Friday, December 30, 2011

Open Adoption Roundtable Discussion #33: What did you learn about Open Adoption in 2011?

A straightforward prompt for the end of the year:

What did you learn about open adoption in 2011?
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 don't need to be listed at Open Adoption Bloggers to participate or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you're thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table. The prompts are meant to be starting points--please feel free to adapt or expand on them.


I don't have it all worked out. I don't know where this adoption process is going. And I'm not afraid. That's just how relationships go. We never know where they're headed, and in truth, I think I'm glad of that.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

First Family Blogs: The Ultimate Downer - OR - Why We Don't Post Recipes

There are several long planks of ash cutting through the middle of my living room. Soon they'll be re-purposed from their current duty (making oblong rectangular depressions in the carpet) to become a lovely new set of book shelves. That probably won't happen today, as I've been rung out at work and need a day to truly rest. Sunday can't serve that purpose as I'm back to work in the evening, so Saturday it is. Later on tonight I may treat myself to making some black rice encrusted salmon and sweet potatoes for dinner. I expect the results to be delicious.


You may find yourself wondering what the hell I'm talking about. Why did I make this sudden departure from my normal style of writing? What on Earth do my book shelves have to do with adoption? The answer is only one thing; they allow me to illustrate a point.
It is common among adoption related bloggers to fall into one of two camps:

1) Adoptive Parents

2)Everyone Else

I don't have anything against adoptive parent bloggers. In fact I love the chance I had to learn more about adoption by reading the stories of these families as I first encountered the idea of open adoption. There is, however, a noticeable divide in the style of authorship between the aforementioned groups. (Please prepare yourself for some broad generalizations. These are made will full awareness that they are such, and have significant exceptions. For the sake of simplicity of thought and syntax I'll leave all the caveats here) A unique culture has developed around adoption related blogging. As with any culture it has its own customs and social mores. Among these are what subjects are acceptable for writers of different backgrounds to address.

So far it seems to me that adoptive parents are given license to discuss all aspects of their lives except those that may make casual readers squeamish. Discussing infertility, the difficulty in connecting with first families, grief of lost possibility (to be discussed at greater length later), and especially anything related to anger, resent,  or failure is strictly off limits for regular discussion. I don't doubt for an instant there are other aspects of experience that are missing from that list. Unfortunately my bias is limiting my understanding to the aforementioned topics.

First parents appear to be cast in an opposite role, with two subsections and an uncomfortable grey area. First parents are expected to write only about adoption. Their lives beyond the placement of their children is taboo. We don't want to know. It's uncomfortable to think about how dis/similar the first parent is to the casual reader. The birth parent is given the opportunity to speak of pain, grief, anguish, loss, and resent. All the negative aspects of human experience are covered here. Aristotle would be proud. But then there are the subsections. Happy first parents versus unhappy first parents. The chasm between these two groups is nigh unbridgeable. Fortunately that doesn't keep everyone from trying. Unfortunately the aspects of the adoption experience highlighted by these two groups directly affects their esteem. Put briefly, the happy birth parent discusses adoption as a difficult but wonderful thing. The unhappy birth parent describes adoption as a difficult, often horrible, victimizing, arrogant and/or naive course. Again, these are very broad generalizations, but if you can bear with it I promise I'll get to the point soon. The happy birth parent is expected to say nothing negative about the adoptive family. The unhappy first parent is expected to have nothing positive to say about the adoption process. They're all angels, or it's all evil. That's very limiting for such an impact-full and emotionally complex experience. There are a few who speak to the middle experience, but often they are ostracized for failure to adhere to one role of the other.

Then we look at Adoptee writers, who likely have the most limited role of all in the online adoption discussion. I honestly feel terrible about how little voice adoptees have been given in the way we talk and think about adoption. Rather than being given, I think it may be fairer to say adoptees have had their voice ignored and censored. Therefore it makes some sense that the anticipated response from adoptees is one of rage, intense loss, and abandonment. There are adoptee writers speaking about the positive aspects of their placement, but they are difficult to find. (In truth, this is the experience about which I know the least. I admit that is in large part because I have found few adoptees online I can relate to in a manner I find mutually honoring. I say this not to villify, but to allow my bias to be known. It isnt' right, and I'm trying. Please try to be patient with me)

Why is any of this worth mentioning? Look at the subscribed readership of adoptive family, first parent, and adoptee blogs. The numbers overwhelming indicate who the public wants to support and is willing to think about. Adoptive parents are clearly taking the majority, often by a full degree of magnitude. But then again, can we blame the public? After all, would Wordless Wednesday be so appealing if we didn't have pictures like this to enjoy?

What would we see if first parents started participating in Wordless Wednesday, while remaining true to their prescribed role? 

It's a far less appealing idea. Few, if any, of us would willingly seek an opportunity to pry into such moments. But what about adoptees discussing the pain they experience?

Or maybe

So clearly we're looking for something that makes us feel good when we read adoptive parent blogs, not truth. We're looking to feel sensitive and enlightened when we read first parent blogs. And we're probably looking to feel morally indignant and righteous when we read adoptee blogs.

But if the reader is willing to be honest with her/himself and allow the full experience of the writer to be only and exactly what it is, then we can start a real conversation. That's what this is about; coloring outside the lines. Adoptees can be happy. Adoptive parents can be pissed off and exasperated. First parents can be well put together and brilliant cooks. Shocking, but true. Stay tuned for a sweet potato muffin recipe.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

I'm the Evil that Babies Want

Some people claim that any first parent who willingly places his/her child for adoption has either been manipulated/brainwashed, or is a morally degenerate monster. I tend to be described as the latter. I find it funny that the same people who describe me as monstrous, cold, unfeeling, evil, unbelievably self-centered, and so forth are the same people who tell me "all [my] baby wants is [me]".

Apparently babies have a strong desire for their parents to be evil. Or is this a sequence game? If I were to raise my child rather than place him for adoption, I'm no longer evil, cold, monstrous, or unfeeling. After all the only criteria I meet for those descriptors is being a first father. Right?

So I have to ask when exactly a first parent takes on the attribute of being inherently flawed as a human being? Was it before adoption? If so the suggestion is the child ought (what a terrible word) to be raised by a terrible person. If the fatal flaw in character is acquired, then when? When meeting a social worker? Maybe it happens when the pen makes contact with the paper relinquishing parental rights. That must be it. So I was undesirable as a parent when I was an unwed working class father, but now I'm an ideal parent because I'm a sociopath.


The above post can also be read as: Aaaargh!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Unpleasant Truths

A growing number of people have been telling me I don't exist.

As hilarious as that sounds, I find the experience to be frustrating. Often it is angering. It isn't the statement itself that upsets me. It is the assumption behind the statement. Carte blanche statements carry weight only because the person making them believes, truly and fully believes, that s/he know me better than I do. I find this infuriating. Allow me a brief indulgence as an attempt to avoid future confusion.

I do not want to parent. 

Now that is said, I assure that I really do exist. It is uncomfortable to encounter others whose experiences and ideals diverge significantly from our own. People often respond with fear, anger, or disbelief if the incongruity is severe enough. That does not, however, make other people monsters. Nor does it make them nonexistent. If I were a linguistically creative individual I might try to invent a new word to describe these sort of beings. Fortunately I don't have to, as we already have one very suitable.


As scary as it may be, difference is more than just skin tone, the music we listen to, or even the political pundits we favor. Our differences can run so deeply as to effect the way we perceive, sort, and give meaning to our experiences in the world. Much more important than just knowing how thoroughly different we can be is knowing that's okay. Let me say that again.

We're different. It's okay.

