes I get those comments from adoptive couples. They are emotionally taxing to deal with. Thirdly, it's hard to talk about adoption because I don't want the people I tell to look at me differently afterward. I don't want to change in their eyes. I don't want to be Valerie, the girl who placed a kid for adoption. I just want to be Valerie. There's a time and a place for me to be Valerie the birthmom, just like I'm sometimes Valerie the writer or Valerie the black belt. But they are all ME. And when I tell someone about placing a child for adoption, I always worry that the Valerie they see will change, twist into something that I am not. Being a birthmom is just one part of who I am. In the end, I am simply me.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Open Adoption Roundtable #9

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It's designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You can find out more over at Production, Not Reproduction. The new prompt is in response to a criticism of open adoption. "That direct contact during early childhood between birth families and children placed for adoption may not be the best idea. Adopted persons should be free to initiate relationships with their first families--or not--on their own timetable. The parents (first and adoptive) in an adoption shouldn't make such an important and personal decision for them." What is your response? Do you agree or disagree? Why?

I'm taking a [brief] break from NaNoWriMo. I haven't yet my [self appointed] daily quota, so I will need to be brief.

In response to questions like this, I have to first say, we always do what is best for the child. We--all of us--adoptive parents and birth parents alike. I will always always always follow the lead of his PARENTS where my son's well-being is concerned.

But with regards to this question, I'd like to propose that birth parents stop getting treated like invaders in the life of their birth-children. While we are not the child's PARENT, we are nevertheless invested in them, their family, their success, and their happiness.

Look at it like this: say that I am a child. I have an aunt who is really close to my family. Maybe she has a really great relationship with my parents. This means that she's going to be a part of my life from a very young age. At first, I'm not really going to have a choice whether she's in my life--and I'm probably not going to care. However, it's still my choice whether to have a relationship with her. I still get to decide--whether consciously or un--whether I like her or not. My parents may dictate how often I see her as I grow up, but that doesn't mean I'm going to go out of my way to talk to her or bond with her. It's my choice. And as I get older, the choice becomes more and more my own. If I like her and I want to talk to her, I will. If I don't, I won't. And that relationship may change and flux over time--maybe when I'm 10 I couldn't care less about my crazy aunt, but when I'm 17 suddenly she seems really cool and I want to talk to her every week. Regardless--it's always up to me.

Of course we don't FORCE the child to have a relationship with his birth family. But we are FAMILY nonetheless. There is a genetic as well as an emotional bond. But if that bond isn't initiated by the adult in the relationship, it may never happen. A child won't see the value of knowing his birth family. A child won't instinctively know that he would be happier growing up with them in his life. It's up to the adults--his parents and his birth parents--to guide him until he is ready to determine those things for himself.

And speaking for myself, my son's parents have told me that they believe A) that he is more well-balanced and self aware because he knows he is adopted and B) that he is more secure in his self-identity because he can see my face and hear me tell him that I love him. That's the beauty of open adoption--none of us are left with questions. We take each day, each month, and each year at a time, always keeping the child's best interest at the forefront of our relationships.

Adoption Walk This Saturday!

It's National Adoption Month, and if you happen to be in the Salt Lake area this Saturday, you should go to Liberty Park and walk for adoption! Here's all the info:

The Adoption ‘Walk with Me’ is intended to gather people together who have been touched by adoption. We want to help raise awareness of the positive outcomes of adoption in our community.

We will meet at the Rice pavilion in Liberty Park and start with a welcome/ introduction to the event. Next will follow the walk which will begin at the pavilion and follow the paved circular path around the park (1.7 miles) After the walk we will gather again at the pavilion and award prizes and conduct a closing to the event.

9:30 registration/ mingle
10:00 walk
11:30 prizes awarded
12:00 closing/ event finish

Make sure you wear plenty of orange! Orange is our theme color for the Adoption Walk With Me. Orange is cheery, uplifting and boisterous. It is also made from mixing two primary colors together...red and yellow. Hmmm... kind of like adoption!

'Orange' you glad for adoption?!

If you have any further questions, please email Alison.