Monday, December 13, 2010

Congratulations. . . I'm sorry.

I wonder how it is that the word "congratulations" has become the go to sentiment for a person who has just given birth. In many circumstances it makes sense. When speaking to a member of a first family it is among the most painful and infuriating words in the English language. For more thoughts related to this word and the subtext it can carry, see my ramblings here.

I remember being congratulated by a few people when sharing the news that Athena was pregnant. Apparently those people didn't bother to read my body language or look at my face when sharing the news. Everything about me said "despair". Yet the congratulations continued. Each time it was like a stab in the gut. Every iteration like another blow to a nail pinning me to a board. "Congratulations" meant "you should be grateful". Saying congratulations meant this should be good news and I don't have the right to have mixed feelings.

The next time a person you know gives birth think a little about what you really want to say to that person before speaking up. If that person is in a difficult situation "good luck" may be the better choice. "I'm sorry" can even be appropriate. "Congratulations" doesn't fit every situation. Think a little longer before speaking. Or speak a little less frequently. It will give you a chance to listen more carefully to what others sound like when saying such things. "Congratulations" can be the salt in a wound.

"Congratulations" could mean "fuck you".

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Drama. . . no, really.

I've occasionally grumbled about work here. It has continued to take up the vast majority of my time of late. Four weeks of over time later I'm dragging myself along trying to see a light at the end of the tunnel. It's rather difficult to convince myself the light is more than a cruel jerk with a Mag-Light but time will tell.

Much Ado About Nothing is the show I've been working on. The set is enormous. The drawings have been out of scale. I'm exhausted most of the time. The load in has kept us running ragged for three days straight. They've turned it into a musical. There simply isn't a silver lining on this cloud.

In any case that's my lame excuse for not keeping up with the blog. Athena and I have been trying to get a visit in with MS Scarlet, Prof Plum, and Festus for three weeks running. We weren't able to see each other at all through November. Our previous visit was relatively early in October so it's been almost two months since we've seen them. I'm expecting Festus to be applying for grad schools by the time I see him next. It's been a long time. More info on the cause for delays later. Mostly illness related on our part.

To those who have given me awards, thanks. I'll try to do something about that soon. For those who don't know I've been given the "Cherry On Top Award". . . twice. It's actually quite endearing. In any case I'm now back on the clock and must return to the stage.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Kherosine Suit - Inviting Flames

Adoption is a traumatic experience for many people. Adoptees and first families tend to bear the brunt of the painful experiences that result directly from the adoption process (adoptive families often have their pain front loaded in dealing with infertility, child loss, et cetera). Amongst some there appears to be a trend toward self diagnosis in the aftermath of adoptions that didn't meet the needs of one or more parties involved. The specific diagnosis I've encountered is P.T.S.D. or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for those unfamiliar with the acronym. This self diagnosis is often used to explain the severity of one's reactions when they seem inappropriate or to steer those considering adoption away from that possibility. It is tempting to say that it is used as a "Get out of Jail Free" card but that isn't entirely fair.

There are many people for whom the adoption experience has been terribly traumatic. It's important to recognize this truth. I still agree with Jim Gritter's notion that pain is at the heart of every adoption decision. It is possible that there are some who have been so traumatized by the pain of adoption that P.T.S.D. is a viable diagnosis.

Unfortunately I think the trend for self diagnosis has diminished the likelihood that these genuine cases are taken seriously. But this isn't the case for P.T.S.D. alone. Self diagnosed depression, A.D.H.D., bipolar, even sociopathy diminishes the gravity of the reality these diagnosise carry. This is especially the case when the claimed mental health condition is used inappropriately to justify otherwise unacceptable behavior. The didactic tale of the boy who cried wolf applies, very tidily, here.

Here I step onto my soapbox.

Mental health difficulties are serious conditions. They deserve to be taken seriously. Just as a person who claims to be diabetic eating a cake, I can't take seriously a person who claims P.T.S.D. that isn't in ongoing therapy. If one takes mental health seriously it isn't a justification for poor behavior. On the contrary it holds that person to a higher degree of accountability. To claim to have P.T.S.D., whether diagnosed by a professional or not, means taking ownership of that experience and the responsibility for recognizing it. If one accepts a diagnosis there is an implicit acceptance of responsibility for taking every reasonable step to ensure the condition in question doesn't unduly effect others.