What I find terribly humorous (here I display my gallows sense of humor) is how the differences that draw the most vitriol are typically the ones least scrutinized. When something one considers to be a given the shock is much greater when that assumption is challenged. A good example of this in modern western society is gender identity. For the overwhelming majority of westerners gender breaks down as follows:

Penis = Man
Vagina = Woman

Most don't give it much thought and leave their understanding of gender at that equation. When confronted by a person who identifies as gender queer most people are either confused or threatened. What's so hard about gender? See the equation above, problem solved, right? Wrong. More often than not the person who has grappled with the question at hand will have a much more nuanced, and often more sensitive, understanding of the concept being investigated. If gender is more than genitalia we have to ask what it means to be a wo/man. An invitation is given to deeply probe our understanding of ourselves, others around us, and the world at large. It is a daunting journey, but I feel a worthwhile one.

Deeply questioning status quo belief structures and patterns is something I feel all people can benefit from. It helps us develop our imagination as we try to understand how these beliefs shape not only ourselves and our understanding, but indeed how they shape and change the world around us. For my part, I'm tired of accusations about the moral quality of a person who thought and worked his/her way through a difficult question to better understand him/herself. Especially so when the accusations are nothing more than echoing the simplistic beliefs, like penis = man. In my experience the accusations become particularly base and hateful when sexuality gets involved. Whether we like it or not, that inevitably links to procreation. When procreation gets involved in the conversation things quickly get out of hand, just as when discussing sex. Instead of having a well thought out idea or a notion that needs more questioning, the conversation degenerates into "good" versus "bad" and "selfless" versus "evil". Frankly I'm tired of being told I'm evil because I'm honest about myself.

I genuinely believe that if hopeful future parents (inclusively, all future parents) were asked as frequently, judgmentally, or invasively about their plans to parent as I have been about my desire not to parent these conversations would go differently.

Take a few minutes and ask yourself; do you know what it means to be a woman, what constitutes woman-ness? No, making babies is not an acceptable answer. Dig deeper. Ask harder.

Do you know why you want to parent? Not why society wants you to parent, not why evolution wants you to parent. Do you know why you want to parent? Have you ever asked?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Trying to be Human 101: Assigned Reading - Splendid Doormats

To avoid any confusion, please be aware the following is not my work. All that is written below is the work of James Gritter, author and social worker.

An excerpt from Lifegivers: Framing the Birthparent Experience.

Splendid Doormats

      Far more important than these alienating dynamics, however, casting birthparents as saints creates an expectation that they will be continuously and indiscriminately selfless.Enter the no-self birthparent, the adoption participant devoid of substance. This prospect is so serious that we need to explore it in detail.
      We are not quite sure what to make of saints - we see so few of them - but mostly we feel pretty good about them. We like having them around because they offer proof that positive forces are still at work in our struggling world. More to the point, we enjoy their company because they are reliably selfless. Sure, they may disturb us a little with their sterling examples, and they may inspire a few pangs of guilt about our comparative shortcomings, but we usually consider them harmless. Their consistency and reliability leads us to the conclusion that they are safe. Since saints are oriented to the needs of others and place little or no emphasis on their own needs, we are confident they won't make trouble. To our delight, saintly persons can be counted on to forgive any mistreatment they might encounter, a marvelous quality that means we do not have to worry about offending them.
      The notion of the mature, selfless, giving, thoughtful birthparent is an appealing trap. Each of these pleasant words can carry the subtle message, "She'll make no demands." This high-minded talk of selflessness may be well intended, but we must be careful about issuing anyone an invitation to be extraordinary, for, as we have seen, there is usually a price to pay for choosing a course that is out of the norm. In this instance, the praise of maturity can serve as an invitation for the birthparent to stifle her thoughts and feelings. It can be an alluring invitation to self-discounting. It is one thing for a birthmother to make a careful decision to curb her self-interest so the interests of her child can be advanced, but another thing altogether to be admired into a status that presumes continuous sacrifice.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Trying to be Human 101: Dignity

"I always thought of dignity at being similar to ego" Athena said. We were talking about a series of posts I have lined up, and one of them relied heavily upon one's understanding of the word dignity. It was then I realized how important relative context will be. Before we proceed to the real meat and potatoes awaiting we must first be certain everyone knows what I mean when I speak of "inherent dignity".

The dictionary reference above has a variety of meanings but none of them quite capture my thinking. All the definitions refer to rank, merit, and relative position as governed by outside forces. What I wish to discuss, however, is dignity inherent to being human.

I believe all humans are born with dignity. The best definition I can come up with is something like this:

Dignity is the inalienable, intrinsic worth of a human. That dignity is deserving of appreciation, recognition, and admiration. The worthiness of a human cannot be measured against another as all are of equal value. Neither can this worthiness be diminished by actions of the individual, nor actions taken against the individual. Respecting the dignity of others also means recognizing that the worth, value, honor, merit, moral/ethical standing, and importance of those around us do not hinge on our opinion.

To borrow a Taoist perspective, nothing a person does can ever make them less "person". They will always have person-ness, just as a tree will always have tree-ness and a squirrel will always have squirrel-ness. The essence of being isn't contingent on qualifying value assessments. The same is true of human dignity. A human, in fact all humans, will always have human dignity. It may be ignored, abused, and taken for granted, but never removed, and never diminished.

None of this means that people don't try to reduce, damage, and destroy the worthiness of those around them. In fact, seeing worth as both intrinsic and indestructible appears to place me in a minority. Of course some will play devil's advocate and ask questions like "did Adolph Hitler have intrinsic worth?" or "was Genghis Khan worthy of admiration as a human?" My answer is a resounding "yes". I have no praise for these men based upon their actions nor the choices they made in their lives. Let's face fact; Vladimir the Impaler was a decidedly cruel and twisted individual. But none of them could shake their humanity. It is possible to simultaneously have worth and make evil choices that debase one's ability to see the worth of those around them. Did you note how I phrased that? Evil choices, not evil people. People cannot be evil. People are people. Sometimes they do horrible things to one another. That fact makes me both angry and sad.

For those of you who give any traction to the judeo-christian perspective, let me give one last little tid-bit to act as an example:

The good Samaritan. Most of us have heard the story. Most of us were told it meant to treat people the way you want them to treat you. That completely misses the point of the story. Let me break it down. First off, we start with the man who was beaten and stripped, robbed, and left by the side of the road. There are very important connotations to the man being unconscious, bleeding, and mostly naked. He can't speak to identify himself. His clothing can't indicate his nationality. He's bleeding, and may be dead, which would make anyone who touched him (should he be dead) unclean and require ritual cleansing according to Levitical law. The road where he was left is, in fact, less a road and more like a small path on the face of a cliff with a precipitous plunge down to a river at the side. So we have a couple guys from the local temple that pass by, humorously, on the "other side of the road". Eventually it's the Samaritan who takes pity on the man. The gent from Samaria picks up him, takes him into town to an inn, cares for him, and then pays to have the locals care for him until he's healed.

Here's where everything we thought we knew goes to hell.

The Samaritans were, at the time the parable was told, at war with the Jewish nation. There were several occasions when the Samaritans scattered human remains in the courtyard of the Jewish temples, intentionally desecrating them. Here's the fantastic part. This story was told to answer a question from a local Pharisee (Jewish holy/political figures at the time). There was significant controversy at the time about what the "neighbor" in "love your neighbor as yourself" meant. A lot of people thought "neighbor" only applied to fellow Jews. Some of the more radical people of the time believed it meant everyone. So in asking, "who is my neighbor" the response is this story about an enemy of the state being the only person to show concern for a fellow human. So, who is my neighbor? Who am I to love as completely as I love myself? My worst enemy. The person I hate and fear the most.

In modern day terms it's like telling a staunch militaristic, socially conservative, family in the United States to love Al Qaeda militants.

Why am I bothering to mention any of this here? You guessed right. The person you fear, loath, and hate the most has just as much dignity as you do.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Open Adoption Interview Project 2011: Mrs R tells all

I had the opportunity to participate in the Open Adoption Interview Project this year, and was surprised to discover that one of the 124 participants had specifically requested to interview a birthfather. The unusual woman in question is the host of R House. We had the chance to exchange a few e-mails and get to know one another a bit. I suspect, indeed I hope, this exchange will continue. It appears we both have more questions on our minds that we could wedge in to this first interview. Presented here, transcript style, is the interview for your reading pleasure.

