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.


  1. When i knew you at SUU, i only knew the writer, stage manager, and a little of the black belt you. I can honestly say that learning about this other part of you makes me feel nothing but admiration and respect for you. I know my uninformed opinion doesn't count for much, but i personally feel that there is nothing more brave, loving, or responsible than adoption. I think you are amazing, hope you know that. :)

  2. It's tough to try to fit into an "I am ____" framework. It feels so confining. It makes it tough to communicate your whole person. But you're absolutely right-- to different people, we take on different personas and talk about different things.

  3. Thank you for your perspective. I get it.