An Evolution

An Evolution

If you want to get better at talking about adoption, your role as a birth mother, and your family as a whole, start a business with your daughter’s mom. Your hand is kind of forced.

But really, it’s been good. And I’m not even talking about the business.

I used to play my birth mother card close to my chest in real life. I didn’t tell people I met about my daughter right away. I waited to feel people out, to create a sense of trust, and then I laid it gently in their lap. It usually went really well. I only occasionally got my heart slammed in the car door by people with small minds.

I don’t really have that option much anymore. Since Dee and I run the business together, I’m asked questions about why my business partner lives in Philadelphia. I’m also asked how I got into selling leggings, and the answer is that my daughter and her mom came to visit and I said, “Feel my legs.”

No, really.

I tell the story without batting an eyelash. Other people? Well, they sometimes bat eyelashes. It’s kind of funny watching them wrap their heads around what I just said. I’m actually finding great amusement in the process. Most people let it drop and don’t poke or prod further. Most of them want to know more, but simply won’t ask.

I’m an open book though. Even more than I used to be. But only in person. Online, well, things have changed.

Face to face, people want to know the basis of our story. My closest friends ask the deeper questions, know the harder parts of our story as it exists right now. But the rest of the people just want to know how all of this came to be. At a party last week, the hostess came outside afterward and asked me a series of normal, to-be-expected questions about my pregnancy, placement, and our open adoption. She said once, “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.” I want to. I want people to see my family as valid, valued, and, yes, even normal. So I answer. I talk. I put it out there when I’m not even necessarily asked. It’s a part of my story.

But online? You see, some people online don’t care about the basics. There’s something happening online in the blogosphere, specifically within niche families, in which strangers think they have a right to all the details. If I withhold something, for whatever the reason, people accuse me of only sharing part of the story.

Guess what? I’ve always only shared parts of the story. Ask any writer if they tell the whole story, and they’ll say no. Those who tell you that they do are probably lying. The whole story is boring. Do you really need to know that during a visit we sometimes just sit around and watch Catfish or that we eat waffles and cereal for breakfast? No. Neither do you need to know the parts of the story that are not mine to tell. Neither do you need to know the parts of my story that are mine but that either don’t quite make sense yet or are too triggering for me to address.

When it comes to normal, everyday parenting of my sons, I don’t tell it all here either. They kind of dictate what’s okay to share, what they might not want me to write in this space. I adhere to their rules, their requests. They’re human beings with stories to tell too. Our stories intersect, and every day I learn more about what’s mine and what’s theirs. Every day we grow together.

All of this is to say: I really enjoy being more open about my daughter. I talk about her at will. Those people who balk at our story for their own personal reasons are not my concern. My concern rests with my daughter, her family, my sons, our family, and making sure everyone involved knows they are respected and loved.

My daughter and her mom will be here next week. I’m really excited about it. So are the boys. So is my husband. The dog is probably the most excited, but this is to be expected. I’ve told all my friends and their mothers, who are also often my friends. While I once used to feel anxious about their visits because I “might have to explain things,” I now get excited to tell everyone, “She’s here. She’s really here.”


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Monthly Open Adoption Visits: Thoughts, Seven Months In

Monthly Adoption Visits: Thoughts, Seven Months In

I’ve seen my daughter every month since November. I’ve seen my daughter seven times in seven months.

It’s everything I imagined it could be.
It’s nothing I ever expected.

The not expected part comes from the fact that I was told, in not so many words, to never expect such a thing. The unethical facilitator through which I placed told me the most I could expect was letters and pictures for a year. We forged our own road. We chose what worked for us. We worked our behinds off for years, for over a decade, through some really hard things. And when my daughter and her mom walked into the restaurant that November evening to surprise me, I didn’t know it would kick off a monthly visit for the lot of us. I didn’t think it was possible with the schedules all of us as adults keep, not even taking into account school and extra-curricular activities. A year ago and a half ago, I really didn’t think anything like this would ever happen. But we’re making it work. We always make what works for us work for us.

The boys seem over the moon about it. When I reassure them that, yes, they’ll see their sister the next month, it seems to make leaving—or being left—a little easier. We’re still dealing with a lot of sadness on their part about the fact that we don’t live all together. We’re doing the best we can, making room for sadness and grief alongside the joy and excitement.