For more of the interviews, please visit the list.


Care to introduce yourself to the readers? Tell us a little about yourself, your family, and how long you've been involved in adoption.

My name is Lindsey. I go by Mrs. R on my blog sometimes, not all the time. I am married to a therapist. I have two toddler boys who were both adopted domestically as infants. We are very close with their maternal birth families. We have met and dined with birth grandparents with and without the birth mothers. We have been in their homes, celebrated holidays together, gone on vacation with a few, had them come and stay with us for several days and have a strong texting relationship. :) We are friends with some on Facebook. I send update packages every month to all the birth moms and a package a couple times a year to the birth grandparents. We were recently reunited with our oldest son's birth father through Facebook and we have gotten to know some of his extended family. It makes my heart happy. Another birth father has told us that he is not ready to have a relationship with us but we told him the door is always open.

I have been personally involved since 2007.

You mention in your blog struggling with why you can't participate with the Lord in creation. Has your faith, or your faith community, imparted any feelings about infertility or adoption that were hurdles for you? On the flip side, has there been anything related to your faith/faith community that made you feel parenting through adoption was somehow less worthy than parenting a child you conceived?

Yes and no. I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We are kind of notorious for having large families because we are taught that children and families are a gift and a miracle. When I was little, I loved to listen to my mom tell us how much she loved us and that we were her most important work. It's empowering to feel that you are someone's prized work and joy. I am very lucky to have been raised in that environment. I grew up thinking that, just like my mom, my children would be my most important work. When we were diagnosed as a couple with being sterile, that dream took on a new shape. It would be a harder dream to reach and sometimes, it felt impossible. Meanwhile, we hear talks and quotes from Church leaders saying things like, “It is a crowning privilege of a husband and wife who are able to bear children, to provide mortal bodies for these spirit children of God.” (Source.) For a barren woman, these kinds of things are hard to hear even though they are true. It's hard to realize that a crowning privilege of being a human being is being able to create life ...and for whatever reason, that is not something that my husband and I will get to participate in.

That said, I've never once felt like raising my children who happen to be adopted was any less noble. I may not have have the privilege of creating their bodies, but I do have the privilege of teaching them and loving them and helping them have an appreciation for life. As someone who cannot create biological children, I think I am even more sensitive to how much of a literal miracle it is that I GET TO be a mom. It wasn't a right for me. It wasn't easy. It came at great heartbreak and sacrifice by their birth families. I am reminded of that every day.

Your family presently consists of you, your husband, your two children, and open relationship with three of your children's birth parents (both mom's and one dad, with an open invitation to dad #2) with the strong possibility of adding a third child to the mix (with first family relationships TBA). First off, do I have this right? Secondly, can you speak to your desire for a larger family? Do you have a target for how many kids you'd like to raise? Have you ever had misgivings about continuing to adopt?  If no, allow me to confront you with a new query - many people call very loudly for adoption reform related to coercing mothers to place their children. This can create a morally/ethically ambiguous area for adoptive parents. How do you see the relationship between this ambiguity and adopting multiple children?

You got our family dynamic down right. In reality, I cannot believe that there have been two (and possibly three) women who have chosen to have a child, break their own hearts and place that baby with us. When I think about it long enough, I seriously am shocked that adoptions ever happen. We worked with an agency in our first adoption and had an adoption profile through their website. Our oldest son's birth mother found us through that site, we flew out to meet her and her family, we loved each other, she placed with us 6 weeks later. Our youngest son's birth mother is actually a dear family friend of about a decade. She confided in my brother-in-law that she was expecting and wasn't ready to marry the father but wanted her son to have a mom and a dad that were married. Several months later, she told my brother-in-law that it was too bad that my husband and I weren't hoping to adopt again because she wanted to place with our family. He told her that he would call us and we said that we would love to get to know her better if she'd like. We met again (under new circumstances, obviously) talked to her dad, flew out to visit her mom, her and her family and in the end--she did chose to place with us. With this third little that we are hoping to add to our family in the new year, the expectant mom has been a blog reader of mine for quite some time. We flew out to visit her, had a fantastic time and fell in love with her spunky personality and huge heart. She is a great example of fortitude in the face of hardship.

My point is that we only sought after adoption, so to speak, with our first son. In the other two situations, their birth moms sought after us.

Do I have a specific number of children that I want to have in my home? No, I don't. Would we love to welcome more children in our home? Yes! If we felt good about it, the expectant parents felt good about us and it all worked out.

As for reform, I am not a bandwagoner. In order for me to join a movement, I have got to feel the personal fire for it. As for coercion in adoption, I don't have very much experience with it. I am sure that it happens, I feel that it is horribly wrong, but I just don't have the experience necessary to call for reform and know what I am talking about. I will leave that to those that do know what they are talking about.

I am, however, passionate about open adoption and adoptive parents keeping their promises. That is a movement that I can get behind and do advocate for.

 Why did you ask to be paired with a birthfather for the interview project? Give as much or as little depth as you wish.

 I wanted to interview a birth father mostly because I don't know much about the birth fathers of my children. They have each chosen the level of their involvement (or lack thereof) and although I remind them several times a year that we are open to building more of a relationship ("Let me email you some photos." "I have a video that we made of our summer vacation that I would love to send you." "We would love to meet up for dinner in the near future." "I have a holiday package with some drawing from your son that I would love to send to you."), I have yet to experience any interest. For me, this is devastating. I guess I just wanted to learn a little more about what it would be like to have a birth father that chooses to remain in contact. It is something I am not really educated in.


Thanks to Lindsey for her openness and honesty. If you are curious you can see my side of the interview here.

Adoption Interview Project

The Adoption Interview Project goes live today. I had the chance to interview an adoptive mother, which I'll post later today. Unfortunately I am unable to do so any earlier than 6:00pm E.S.T. Being trapped at work is seriously cutting in to my writing time.

In the meantime you can see my side of the interview here, generously hosted by Mrs R.

If you want to read more from the other participants of the interview project check the list here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Balancing the Personal Checkbook

"How many of us actually live for peace? May we have a show of hands?"
                                               ~Victor Wooten

The quote above helps me be mindful of the potential discord between my stated priorities, my actions, and my thought patterns. Essentially I reinterpret the question to mean "am I living as one?" The focus on integrity this brings forward lends me a clearer mind to assess myself and my life. A key component I've been reviewing lately is my personal quality, especially in relationships.

What do I actually bring to the table in a relationship? For that matter, what can anyone bring to bear in a relationship? At first blush most people believe they are high quality material for friendship. Few people will self describe as a crappy, selfish, duplicitous, or obnoxious friend. Yet we all have encountered people who we experience as being crappy, selfish, duplicitous, and obnoxious friends. My suspicion is these traits come to the fore when there is a schism between how we think, what we want, how we think we can get it, and the reality we are in. That's why I think it's important to engage in ruthlessly honest self evaluation. If my priorities and my behavior don't agree with one another I'm duplicitous. If I want to be the center of attention, the life of the party, but don't have the polished social skills to successfully navigate that experience, I'm obnoxious. If I'm dissatisfied with a relationship but unwilling to end it or put in the effort to change it, I'm both duplicitous and selfish.

But then we take a look at the positives. What can we bring to a relationship that is good? As best I can tell the big three are compassion, integrity, and resources. We put energy into relationships that are important to us. We care for the people in those relationships and want them to feel happy. Internal/External harmony helps us direct our care and energy outward to the vital relationships in our lives.