If I am depressed I am responsible for taking steps to mitigate how that effects my other relationships. That doesn't mean keeping it a secret so no one feels poorly for me. Instead it means finding the help I need to establish coping strategies so my depression cannot get out of control and begin damaging others. Similarly if I suffer from P.T.S.D. I must also accept the responsibility of taking every step possible to normalize my relationships and interactions with others.

So what's the point of all this? Well, the short nasty version is if you have P.T.S.D. and know it you don't get to take it out on other people. No matter who the person is, what s/he thinks, says, or does. Acknowledging trauma prohibits one lashing out from that trauma. To say otherwise is to spit in the eye of every person who has ever struggled with any mental health disorder.

In Response

Silence in the Absence of Conflict

I've been ignoring life in Blog-land for some time as other concerns have taken priority. Those concerns, not surprising to anyone, are my finances. This is bitter-sweet news because it points directly to something very important.

Life as a birth father has become normal life.

Or perhaps I should say this; life after the adoption of a child can feel just as normal as life before the adoption of a child.

In recent months I've been focusing a lot of attention to getting my financial affairs in order, developing plans for some cottage industry style enterprises, strengthening my relationships with my family, and continuing to support Athena as she prepares to re-enter school in yet another step toward her eventual career goals. Athena and I have continued to visit Festus, Prof Plum, and Ms Scarlet. All of those relationships continue to grow. The funny part is that I haven't been thinking about those relationships as much recently as I had the year previous. That's actually very important as it indicates that I'm not working as hard to have those relationships feel successful. At this point they typically feel successful without much effort. It seems stress doesn't enter that sphere unless there are other complicating factors. There have, in fact, been complicating factors but they were handled with compassion, open communication, a bit of mutual confusion, and in the end worked out smoothly. It's really nice to feel like my friendships with Ms Scarlet and Prof Plum are a source of stress relief.

There have been several visits with them that I haven't related here. That has a lot to do with going nuts at work. More than that, however, is a loss of urgency in those visits, conversations, and connections. After more than a year it feels like the foundation for real relationships have been laid and we now get to enjoy some of that hard work. As life continues there also continue to be new complications. I've come to the conclusion that if one waits for life to "calm down" before considering it normal s/he will be waiting until death. That said, I think we've hit as close to "normal" as we're going to get. It feels good. It feels like we've found the light at the end of the tunnel and it wasn't a train after all. All four of us were putting a lot of faith in that faint glimmer. The days when I forget how hard it had been are the days I feel like I'm holding a winning lottery ticket.

It's tempting to say that I've found a good life after adoption but that isn't accurate at all. The growth I had to do getting into adoption in the first place is largely responsible for where I am now. I have found a good life in adoption.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

In Response

I had fully intended to post a long, well thought out response to a comment on my post about Child Centered Adoption when, through a mishap in my order of operations, I lost the two pages I'd written. As a result I'll rewrite what I can remember in the short, short, reductum abusrdum version:

"We do want to speak for the voice of the child and I appreciate you pointing out that we can't do that because we're still ourselves. This doesn't seem so bad, it seems as though you are referencing a bad experience where that was the case."

To begin I'll be speaking only about this behavior as it relates to adoption. I find the tendency to speak on behalf of children who are not yet born dangerous, often abusive, and inherently disrespectful.

The notion that this behavior is disrespectful seems, to me, to be a no-brainer. Speaking on behalf of another person without that person's express permission simply isn't okay. Since we're talking about unborn children we hit a tough spot. Often the argument is made that "if [we] don't speak for the child who will?" That's a fair argument but it has a very simple answer. One that most people using this approach don't want to hear. The people who get to speak for an unborn child are that child's biological parents. It's very simple. Legally speaking there is no grey area here. Ethically speaking there is marginal grey area at best. So the rights, intentions, and moral standing of the biological parents are called into question with little or no justification other than the belief the child would want it that way. This also disrespects the child by assuming authority to speak to the experience of a person in a situation we cannot understand. It's a claim to authority with no right.

That's where we encounter the abusive tendencies of this approach. Speaking on behalf of an unborn child to that child's parent is, almost universally, a tactic used to manipulate the decision making process of that parent. This tactic is inherently intrusive as it inserts the manipulator into an emotionally charged relationship with the future parent. The emotional intensity of this interaction is often forced upon pregnant women by total strangers. This is a near textbook definition of emotional abuse and closely mirrors many of the emotional realities of sexual assault. This behavior is NOT okay. The only people who have the right to speak about the realities of an unplanned pregnancy are those directly involved. Input from anyone else is a gift given to those who are invited. No one has the right to tell a mother or father what his/her child would want.