As for me, well…

It’s hard.

It’s even hard admitting that it’s hard. But it’s hard.

It’s not hard while I’m there. Oh, I love being there. With her. With her mom and stepdad. With their sons. With my sons. With all the dogs. Even when the dogs bark and the baby cries and and the kids are yelling things at video games and I get a little bit of sensory overload, it’s so good. I know that when I take a five minute break upstairs, I can come back downstairs and all three of my children are under one roof.

I feel that feeling even more when they are here, when all my children are under my roof. It fills my whole soul up. To hear them chattering as they fall asleep in the room next to me, to hear their voices in the hall in the early morning, to feed them food that I’ve made. The food thing is big to me. Like, really big. It’s one of my ways that I show love to people: I make them food. To do that for my daughter, her mom, my sons, and my husband—all at once—fills me so full.

It gives me a sense of peace.

It’s short-lived peace, of course. Because the hard comes when I pile my sons and all our stuff into my car and drive us away from their house. I immediately pull into Dunkin Donuts and order myself all the caffeine and anything my boys want; they’re already crying and I’m already fighting my own tears. I don’t worry about my daughter; she is in an amazingly loving home in which she is supported, loved, and cherished. I don’t worry about her well-being. I don’t worry that this is our last visit. I don’t worry about any of those things.

Instead I’m slammed with guilt. Two crying boys will do that to you. The questions they ask will gut you. “Why can’t we all live together? But how sick were you? Weren’t you sick when you were pregnant with us too? So why did you keep us?” Explaining the nuances of support and fear and anxiety and depression and regret are hard; they’re eight and ten and understand much more than most eight and ten year old kids. But they’re still eight and ten. Nuances are hard. And so I drive six hours, sitting with my guilt.

And, of course, it smarts less when my daughter and her mom leave our house. I’m okay with being left behind; it’s what parents expect at some point. I just get it more frequently. It’s practice for the future when they’re all out living their own lives.

No. The real guilt comes in leaving her every time. Because every time I’m reminded of standing up out of that wheelchair in the hospital lobby, keeping my eyes fixated on the door—not my daughter—and walking out into the cold December air. Every time I leave her is like leaving her the first time. It conjures up all those emotions from that day: fear, anger, sadness, confusion, self-loathing, more anger, more fear, and the most desperate feeling of loneliness I’ve ever felt in my life. I knew that day, as the cold winds cut through my coat, which still didn’t button around my deflated belly, that I would never forgive myself.

I’m still working on it today.

My therapist still prompts me regularly about what that forgiveness might look like, but I still don’t know. Maybe it looks like being gentle with myself. Maybe it looks like letting go. Maybe it looks like something I don’t know yet. I don’t quite know how to get there, what it looks like, how it might feel. But maybe I will some day.

But for three days, once a month, I now know a peace I hadn’t known until this point. When my children are all within arms reach for that amount of time, I forget about forgiving myself, about the true need to do so. Instead I focus on the moment, the present, living the time we have together. I’ve gotten very lax at even taking pictures when we’re together because I get so caught up in the moment, in the living of each one.

I will note this: The post-visit crash we used to experience when visits were basically quarterly and even for our first few monthly visits has lessened, for both myself and the boys. I don’t get The Big Sad for as long. Sometimes I’m less sad by the end of the drive. Sometimes it takes a day. The boys, ever willing and able to ask questions and tell me what they’re thinking, cry less. The consistency has been good for all of us.

Next month, it’s their turn to visit us. We’ll take them to the pool. We’ll roast marshmallows around the fire pit. We’ll probably hide inside some to avoid the cicadas. The kids will play video games. The parents will talk about life. We’ll get too little sleep, all of us. We’ll spend quiet moments in each others’ presence, just sitting with the fact that we’re all here together. We’ll eat meals. And ice cream. And maybe we’ll all come a little closer to the next thing we need to do inside ourselves. We’re all working on our own things, separately and apart.

Next month, I’ll get to feel that peace again. I’ll breathe it deep into my soul. I’ll close my eyes and listen to the sounds of my children, together. I’ll store it away to pull out and inspect one day. I will breathe the calming breath of a mother who feels needed, who feels loved, who knows she has worked hard, given of herself, and done something worth doing. I’ve mothered three children who needed me to mother them in different ways at different times.

And I will continue to do so as long as I live.