What happens when one of those aspects is missing? What does is mean for a person's relationships if s/he is compassionate, sharing of resources, but dishonest? That person may be described as a lovely human, but is not trustworthy and therefore not dependable. The person with resources to share and integrity may very well ignore the needs of those around them. For want of compassion that person would likely be described as cold hearted, or at least distant. And now we come to the real rub, and the reason this was worth writing about at all on a blog about adoption:

Compassion and integrity without resources. What good are compassion and integrity if the person in question hasn't the resources necessary to effect change in the lives around him/her? Is harmony with impotence, care with utter exhaustion, worth offering? This is just one of the questions birth parents everywhere ask themselves. It's an important question to ask, and one I think more people should address. It has far reaching implications. But before anyone says the resources are necessary for worth, like a car engine needs gasoline, think about how severely segmented the population is in terms of financial, emotional, relational, spiritual, and time resources. But, before anyone says love is all you need, think about the emotional toll taken on a person trying to support another who doesn't have enough resources to care for him/herself, let alone invest in a relationship. Children struggle with this all the time when caring for elderly family members who cannot care for themselves. Is it right to start that struggle when the child is fifteen? What about nine? Or four?

There is no clear cut answer here. Every person's situation is different. But I think a hard look at what we really have, and what we truly lack, may significantly change the way we relate to one another.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Magic Number

I'm often tempted to stop writing all together. I often feel I don't have much left to say. Naturally I haven't said everything there is that can be said about adoption, first families, male roles in adoption, et cetera. There will always be more to add, just as there are new birth fathers every day. The story doesn't stop until humanity does.

But one can encounter a point of diminishing returns. After a while it seems there is only so much I have left to say. Other men have their own stories to tell, their own perspectives to help illuminate the shadowy corridors wherein first fathers so often disappear. When I stop these men will continue the good fight and keep talking about their experiences. The torch will be passed.

Except that it won't. When I stop writing, no one is writing. When I stop telling my story, sharing my perspective, silence is left, ignorance flourishes.

What's a man to do but continue to slog forward?

As you've probably noticed, I'm participating in the 2011 Adoption Interview Project. I have learned from Heather, the wonderful woman organizing it, that I'm the only birthfather participating. There are over 120 bloggers signed up. That's where I found the inspiration to continue, to take this a bit more seriously again. That's where I came across the magic number.


Among a community built around open adoption, sharing our stories, finding commonality, and demystifying adoption I represent 0.83% of the Adoption Interview participants. Taken to a larger context it gets downright silly. To the best of my knowledge I am one of two English speaking birthfathers to have publicly written about that experience. As far as I know I'm the only one keeping an (admittedly sporadic) active blog. Let's be generous and only look at the USA. If I am, in fact, the only English first father blogger in the United states, that means I'm one in approximately 512 million.

0.00000000319% of the population.

Keep in mind that there is a birthfather for every child placed in an adoption.

There were 57,466 adoptions in the United States in 2009 that involved public agencies. That number does not reflect private adoption agencies nor adoptions that took place without agency aid.

Let us assume that some of these children are born to the same men, and also that some men's children are not accounted for in that number. For the sake of argument let's call it 55,000 babies were born to new birthfathers in 2009. I have a hunch that's a very low number, but I'm hedging my bets here to avoid sounding inflammatory. If this math actually works out it leaves me with one question, a question that only gets more staggering the longer I think about it:

Where are the other 54,999 men of 2009? Where are the 55,000 men from 2010? Where are the half million men from the early 2000s?

Over the course of generations we're looking at the strong possibility of several million birthfathers in America. I know I'm not the only one.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Open Adoption Roundtable Discussion #30: When Was The First Time You Heard About Open Adoption?

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 don't need to be listed at Open Adoption Bloggers to participate or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you're thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table. The prompts are meant to be starting points--please feel free to adapt or expand on them.

Athena and I were sitting in the drab grey office of the woman who would soon be our life-line. I had spent the last few minutes nodding as Athena explained our situation. She's pregnant. We know I'm the father. We're not going to parent. We need help.

The social worker we were talking with at Catholic Social Services was receptive, supportive, but surprisingly upbeat. It struck me as odd at the time, though it makes perfect sense now. She wasn't strident about it. Just positive. What I know now is that she had a positive attitude in general, but in that specific instance she knew there were people sitting in front of her who were dedicated to making the best choices they could for their child. She later shared that her immediate sense of confidence in our decision making process was rather rare.

"Have you thought about open adoption?" she asked.

Athena and I looked to one another for guidance, hoping one of us knew what she was talking about.

"To be honest, I have no idea what you're talking about".

Three books, half a dozen printed articles, and several more meetings later we had a good idea of what open adoption could be about. I read my way through Jim Gritter's books and avidly avoided reading the male-hostile works of other authors. A realization began to dawn in my mind. If my son knows me from the beginning of his life, along with his adoptive father, it won't be weird to him. That will be his baseline for "normal". With this realization came day dreams of teaching my son how to build bookshelves, giving gifts at Christmas, high school graduation, his first pocket knife, and a camping trip with him as a young adult. Then came two days of crying.

The guilt and shame of considering placing my son for adoption was assuaged primarily by remembering that it could be okay for him. Even if I felt awful about it, he might not. In the end I felt it was the best chance we had. Two years later we're still here. The world didn't end when Festus was placed with his parents. I can still be happy with surprising frequency. Athena and I are now, ostensibly, a bullet-proof couple. One quick question changed our lives. It let us proceed in good conscience to a choice that may have been too frightening to accept otherwise. But that question was much more than what it appeared to be on the surface.

"Have you thought about open adoption" means "have you thought about the industrialized west's social moores about familial bonds," and "have you considered restructuring the way you understand love?"

Have you deconstructed your priorities, super-imposed a new set of parameters regarding acceptable behavior, and tried to see if any of your goals and priorities can still fit?

Have you questioned the fundamental meaning of being a man or woman?

Have you considered confronting every person you know with a choice you're making that will result in loud, intense, and unpredictable judgements about your worth as a person?

Have you considered seeing your child grow up, really seeing it first hand, and knowing you're a part of that?

Have you considered giving you child a chance to have a genuine connection with his/her lineage?

Have you considered loving your child so much the scrutiny you'll be under doesn't matter?

Bundled up in that question are so many others implicit to the process that I can't list them all. But I answered them. Each and every one. I wish fewer people had to make the choice about whether or not to place their child in adoption. I wish more people in those situations actually had choice. I also wish more people, outside of adoption, answered these questions. The stigma of adoption falls apart when these questions are given the weight of reality. Giving our full consideration of these questions can't help but open our eyes to our prejudices and naivete. Once we see them we can begin work on ridding ourselves of them.

I wish more people would consider open adoption.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I give up on Texas


That's all I could think as I listened to the radio on my commute to work. The story was about Texas cutting funding for women's health clinic by 66%. These clinics provide women with general health screenings, physical exams, PAP smears, and birth control. They do not, however, provide abortions. That's because there is both a state and federal mandate that facilities providing abortions shall not receive federal funds. So why is the budget for these health facilities being cut?

Because they are willing to refer women to clinics that do perform abortions. The willingness to provide information at the request of the patient is enough to be considered an enemy to the evangelical supported socially conservative movement in Texas.

Spared from the budget cuts are clinics that refuse to refer patients to abortion providers and do not provide PAP smears. On the other hand they do offer "abstinence education" at these emergency pregnancy clinics. Thankfully the existence of emergency pregnancy clinics in Texas is well assured. The proposed budget cuts are projected to lead to an additional 20,000 unplanned pregnancies next year. One of the counselors at such a clinic was quoted as being "very sad" that only "2% of these women [in unplanned pregnancies] choose adoption".

Here's where I'm screaming curses at the top of my lungs in my head. The clinics in question don't facilitate adoptions. They don't make placements, nor arrange meetings of adoptive families with first families. At no point are they directly involved in the adoption process. No wonder they're sad that only 2% of women dealing with unplanned pregnancies choose adoption. No wonder they don't mind that there are enough children born in Texas to unprepared parents to fill 175 kindergarten classrooms. Thank goodness there will be another 20,000 children born into duress each year.