It is the presumption of rights following the presumption of truth that makes this dangerous. Because the manipulator believes s/he is correct that grants him/her the right to dispense "the truth" however s/he sees fit. I could get into the neurophysiology of how this is extremely dangerous but that will take a bit more time than I think it's worth. If you want me to expound more on how I believe neurophysiology relates to this let me know and I'll post an addition later. Because those involved with an unplanned pregnancy are, by default, emotionally strained they are easier to manipulate than a person whose resources are bountiful. Real lives are being affected by total strangers because they don't have the emotional resources to fend off emotional manipulation. But there's more. This behavior is dangerous for the people using it too. Each time a person uses this tactic successfully (that is achieves his/her desired end) the experience and world view of that person is being affirmed. Unfortunately the world view that is getting the affirmation includes the assumption that the person is right and can understand the experience of another human so fully as to direct their behavior more successfully than the human her/himself. This understanding of others, I believe, is dehumanizing. For my money anything that cheapens the dignity and worth of one human cheapens us all. No person is more valuable than any other and no one opinion is better than another. All opinions have equal dignity. Not all opinions have equal information. Rarely do many opinions express equal respect. Differing opinions and experiences never need disrespect or malign one another. Quality and quantity of information is paramount in these discussions. Speaking on behalf of another person is inherently an opinion, not a fact. It is dangerous to rely on this tactic for everyone involved because an opinion based upon emotion cannot be discredited. Because statements made this way cannot be discredited, their information cannot be rebuffed, they seek to force others to make decisions based solely on emotion. It is effectively the equivalent of going to a debate wearing ear plugs and screaming "la la la la la" until anyone who disagrees has left. It makes for a very shallow understanding of the world and the people in it. I believe that is disrespectful to all of reality.

I think humans are very cool and deserve to be known as fully as possible. I can't know you if I spend all my time telling you "you're doing it wrong."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Light at the end of the tunnel and the long, dark tea time of the soul

Klaxons going off in my brain told me something was terribly, terribly wrong. Was it my return to work after four months of leave? Was it my relationship with Athena? Perhaps my diet, exercise, or lack of meditation. I felt ill. Deeply ill like something in my soul had died and was rotting away what was left. An important piece of who I am was gone and I couldn't remember what it was anymore. My worst nightmare was being realized. I was losing myself bit by bit but was only cognizant enough to recognize the loss. I couldn't do anything to curb it.

For four days I felt this way. Every evening, when I grew tired and ready to sleep, I would begin to panic in the throws of this loss. For a week the feeling lingered just potent enough to be recognized. I fought the loss as hard as I could. I fought everything. The sadness, the isolation, wouldn't beat me. I would win. Eventually Athena asked me "why are you trying so hard? What are you fighting so hard?" It became clear I was fighting against my grief. I wasn't allowing my experience to happen. The next day I took several long, slow breaths before beginning my day of work. "I will let myself be sad today. Today can be miserable. I can be a wreck and still be okay. I can break down and have a shitty day today." The day proceeded normally. Melancholy coloured the morning but my sense of relief took over the rest of the day. I was sad, but I was okay.

Two days previous I visited my son. Athena and her family were there to celebrate Festus' birthday. It was a grand day, though there were several culinary SNAFU's. The planned meal was fajitas. Athena doesn't tolerate wheat very well so we planned to make some spelt tortillas to bring with us. Ms Scarlet requested that we make enough for everyone. That meant making a triple batch. Additionally a second side dish was requested. We racked our brains trying to figure out what we could make in addition to the tortillas that wouldn't kill us. We decided on a batch of polenta with a random black bean and tomato topping I faked my way through. It was necessary to make something in the slow cooker as tortillas are incredibly labor intensive. I figured it would take around three hours of cooking time to make the 30+ I'd made dough for. After the first three failed utterly I realized something had gone wrong and another plan needed to come together. Something in the dough wasn't right and none of the tortillas were cooking correctly. Off to Meijer (for those not in the Great Lakes region, Meijer is a local antecedent to Wal-Mart, but a little less evil) for corn tortillas. While there I picked up a two bottles of my current favorite cheap Rose. It's a nice Spanish Grenache dry Rose. Very tasty. Back in the car and *ZOOM* we're off to see Prof Plum and Ms Scarlet.

The visit was wonderful. All the angst I'd been feeling for days melted away watching Festus crawl and stand. Hooting and chirping, squeeking and grunting were delightfully fascinating. We played and he laughed. I flipped him upside down and ate his stomach. He squeeled and giggled. Dinner was delicious and I, once again, had a great conversation with Prof Plum by the grill doing "guy stuff." We often talk about how funny it is that we talk about and bond over classic machismo items like his gas grill. Does recognizing it as silly make it less effective? We didn't bother thinking too hard on it and instead moved on to talking about theatre, college life (his two elder sons are both in college now, and I relate a bit working at a college), and my recent wisdom tooth debacle. Dinner was lovely. The wine was good and the pie was out of this world!

Eventually we all said our goodnights and headed to our cars. I felt much better than I had in days. My emotional keel had been evened and the mental weather looked clear to the horizon. The following day was a different story. Two more days of significant turmoil left me feeling as though I'd been tied to the whipping pole and left as an example to others. My eventual realization and emotional honesty was what I had needed all along.

The one year anniversary of an adoption can be a very difficult one. Strangely I'd imagined that Athena would have a difficult experience and I'd be the one supporting her. That fits my typical self image. I am the one who supports people. I don't ask for help because others need that help more. I was very surprised when Athena seemed unmoved by the gravity of the anniversary yet I was tossed like a skiff in a typhoon. I had been trying so hard to be okay. The hurt was so opaque to me that I couldn't see it was there. All my effort went into closing my eyes to reality. I suffered needlessly a great deal because of it. It was a very humbling experience. I don't have all the answers and even the little lessons that have been pounded into me again and again still get screwed up.

I have held onto many regrets in my life. I like to think I'm doing a good job of letting those go. When I was younger I often thought of my life as nothing more than a litany of regrets. If I could have gone back and lived differently I'd have changed everything. I wanted a different life. I wanted a different me. Countless hours and thousands of dollars in therapy have helped me work out the difference between things that have hurt me and myself. It sounds strange now to say that I confused the two. I can recognize the difference now. More importantly I know the difference between acknowledging pain and submitting to regret. When I look at Athena or Festus I no longer think of what I wish I could change. Instead I think of what I will do tomorrow. I have regretted many things. I have even regretted my decision to place Festus for adoption. But I have no regret for meeting and knowing my son. I don't regret the changes I went through nor the growth I had to push forward in making his adoption plan. I love my son very much. He is my best teacher. He tells me to keep looking to tomorrow when today sucks. He lets me love today even if yesterday was horrible. I can have a great morning and a terrible afternoon and that's okay. My son loves me. I love him. I don't want a different past. I want today.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

An interesting line of questions

Normally I try to keep my responses to comments within the comments section. This time, however, there were some questions raised that I think deserve more thorough review than that allows. Further more I believe the ideas raised are worth bringing out for general consideration. The comment in question was this:

"OK So I'm a bit diffident about writing this but you did ask what I think, right? I read this post a few hours ago and I can't stop thinking about it. It has left me very troubled. You usually seem so resolved about your decision to continue the pregnancy and place Festus. But this post suggests otherwise. You are usually very positive about the whole thing, but in this post you describe the day Festus was born as the most painful and traumatic day of her life. Does it have to be that the moment an unwanted pregnancy results in the birth of a child that it has to be so negative? You say that if you had parented Festus's happiness would have been sacrificed (that's if I've understood you correctly). I guess what is troubling me is--and I pick this up from Lia's and Lisa's posts also--that no matter which way you turn, there is just doom and gloom all around. If you keep the baby you're miserable, if you place the child for adoption you're miserable. Why carry through the pregnancy then? I hope I'm not crossing any line(s) by making these remarks and asking these questions."

There is a lot here. First I'd like to address the implied question about my resolve to continue the pregnancy and place Festus. Effectively the question is "why do it if it's really this hard?" That comes again in the notion of doom and gloom following everyone involved in adoption. Why carry the pregnancy to term? Wouldn't abortion be easier?