I'm not particulary concerned with where anyone stands on the issue of abortion. There are good arguments to be found on all sides as well as terrible and poorly thought out arguments. The issue at hand here is access to healthcare and birth control. The Texas legislature is trying to make this sound like they're preventing federal (tax) dollars from being used to fund abortions. There's a simple problem with that argument: tax dollars aren't being used for that purpose now! Instead what's happening is the people who are most vulnerable are being hung out to dry. Young women are being denied the basic right to plan when they are prepared to parent. But it gets worse.

The women who are being denied this right are those who have had to rely on assistance to have that right. In short, the people who can least afford an unplanned pregnancy will be those most likely to encounter one. Why? Socially conservative "abstinence only" dogma.

What about the money? Won't this save the state a lot of money by not paying for all those health care tests and medication? Unfortunately no, it won't. Instead the cost will be seen in emergency rooms where treatment averages ten times what preventative care does. Remember the clinics losing funding don't only provide reproductive health care. They also provide diabetes screenings, PAP smears, cholesterol levels, STD checks, and physical exams. So instead of saving money by eliminating access to these tests Texas is actually digging a bigger financial hole for itself in the future when the people who rely upon these clinics become seriously ill and unable to pay hospital bills.

In addition to all of this is one question left ringing in my mind: who would ever wish for another person to experience the pain and loss of an adoption? How can someone justify forcing that decision on people with so few resources they can't afford birth control? If $30 a month for birth control, or $15 a month for condoms is more than they can afford how the hell can anyone think parenting is a viable choice for those women?

Shame on you, Rick Perry. This isn't the real face of social conservatism. This is fucking evil.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Letter from the Trenches: Coming to terms with the war on poverty *OR* Birthday Wishes for my Son

As some of you may recall, I had a difficult time with Festus' first birthday. We've now passed his second birthday with a much different reaction. I've been quite happy thinking about Festus getting older and becoming more independent. On our last visit he and I played for about an hour and it was wonderful. None of the soul crushing existential crises nor ennui I have feared was present. Instead he was an energetic little boy, nearly two years old, who laughed and giggled with surprising regularity.

I now look forward to the next visit and the chance to celebrate his birthday with him this month. Athena will ill during that last visit which should make this one a nice chance to catch up and see how much he's talking now.

Indeed the only sadness I contend with now doesn't have much to do with Festus, though it does reflect new light upon the choice to place him with his parents for adoption. It has been a slow dawning realization that his placement was not made only of willful choice, but also of necessity. Despite my desire to believe the opposite I now see that I did not have the resources to raise him had I chosen to do so. Even though I am setting the bar for my personal standards of financial well being I can see that Athena and I simply don't have the resources to achieve solvency. Further, that isn't just financial resources.

I have returned to work after yet another four months of seasonal leave. Already I don't want to be there. I won't get into gory details. Instead I'll say that the environment in which I work engenders distrust, waste, frustration, and disillusion. It seems I return each day to work with a little less than I had the day before. Yet I make just enough money that I can't manage to keep a savings account going. In short, I have no cushion for attempting a transition that seems desperately needed. I could attempt to make the transition anyway and hope all works out for the best, but I there are people depending on me for their health and financial stability. This is the trap of poverty and responsibility.

What I hope for Festus is that he doesn't have to deal with this sort of trap. I hope that by placing him with Prof Plum and Ms Scarlet that he will never have the deficit of resources that so many people in the USA now contend with. I wish him happiness, health, and the freedom to truly do whatever compels him in this world. And teddy bears and trucks, of course. He is, after all, only two years old!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thanks, but I'll pass

The first time this came up I was hoping that ignoring it would make it go away. The internet had other ideas. It's funny that this should be coming up now given the nature of my previous post.

Over the past year I've been given a couple of blogger awards. You probably haven't noticed because I didn't do anything about it.  I'm not ungrateful. Far from it. But there are two dynamics at play that make it difficult for me to know how to handle these. The first is that I'm pretty terrible and dealing with praise in most forms. The second is that I can't escape the feeling that there is a culture that goes with these awards, and I don't think it's for me.

I set out to write this blog to put a voice and a face to the birthfather experience. My hope was that other birthfathers or prospective birthfathers might find it and get some idea of what another man experienced. When I was entering the adoption process with Athena no one could tell me what to expect, what emotions are normal, what fears are likely false, what fears are likely true, and help me understand how it might affect my relationships with my family, my friends, and Athena. There was no information available. There was no pool of data to draw from. I wanted to give voice to that experience so someone out there might find this blog and get an idea of what another man felt. In truth this blog isn't about my voice. It's about documenting a voice. It's about creating the hard record necessary for empirical study, about putting enough facts out there that someday someone can start to piece things together to help other men. There's a birthfather for every birthmother but in western society we have hardly any research done to understand these thousands of men or their experiences. My hope is that someday this blog will be found and used as one more point of data to draw correlations to understand the what happens to men in adoption. The personal details I share here are so you can better understand my biases and how they effect my experience.

So, you see, this blog really isn't about me. It's about everyone else. When I receive an award it doesn't really feel right to put it up and tell everyone what a typical Friday night looks like for me. I appreciate the gesture and especially the thought behind it. But, regretfully, I must abstain from participation. I know a lot of blog awards have stipulations that one answer certain questions or divulge some basic information that otherwise wouldn't be brought up. If you're curious about that sort of thing feel free to ask me directly and I'll be happy to respond. But I don't feel that these belong as a formal part of this blog. Thanks for your consideration, and your appreciation.

Monday, July 25, 2011

On Why I Disappear

/eɪˈsoʊʃəl/ [ey-soh-shuhl]
1. not sociable or gregarious; withdrawn from society.
2. indifferent to or averse to conforming to conventional standards of behavior.
3. inconsiderate of others; selfish; egocentric.

*my proof reader is MIA. Please forgive anything that doesn't make sense*

Last night I went to dinner with a cousin I've not seen in five or six years, along with my eldest brother (I'm the youngest of three) and Athena. During the conversation we had while walking to the restaurant my cousin asked me to define the difference between asocial and antisocial. For my money the good folks at pretty much nailed it. I would, however, assert that the tertiary definition for asocial befits antisocial more aptly. But, with that small aside, it seems a fitting banner to fly as my colours.

This is a question I field with some regularity. I'm rather accustomed addressing the discrepancies between indifference and intolerance. Indifference and aggression are opposed forces. Love and hate, on a continuum of passion, are on the same end of the spectrum. Indifference, dispassion, and lack of interest are on the opposite.

Why am I asked about this and why am I bothering to tell you? Because I self identify as asocial. I am largely indifferent to the social mores and conventions that make up the minutia of daily interaction. I find them to be irrelevant to the quality of my relationships. More importantly, however, is the notion conveyed in definition #1 above - withdrawal from society. I am pretty withdrawn. I have a few good friends. I can make conversation and often do so to set others at ease around me. Why bother if I disregard conventional social protocols I as claim? Because it makes my life easier. Things go better when people like me. It's the same reason that sociopaths can choose to function in society without constantly breaking laws and crushing the dreams of those around them. Because, in the long run, it's easier that way. More grease for the gears to get what you want. So this begs the question "what does 'I am' want?"

More or less to be left alone with the few high quality relationships I have. Most people are unaware of the fact that the best way to be left alone is to be the one to make contact first. There is an expectation, are here at least, that the person to engage is also the person who must disengage. If I bump into a neigher and they greet me, opening with small talk, and I disengage from that interaction before they do I'm probably going to be viewed as antisocial or some version of jerk. If I initiate the exchange then excuse myself (as if that phrase weren't telling enough) to leave, I'll likely be seen as a friendly chap who happened to be needed elsewhere. I recognize the mores and regulations. I just don't like them. The key is learning which ones to use that allow you to run roughshod over dozens of others.