In the interest of full disclosure I must first say that I don't abide by the right to life movement. I honestly don't care when a fetus becomes a person, when memory or pain receptors develop, et cetera. Some people make the decision to terminate pregnancies. Some people make the decision to raise children conceived in unplanned pregnancies. Some people choose to place those children for adoption. Some people choose dumpsters. These are facts. Most people reading this will be troubled by at least two of the aforementioned choices.

Would abortion be easier? Perhaps for some it is. For many it is not. For some it is unthinkable. For a few (I pray very few) it is a practical form of birth control. I believe anyone being emotionally honest about the gravity of an unplanned pregnancy will recognize that abortion has life long consequences just as significant as adoption. They are very different experiences but each has significant impact upon the men and women involved. For Athena and me abortion was not easier than adoption. There are a couple reasons for that specific to our experiences. Athena's father is an adoptee in a closed adoption. Her personal values inclined her toward adoption should it appear viable (i.e. would there be enough support?). Additionally full term pregnancy would have huge ramifications for her health*. But at the heart of it there was something that didn't feel right about termination to either of us. I think of it like this;

To an adult who has never smoked tobacco and never really wanted to smoking doesn't really make sense.

To a former tobacco user smoking doesn't really make sense any more. But, when the chips are down, the ex-smoker gets it. The ex-smoker understands the feeling of needing a cigarette.

I think in some ways abortion either "makes sense" to you or it doesn't. There can be plenty of moral and ethical arguments but when things get bad, tension goes up, and people get scared it's as simple as gut instinct. It works or it doesn't.

I'll admit that initially abortion made more sense to me than adoption. It took education and some soul searching on my part to understand termination wasn't the best choice for us to make. I can see how abortion can make sense. Understanding it doesn't make it the best choice by default. It just means I can see there from here.

And that leads me to the last bit I wanted to address. Doom and gloom. This is similar to my understanding of abortion. It makes sense or it doesn't. Education can open our minds and experience can shape our understanding in very impressive ways but not until those have a chance to outweigh our initial impulse. Many people have a native understanding of how something extremely painful can still be good. Some people see pain and, understandably, assume it should be avoided. When it comes to a hot stove this works brilliantly. With an unplanned pregnancy, however, it breaks down. The truth is that an unplanned pregnancy doesn't present a person with the choices 1) parent and be miserable, 2) place for adoption and be miserable, or 3) abort. The order of operations is out of whack in that summary. In my experience it looks more like this:

1) Discover unplanned pregnancy - be miserable

2) Learn about the choices available - all choices allow for misery to continue

3) Make a decision - begin processing the specific brand of misery ascribed to that decision

There is no getting away without pain. There is no "easy" option just as there is no easy life. The gloom and misery in my previous post illustrates the pain I keep speaking of in adoptions. The pain is inherent in the process. If I stop dealing with this pain it's only because I've started lying to myself. It gets better and obviously there are days that are harder and days that are easier. The pain of adoption remains just as the pain of never seeing the face of an aborted child and the pain of dreams dashed and plans sacrificed to parent. The doom and gloom the commenter asked about is not the exclusive property of first families or those involved in adoptions. The gloom is recognition of a world view that is no longer valid. The doom is fear that we have lost ourselves as we lost our former worlds. If we do well we come out the other side wiser and more patient. Unfortunately both of those traits are hard won through adversity. But that peaks through in what may be the least publicized piece of adoption. Triumph. Victory. Satisfaction.

Placing Festus for adoption was very difficult. There isn't anything in my life I am so proud of as how Athena and I went about that decision. We poured everything we were into doing pregnancy, labor, adoption, and continuing relationships right. We made it. We made it through and are better for it. We did right by our son and ourselves. That's the funny thing. Going through with an adoption plan feels like moving valleys and tearing down mountains. It isn't until afterward that you look back and realize you've moved valleys and torn down mountains. "Impossible" becomes rather petty after that.

I can deal with pain, because this is the pain that comes with integrity.

* Athena was, in point of fact, slowly losing her battle with Crohn's disease. When we moved into our apartment she was too ill to work and often too weak to do anything more strenuous than read. I am not exaggerating to say Festus saved her life. Were it not for him it is quite possible she would have died by now.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


This post, for lack of a better term, has more in common with a journal entry than its counterparts. If this interests you please read on. If not perhaps this forward saved you a bit of time.

I find I'm having a difficult day today. The emotional unrest began last night. The difficulty began in truth one year and nine months ago.