But all of this is irrelevant without intention. Why withdraw? What's the real point? Many assume I must be a pretty angry person who hates humanity. Others believe I'm poorly socialized and uncomfortable around new people. Most people think I "just need to loosen up" (this falls into the 'if you'd just be more like me it would be great, because then you'd be like me" camp). All of these ideas are off the mark. The reason I withdraw and minimize the breadth of contact is simple and pretty obvious for those who know me.

People make me sad.

When I speak with people and see the habits formed, the coping mechanisms they're flogging themselves with, I become both frustrated and sad. People are better than this. Basic tenants - integrated self is better than a compartmentalized self, seeking inner quite is more nurturing than insatiable lust for intensity, skilled thinking results in more effective problem solving than raw emotion - seem to be largely ignored or forgotten. I want better than that for the people I meet. I want them to be well and joyful. I want them to be unshakable and compassionate. I know they can be, but the potential seems dormant so often.

I feel compassion for humanity. I genuinely do. That is precisely why I pull back. By my nature I am a very sensitive person. Like many other sensitive people that applies not only to my emotional spectrum but also to sensory data (which could be another post entirely). Like being overloaded by the advertisements, noise, and smells of Time Square, so too does a party full of people scream and throb emotionally. The empathetic weight of each person added together becomes too much to bear. There are a couple options for how to deal with this.

The first is to "put on blinders", effectively to filter what information you respond to. That's a necessary skill to develop, but it has a downside. Filtering is a useful skill to have for making unexpected situations tolerable. Filtering of compassion, however, means deeming some people "human" and others "less human". I can't divorce experiencing empathy for some people and not others as a value judgment. For my taste judging whether or not a person is human enough to merit compassion isn't a practice I'm willing to take up. In my life compassion is an expression of respect and I'm even less willing to make a habit of regularly disrespecting people.

The second option is to minimize stimulation. If Time Square is overwhelming don't be there. If parties are depressing, stop going. Try having a cup of tea or a beer with a friend instead. The key is matching environment to temperament. The first step to avoid fatigue is to reduce demand. By withdrawing I don't have to compromise my ethic related to compassion/respect and I avert compassion fatigue (see also). There are a limited number of times per week I can say "it's about respect" and "every relationship is individual and must be treated as such" before I get exhausted and depressed. So I stop putting myself in situations where it is likely to come up. Blog-land is a big draw on my resources. I get a lot out of it but there are times when life in my immediate surroundings asks too much for me to stay engaged here. That's why I disappear.

I don't want this to end on a down note, so let me make it clear that I'm sticking around. I just wanted to take this moment to explain my hot/cold relationship with posting new content. The other reason I'm posting this diatribe, and why I believe it belongs in the consciousness of the Open Adoption community, is because socialization, compassion, respect, and cyclic communication are all issues front and center in every open adoption whether we realize it or not. Open adoptions are about relationships. Specifically I think it's important to note that there are varying degrees of sensitivity to emotional trauma (inherent in an adoption) and habits of communication. For those of you who don't quite get what I mean when I'm talking about sensitivity let me give you an illustration:

Imagine every human being is a microphone. Each microphone has a different degree of sensitivity to sound. Put eight mics around a table and drop a pin, listen to the playback, and there are eight different volumes (this is referred to as "gain" in music circles). So each mic is receiving the same sound but experiences that sound at a different volume. A microphone that has very high gain is best suited to very quiet environments where it can pick up on the sounds of breath, insects crawling, or a low whisper. A microphone with low gain will be better suited to being onstage at a rock concert. If you take the high gain mic to the rock concert it will feedback, "clip", distort the sound, and be damaged.

In a very real way, to the highly sensitive person, everyone around her/him is yelling at all times. It is deafening. But unlike hearing damage emotional sensitivity never attenuates to the new level. It is the same deafening pain every time.

If any of this resonates (please pardon the pun) with you, or think you may know someone for whom this may be true please know there are resources available. There are two books linked at the bottom; one that has been invaluable for me as I learn to respect and care for myself as a sensitive person. The other gives valuable insight to other styles of communication and cognitive function. Very helpful when trying to navigate what can seem a world of people who "don't get it." Also consider reading more about compassion fatigue and understanding how to care for those that care for you. Thanks for sticking with me. This is a tricky subject and one rarely brought up.

Be gentle with each other out there. It can be a tough world.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Open Adoption Roundtable Discussion #28: Questions from a Closed-Era Adoptee

The O.A.R. is a continuing discussion among bloggers about Open Adoption. It's a chance for people from any background to ask honest questions, often difficult ones, and get honest answers. It has been going on for some time, but, if you want to see other questions and answers there is a log available.
 Here's the preamble, courtesy of Heather:

This round is a smidge different--time for some cross-blog pollination! Lori of Write Mind Open Heart, an adoptive parent in two open adoptions, has up at her blog a set of eleven questions about open adoption which were posed to her by JoAnne, an adult adoptee in a closed adoption. There are some questions there about the role adoption professionals played arranging contact in your adoptions and how you understand the legal weight of any open adoption agreements you may have.

1. Can the adoptive parents really go back on their word after the adoption has been finalized and do whatever they please in regard to updates and pictures?

Yes, at any time. This is one of the most terrifying facts of adoption for first families. That's the difference between fostering and adopting. When signing the paperwork to place a child for adoption the first family loses all legal standing regarding the child. There are no caveats.

2. Who is the go-between for communication with most Open Adoptions: the case worker, the placing agency, or the lawyer handling the adoption?

I must not understand this question. I pray I don't understand this question. The best I can tease out of the way this is worded is who hands the documents back and forth, who makes the calls to update the families, et cetera? I'm fundamentally confused if this is the idea behind this question. I'll answer as best I can.

No one. When initially working out the placement of Festus we were working with Catholic Social Services. The social workers there helped us through the legal process and gave us a lot of good resources (books and the like) for dealing with what was happening emotionally. As for communication between Prof Plum, Ms Scarlet, Athena, and me there was no go between. After Athena and I read the profile Prof Plum and Ms Scarlet put together we decided we'd like to meet. After that meeting all contact between families was done by the families. We called, texted, and e-mailed one another. We still do. The "agency" inquired once or twice how things were going after we placed Festus with his new family. They were brief phone calls and the reminder that we could come in for some counseling for the next six months if we needed it. 

3. What are the advantages and disadvantages for each of the above contact persons?

Not Applicable

4. How can case workers be involved in Open Adoption as well if DHS are already so understaffed and the budgets are maxed out for the thousands of forgotten children lost in the system?

I'm feeling a bit cagey at the moment so forgive me if this seems hostile. That's not my intent, but I do find this question frustrating. What I'm seeing here, effectively, is the question "why work on making open adoptions healthy when so many kids have it so bad in foster/temporary care?" Because one kid in a bad home is one too many. It's true that there are thousands of children in horrible circumstances. It's terrible to think of what these children deal with every day and worse to feel powerless to change it. It's also true that the difference between an open adoption that works and one that closes, ruins relationships, and shatters lives may be a two hour conversation with a counselor. An adoption that closes hurts more than the adults involved. It hurts the child in very real and lasting ways. In terms of hours invested open adoptions are a drop in the bucket. Others' experience may be different, but that is my understanding from the professional social workers I know.

5. Is there an incentive such as money for the adoption agency to be still involved indirectly and indefinitely for an Open Adoption? Does it cost the prospective adoptive parents more money upfront for it to be an open adoption?

I do not know of any agency that remains engaged, in perpetuity, in an adoption. It is possible they exist, but I am unaware of them. Many agencies that work toward open adoptions also have post-placement care for the birth mothers. This is often reflected in the fees assessed for prospective adoptive parents. In much the same way that fair trade goods cost more than plantation and sweat shop produced goods, so too does the cost of ethical adoption rise. If one is promised an adopted child for $2,000 something is terribly wrong. Similarly if the agency makes no mention of the first parents, or they sound too good to be true but you can't contact them, hit the brakes and do some research. A good non-profit agency will be willing, if not happy, to disclose where the money comes from and where it goes.

6. If the contract is legally binding, what happens to the adoptive parents if they don’t follow through? Is there really any legal recourse for both parties that are clearly spelled out?

No. There is no protection. There is no contract. There is no recourse. Instead, there is trust. An open adoption functions solely on the basis of trust. From there a relationship grows which, hopefully, will include mutual respect, honor, and affection. An open adoption doesn't promise anything. What it does is provide an opportunity. Through open adoption there is the opportunity for relationship.

7. What deters the birth parents from coming to your house unannounced?

Why would I show up to someone's house unannounced? Is it a terrible problem for a friend to arrive unannounced to your home? Or is the assumption that we are pariah? Again, this is about relationships. If people are showing up to your house unannounced with frequency and it troubles you ask them to stop. If they don't it may be time to reassess the relationship and how best to express boundaries.

8. Do you know if there are any court cases where it’s obvious that there are loopholes in Open Adoption that need to be addressed?

There aren't legal loopholes in open adoptions. There are giant gaping swathes of nothing. No contracts, no laws, no recourse, no promises. Open adoptions do not open the doors for birth families to suddenly change their minds and fight for custody. Actually, there are fewer occurrences of contested custody and reversed decisions among those participating in open adoptions than closed ones.

9. Just like there are issues with closed adoptions and we have the outspoken activists’, etc., are there any Open Adoption opponents or vice versa that are working to be the voice for the birth mothers as well as the adoptive children and their best interests?

There are some significant advocates for open adoption out there. Among them are authors Mary Martin Mason and James (Jim) L Gritter. There's a significant number of bloggers actively engaged in open adoptions. These people remind me of Muhandis Ghandi's quote "be the change you wish to see in the world." They live advocacy because their lives are normal.

10. When is the adoptee old enough to choose if they want contact or not? What if they are the ones who want to break off ties with the bio parents?

This decision lies squarely with the adoptive family. The question is no different for adoptees than any other child deciding they don't want to have contact with a member of her/his extended family.

11. Are there any support groups/legal aids for birth mothers where they can get honest answers with their concerns for open adoptions?

We had a lot of success getting support through Catholic Social Services. There were quite a few support mechanisms for adoptive and birth families. Rather, for birth mothers. It is unfortunate but true that there is a disquieting lack of support and services aimed at birth fathers. Many of the support groups for birth mothers also accept birth fathers, but the culture of these groups often pushes men away.

From my own experience, I attended several support group meetings for birth parents. It was actually a group of first mothers, who the social worker felt it necessary to ask if they would be comfortable if a man were to attend. Instead of engaging in productive relational/emotional work I instead spent the entire time fielding and dodging questions about why the men in these womens' lives behaved the way they did. Instead of bringing the voice of a man I was expected to be the voice of every man. I went twice. Later I attended the agency's BirthMother's Day celebration. Upon learning there would be no BirthFather's Day celebration I disengaged from that community entirely.

Friday, April 22, 2011

O.A.R. Seven "Ignorant" Questions

Better late than never. This has been sitting as a post to be finished for quite some time. It seems there's been something of a fire lit under me today so I thought I'd finish it off and post it. For your reading pleasure, my answers to seven questions asked of the Open Adoption Roundtable bloggers.

1. If open adoption is so great, why do so many people suck at it? By this I mean, not honouring commitments, closing the adoption, telling the other family they’re not “doing this thing” correctly or playing the “for the sake of the child” card?

There is a very simple reason some people suck at open adoption: integrity. To function an Open Adoption requires a lot of integrity on everyone's part. The biggest expression of that, in my experience so far, is in the form of honesty. Many people aren't very skilled at being honest, be with with others or with themselves. When entering an extra-familial open adoption the participants must decide whether or not to trust each other. Let me say that again. In the average open adoption all people involved make the decision to trust one another or make the decision not to trust one another. It is a willful decision. There simply isn't enough time in most open adoptions to build enough trust. A leap of faith is being made by everyone involved. The only other option is a disingenuous foundation that, if continued, will doom the relationship.

2. From the standpoint of first parents, open adoption sounds like something that could prolong suffering. Could this suffering potentially outweigh the good of knowing where your child is? Who helps the first parent?

I'll answer the last part of this question first. Who helps the first parent? The typical answer is a sad one. No one. In broad terms most first parents are taken for granted and very often taken advantage of. Help doesn't come easily and rarely comes willingly. The stigma of adoption alone is enough to drive most would-be supporters away. For those interested in sticking around most disengage after a few months. The intensity of the pre-adoption is experience is difficult to believe, even for those who have already been through it. Agencies and support groups exist to provide resources for some, but these are often the exclusive domain of first mothers and very frequently only available when still pregnant. Post adoption support services are very, very rare.

The truth is an open adoption can prolong confusion and suffering when roles and boundaries become muddled. The confusion of developing what role "first parent" is going to take in a first parent's life can be profound and emotionally paralyzing. When handled well the cost is greatly outweighed by the benefits. A first father can know with certainty that his child is happy. A first mother can see her son or daughter smile, laugh, and play. The knowledge, rather than the guess, that the decision to place for adoption was a good one that resulted in healthy relationships is the best aid I can imagine for the healing process a first parent goes through. In my case confusion, hurt, fear, and ambivalence disappear when my son smiles and waves at me.

3. I’m guessing kids are not hung up on how many relatives they have. Tell me that the thing that hangs up the public all the time about open adoption and other unconventional relationships—two mommies, two daddies, three, four, parents—is the least of your worries because it seems to me it is.

As a first parent, even considering adoption marks one with a bigger stigma than being part of a non-traditional family. After being told, in as many words, that I am evil I no longer put much stock in the general population's opinion of status quo.

4. Do you ever feel like you should give this child back? Does the thought ever seize you totally as you watch your child with her bio-family: “ooops?” (OR for f-parents: Do you ever feel as though you need to take this child back? That nothing is stopping you beside an agreement that feels false? Does that feeling go away?)

I have never had the feelings you describe here. I have mourned that I made the decision I did. I have mourned the loss of my worldview, self definition, perceived control of my life, and many other aspects of living as part of the adoption process. I have mourned that I was in a position that made those losses and decisions necessary. I have never wished to take my son from his mother and father. They are his parents. There is no grey area there. Athena and I are his first family, and here I'll explain why I use that term. We cared for Festus with every resource we could pour into his well being and development for as long as we could. For eight months (we discovered Athena was pregnant at four weeks) our lives revolved entirely around making him the healthiest and happiest baby we could. We continue in that commitment, as his first family, but we are not his primary family. We cared for him first chronologically, and we cared for him with absolutely everything we could. At the end of those eight months, after his birth, we were absolutely desolate. There were no resources left. Professor Plum and Ms Scarlet's arrival at the birth center was, in part, like the cavalry riding over the hill to win the day.

5. How do children ever cope with knowing they could not be kept? When they see their natural parents having more kids, what do they think? Who helps the child in this situation? Both sets of parents?

There are too many assumptions in this question for me to take it entirely seriously. Instead I'll point out the assumptions being made and why they should be called into question. First is the notion that a child must cope with being placed in a loving, well resourced household. Plenty of people I know are adopted and many more raised by their grandparents without significant thought on how hard it is to live in a world where poverty can effect people's lives. When was the last time you lamented the fact that you're so poor you had to work for a living? Is it terribly tragic, or simply your life?

Do first families continue on to have more children? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It shouldn't be assumed that the first family will go on to have more children and the choice to place for adoption was a question money or emotional retardation alone. Pardon my cursing, but frankly birth parent's aren't universally the emotionally stunted fuck ups we're portrayed to be in daytime television. Frequently they're simply victims of statistics. A sexually healthy relationship between two adults commonly results in sex between two and three times a week for people in their late teens to mid twenties. If it's a committed relationship that will result in roughly 130 couplings per year. A condom with 99% efficacy means there's a statistically supportable argument that couple has had one child and is gestating a second within one year's time. It is improbable, but statistically viable.