Yesterday Athena and I went into town to purchase some chocolate I'll be sending in a "thank you" package and a stuffed animal for Festus. Yesterday was Festus' first birthday. I kept wondering that day if we should do something to commemorate the significance of this anniversary. I asked Athena for her thoughts. She preferred the day go unmarked. It wasn't until we went to bed that night after a very tiring day that I began to feel uneasy. Something felt amiss. I didn't know how to put it. I felt as though I should have done something to recognize and signify my experience of what happened one year ago on that day. After talking about it for 15 minutes or so I came to the conclusion that the more honest approach was to allow ambivalence to have its place. I didn't need a name for this feeling because I had never had it before. I didn't need to know what it was so long as I listened and knew where it came from.

Today, through a curious coincidence, I found myself once again driving to the home of Athena's parents on the same road that lead to the birthcenter. The light was different but so much was the same. The colors of the trees and the blooming wildflowers on the side of the road were all the same. I remembered what happened exactly 366 days earlier. I remembered the crying. I remembered the screaming. I remembered the smell of blood, a face of terror, and the deepest throbbing ache in my heart I will ever know. I remember visiting my father in the waiting room. I remember how surprised and relieved I was that someone in my family actually came. I remember equal surprise when he refused to see his first grandchild. I remember carrying Athena with her father to the car. I remember carrying her into the house with him again. I remember the look on Ms Scarlet's face when we first introduced her to Festus. Prof Plum wore a big, toothy grin. We drank champagne out of paper cups. Two hours later, weary beyond anything I could imagine, I lay Athena down on an air mattress in her parent's den. We lay together and cried. Eventually we fell asleep.

I am very happy for my son's first birthday. I am glad to know how much his mom and dad love him. I am very sad that one year ago Athena had the most painful and traumatizing experience of her life. I mourn the father that I am not. There is still a part of me that doesn't believe I made the "right" choice. A part of me believes that I should have chosen to parent without regard to the happiness of my son.

My elder brother, E. once asked me "why are you doing this to your family? Why are you putting us through this?" I explained that I couldn't lie to myself, and I couldn't accept how removed from the rest of the family I would become were either of my brothers to parent my son. The idea of the cliche "older brother to the rescue" on a scale this large would mean not looking my family in the face again. It would mean leaving them behind. E. responded that I wouldn't be the screw up. "You'd be the hero of this family." That's the funny part of it. After making the decisions that I did my family can now look at them and say it would have been heroic to ask a brother to parent my son. It would seem so altruistic to save them from the experience they've now had. But had they not experienced it, would I still be considered a hero for making the same choice? Had I never placed Festus with Ms Scarlet and Prof Plum would anyone in my family consider placing within the family heroic? I honestly don't think so. Had I placed within the family I suspect that parenting Festus would then appear to be the more appropriate choice. Had I chosen to parent marrying Athena would appear to be the better choice. For each step taken deeper into the comfort zone of my family there is always going to be another step deeper they want. In this situation perfect didn't feel good enough. So instead of the perfect choice I tried to make the choice that would give us a chance at being family again. I don't know if I did a very good job of that. I tried my best but it may not have been enough. I allowed my family to hurt. My hope was they could then recognize my pain as well. More so I knew protecting my family from the truth of my experience would hurt me exponentially more than their responses to pain.

I'm sad today. My family relationships are difficult at best. I see my son once a month but know he will never look to me for comfort. I'll not be one he runs to. Is this better than the alternatives that were available to me at the time? I think so. But even the best life hurts. The happiest people cry. Today is just a bad day.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quote of the Day/Shameless Filler

"All I can say with certainty is that my husband and I love Pie with everything we are and want the best for her. Pie's birthparents love her with everything they are and want the best for her. We'll figure out the rest as we go."

This, for me, is the very essence of adoptions that can work. Courtesy of Sara when she commented here on a previous post. I wanted to bring that to everyone's attention.There are a lot of people who are hurt terribly by adoption. Namely those people are everyone ever involved in an adoption. I've said for years that the happiest life is not the best life. It's only been recently that I've understood that to be a half truth. The concept I wanted to address was comfort, not happiness. The most comfortable life is certainly not the best life. After all I've never known a person to say "I'm so terribly comfortable and well resourced, I think it's time for some seriously difficult personal growth." For years I've struggled to make this idea a positive statement instead of a negative one. If the most comfortable life isn't the best one, what is the best? I didn't know. Slowly dawning on me is an idea. This may be the foolish idealism of youth, and I fully expect to look back on this and laugh, but I think I have an idea of the best driving principle for life. I've toyed with honesty, respect, integrity, compassion, awareness, education, and even self-sacrifice. The conclusion I've come to is all of these fall short. The only complete picture appears when all of these are combined into an understanding of love. Love requires that I respect. It urges me to understand and educate. Love insists upon honesty and integrity. Love lets me sacrifice my ego. The best life is love.