6. Can you say comfortably that some surrendering mothers could not cope with an open adoption or do you think that it should always be the standard?

As in question number one it's all a question of the individuals involved. There is no standard open adoption. That's why it can work. The experience being discussed here is so intense and personal it must reflect the individuals and have the ability to grow as they do. If anything I believe the very idea of a "standard adoption" should be abolished. We're talking about families being created. Each and every one needs to be understood and handled as a unique case with singular needs.

7. Is there ever a reason (aside from extreme/illegal behaviours) to close an adoption totally?

This question reminds of why I hate it when people ask me if there is ever a justifiable reason to take a human life. Of course there is. I'm truly excellent at creating the worst case scenario which can justify all sorts of behavior. I think of it as something of a chess game I play against myself. A sort of testing of ethical waterproofing so to speak. Is it worth talking about what these factors may be? In my opinion, not really. I can come up with good reasons for Professor Plum and Ms Scarlett to cut off all contact with me until I'm blue in the face but it won't mean anything. It would all be conjecture and fantasy with no actual substance. Drugs, sex, lies, theft, mental/emotional/spiritual abuse, and wearing the wrong colour neck tie are all immaterial until they carry the weight of a real life situation with all the intricacies and realities therein.

Hind Sight Projection

Nothing for months, then two in one day? Shocking, I know. Sometimes there are things more important than eating at lunch. Rarely, but sometimes true.

It's often tempting to try to understand another person's experiences by superimposing our own emotional realities as a template over the factual events in the other person's life. It's a pretty functional model for how children first begin developing sympathy. I've written about it before but it merits a quick refresher before moving on to today's subject. Effectively;

In a situation like X, I thought and felt Y. Person 1, therefore, most likely also feels Y when in a situation similar to X.

Most people do this and many never develop cognitive/emotional integration beyond this point. That's unfortunate as this model only works when there is a truly analogous connection between the experiences. Often there is not. This is particularly true in the sphere of adoption. The experiences of the birthfamily, adoptive family, and the adoptee (the traditional view of the "Triad" in adoption) are connected. However in terms of discrete experiences they are very different. Among the commonalities are loss, isolation, ambivalence, anger, and fear. The thought processes that drive these emotional experiences, however, diverge significantly. It is important to recognize the difference between similar emotions and understanding the full depth of the experience related to it. If we get too stuck on the idea of really understanding everyone we actually disrespect the people we are trying to become closer to. All too often a person's experience is simplified in order to fit our schema, our understanding and intimacy becomes forced rather than resonant, and the person's emotions are disregarded where they disagree with our own. That's the nature of the beast with the type of sympathy response illustrated above. Most often there's no malice involved and ulterior motives don't enter the equation. The same method is, however, sometimes used as a tactic intentionally when one is trying to have a more emotionally intimate relationship than the other participant wishes to offer. In cases where this is intentional it is unacceptable. Pushing for intimacy isn't a viable route for a healthy relationship. Were we to shift gears from emotional intimacy to physical intimacy the reason becomes exceedingly clear. At best, pushing for physical intimacy when the other person doesn't want it makes one a serious jerk, and at worst a rapist.

It's okay to ask for more intimacy in a relationship. That's how many good relationships continue to grow. One person asks for more intimacy to deepen the connection of the relationship. The other person agrees and may behave, or "open up", in ways that are uncomfortable but consensual. A relationship where each person takes on the role of calling the other to deeper intimacy is a real winner. Each person grows in the relationship and step by step the relationship becomes more robust. Begging, needing, forcing, or pushing for intimacy typically means one person is doing too much work, and that expectations need to be adjusted. It's possible the relationship in question is quite healthy. It's equally possible everyone in the relationship is quite healthy. Somewhere, however, there is(are) an expectation(s) that corresponds to an internal emotional reality that is not a reflection of the relationship in question.

It is quite possible that the relationship needn't change or be addressed. Very often to find satisfaction in a relationship what we need do is redefine the terms of satisfaction. It's the relationship equivalent of training oneself out of needing what one wants, and instead wanting what one has.

The Prodigal Rants Again

I'm to visit my son tomorrow. It will be the first visit in quite a while. Last month Athena and I were both ill and desperately needed time to recover. Our previous visit had been near the beginning of the month. This visit, obviously near the end of the month, marks the end of nearly three months without visitation. In short, it's been too long. When last we were to see Festus he had developed a vocabulary of about eight words. I don't know what I'll encounter when I see him tomorrow. The truth is this visit has been filling me with some dread.

My son is talking. He is able to communicate. Quickly he'll be developing the ability to create complex ideas and in just a few short years he'll be regularly delving into abstraction. I shudder at this. I haven't had the chance to be proud as I haven't seen it yet. Had you asked me a year ago how I'd feel about this I'd have been happy and delighted to finally be able to communicate with him in ways that I can understand. Now I am terrified of two monosyllables; "why", and "no".

"Why". Why did Athena and I place him into the only home he knows? Why didn't we parent him? Why do we feel the way we do about children and, thus, him? These are all questions that I've answered theoretically to myself and many, many other people. But they have a different ring when I can see the face and hear the voice that they matter to the most.

"No". No, you don't have the right to be in my life anymore. No I will not accept a relationship with you. I don't believe your answers to my questions. They aren't good enough. They don't make enough sense. They hurt me too much. You have hurt me too much. I know I'm putting words into his mouth. I know he may not say some, or possibly any of these things to me or Athena. But I am very good at playing the "Worst Case Scenario" game. In most of my worst imaginings the apocalypse is a welcome reprieve.

The real point is that I now see that I will actually have to face what my son has to say about his experience. Again, theoretically I have done this and made my peace with it. But as any parent, birth-, adoptive-, step-, foster-, grand-, or traditional, can attest children have a way of jarring you despite your best plans and preparations. This is often a good thing. Children are excellent at living in their present experience and frequently call us to do the same. Frankly many adults, myself especially, can use all the help we can get in that regard. But there are still times when that notion is rather terrifying. My hope is that tomorrow I will be in the present instead of worrying about some dreadful confrontation with my son that may never occur. I hope he can help pull me into the present, so when I hear him speak for the first time, he is all I hear.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Off Sides

In reading another blog today I suddenly became very weary. I am tired of exposing myself to hate. I typically try to be tolerant of experiences I don't understand and preserve the space necessary for those whose ideas disagree with mine, even if they do so violently. But I am so very tired of experiencing others' hate. What touched me off today was a post that referenced several studies in the psychological community focusing on trauma and/or adoption. This particular post was vehemently against the language used in the abstracts of these studies and dissertations. Unfortunately the studies hadn't actually been read by the author so full critique was unavailable. However, when the phrase "wet our appetite" came up I realized my patience was about to run out.

That phrase has very specific connotations. To wet one's appetite is to prepare for a meal. A meal implies nourishment. In the context of this article the appetite to be sated was outrage. The implication that rage is nourishing is troubling but points a finger at a very unsettling truth.

Rage is pleasant.

Hate is satisfying.

The emotional catharsis they provide assuages the difficulty of the normal daily grind. It's pure Aristotle. I just wish more people were willing to look the horror in the eye and admit that the person they loathe and fear the most is very much like them. It saddens and frustrates me to see how closed people are to one another. Do we really believe ourselves to be opaque? Can I honestly believe that I have nothing in common with the person who calls me evil?

No. I don't believe we are so far removed as that. I am not inscrutable. America's obsession with "reality television" is proof of our desire to be known and understood. It is also proof of our desire to place barriers between ourselves and "the spectacle" that allows us to experience fear, loathing, and righteousness in a confined context without repercussions.

I am weary. Humanity has the chance to be amazing and beautiful. Yet so often that is disfigured.