In totally unrelated news I'm feeling much better! The doctors took the stint out today and I only have one day of antibiotics left. I took myself off the pain meds earlier this week. Detox was horrible. I had become dependant. Thank goodness I'd only been taking them exactly as prescribed for a little less than two weeks. I went home and immediately ate a bowl full of steamed carrots. I felt like a new man. Eating a bowl of spaghetti afterward made me feel even better! I can't believe how hungry I've been! Hopefully in a few days I'll be able to return to work. Unfortunately my job is very physically demanding so that may take a little while longer than I'd like.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Thoughts on Child Centered Adoption

***I'm still on medication. Please forgive me if this post derails or doesn't make sense. Please point out mistakes or areas that need clarification. I don't want you to ignore my mistakes. I want you to help me make them better***

In discussing the "right-ness" or "wrong-ness" of adoption I've discovered a trend. People tend to speak directly for children when children cannot speak. It's not uncommon to hear people say things like "your baby wants to be raised by you," or "all a baby wants is to be loved." In the former I'm paraphrasing statements I've heard from people who are pro-parenting/anti-adoption and the latter pro-adoption/anti-parenting depending on your person taste for terminology. I take serious issue with this proclivity even though I don't doubt that I've been guilty of it myself. These statements are troubling because of the processes one must go through to make them.

At first glance it looks a lot like compassion. To speak for the child one places him/herself in the child's position and attempt to understand the fullness of that experience. From that exercise s/he then speaks from that experience on behalf of the child. The ability to put oneself in "the other guy's shoes" is fundamental to compassion. That exercise has many practical applications and generally keeps humans from treating one another poorly. Unfortunately in the adoption related debates I've encountered that is this tool has been turned around. Instead of compassion it is used to fan the flames of conviction. This may be due to the strength of the emotional experiences encountered when applying this tool to adoption.

Most people, in my experience, involved in adoption debate have been involved in an adoption plan. The parties involved are typically a member of a first family, adult adoptees, current or prospective adoptive parents, and on rarely adoption workers. In these situations everyone has an experience to bring to the table. On the part of first families those experiences are, uniformly, emotionally intense and often traumatic. On the part of adoptive families the experience is often one of great joy muddled with the pain of infertility and loss. Very often both sides of the adoption equation have lost children yet that commonality is rarely discussed. That is something I wish to address, but not now.

After all, the point of this post was discussing child centered adoption, right? So where's the child in all of this? Well that's precisely the problem. Adults are jumping through a lot of mental hoops trying to understand the experience of the child in order to speak for their experience. Bringing their own experiences into the process of imagining the experience for the adoptee adults have amplified reactions. Before the adult can attempt understanding the adoptee experience s/he is typically overwhelmed by his/her own emotional experience. That's when people start speaking for themselves through the voice of the child. That is not only disrespectful to the adoptee experience. It disallows for adoptee experiences that differ from the adult's perceived experience. I consider that malicious behavior.

There's another level to this. The question of how a person does compassion is important. I described the exercise of "putting yourself in the other guy's shoes" as fundamental to compassion. It is a necessary step. Compassion doesn't stop there. That's how we teach compassion to children. An adult requires an adult understanding of compassion. "Spare the rod, spoil the child" isn't what I'm talking about. The real point is abstraction. Early compassion says I know your experience and I will behave how I wish others had behaved toward me. Abstract compassion says I don't know your experience and will behave with respect and kindness toward you.

Why can't I know your experience? Why must I assume I'm ignorant? Because there are billions of neurons and billions of discrete experiences that separate my experience from another person's. I can never know the full subtlety and depth of another person's emotions, thoughts, or choices. This is why I try to speak only for myself. When I do speak for others I attempt to do so in terms of probabilities (Billy probably doesn't want cockroaches in his sandwich, birth fathers probably aren't universally jerks). I do this because I believe no one has the right to speak for another in positive terms. At the very best we can make guesses but must do so with full admonition of our ignorance.

How does this apply to child centered adoption? It means in the often heated debates about whether adoption is right or wrong I put a few lingual filters in place. Let's take my paraphrases above as examples. When a first family member says "your baby wants to be raised by you," I hear "I wish I chose to parent." When I encounter the same statement from an adult adoptee I hear "I wish my first family had chosen to parent me." These are very valid statements that cut to the quick of the emotional experience they represent. There are more reasons than I can imagine for a person to have these desires and they are legitimate. Similarly "all a baby wants is to be loved" from an adoptive parent arguing against openness says to me "I wish my love is all my baby ever needs."  This, too, is a legitimate desire. Wanting things and experiences, if honest about the needs they're attempting to address, is perfectly healthy. Knowing desires are often terribly unrealistic is also healthy.

I can feel my brain starting to fog over, so I'll wrap this up quickly if, perhaps, tangentially. No doubt you, the observant and critically engaged read that you are, have noted that I've not spoken to whether adoption is right or wrong here. That's intentional. I'm not concerned with whether adoption is the correct choice or a morally abhorrent choice at the moment. My concern is how we speak about adoption and how that reflects our attitudes toward each other. Adoption is polarized on many levels and I'm growing tired of seeing people turning their past injuries into weapons to further injure others. It feels like an east wing versus west wing cancer ward battle to the death. We've all been taken by surprise*. We've all been hurt by the same thing** and are in various stages of healing. A little kindness doesn't seem like so much to ask for. I suggest you be a trend setter. Tell someone that you don't understand, but you care anyway. Tell them you'll never fully know, and you love more deeply because of it.

*Whether it be unplanned pregnancy, infertility, unethical adoption workers, or even being raised by "the wrong family" and encountering stigma externally and internally everyone involved in adoption has encountered a situation in his/her life that s/he would not seek.

**Adoption hurts people. So does chemotherapy. No one wants it, even if s/he needs it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Further Delays

Last week I had oral surgery to remove all four of my wisdom teeth. This week I go back to the doctor to see about treating the thumb-sized bulge of infection in my jaw that resulted from that surgery. Life is fun.

In much more positive news I've returned to my regular work and look forward to visiting with Ms Scarlet, Prof Plum, and little Festus this week! We normally try to schedule our visits for the weekends so Athena and I can travel to their home. That usually results in long, relaxed visits. Good times. Unfortunately this month that just wasn't going to happen, so instead we're all getting together for dinner mid-week. It's not quite as fun but we are going to a really good restaurant so that's something. Hopefully I'll be able to get back on the horse soon. Thanks for your patience and support.

This morning's appointment didn't go nearly as well as I'd hoped. Instead of a check up, more antibiotics, and a pat on the shoulder I got something else. I can now say that on my list of "things to get as surprises" surgery is rock bottom. I now have a stint in my jaw and a follow up appointment on Thursday afternoon. Until then I'm not allowed to eat anything. All liquid diet until further notice. To put the stint in the doctor basically redid the wisdom tooth removal exactly, just without a tooth there. I'm in rather an awful lot of pain at the moment. I may miss the monthly visit as a result. I'm sure I'm terribly bummed out over it, it's just that I'm in too much pain to notice anything else right now.

***Update Mark II***
The follow up appointment on Thursday didn't go well. The stint is still in. The oral surgeon was an oaf who milked my jaw without warning. That hurt. I'm still on a liquid only diet. I can't even have jell-o. I'm struggling to maintain my strength. It's been almost two weeks since I've had solid food. I'm getting weak. The doctors added another anti-biotic to my cocktail of meds. It messes with my brain chemistry a lot. I'm very tired, foggy, uncoordinated, and sometimes dizzy. It comes at random intervals. Some times I'll be fine apart from mild soreness in my jaw. The next thing I know my brain is stuck, incapable of shifting gears, as I stare into space. Athena has come to recognize these times and gently touches my arm or hand to bring me back. She's been an incredible trooper through all of this. She's been taking care of me so long it is starting to show on her health as well. Next appointment is Tuesday afternoon. I'm having the surgeon take the stint out regardless of their suggestion. I can't survive on this diet and I can't heal if I'm starving to death. Here it's worth noting a few things. I'm not allowed to consume anything that requires my jaws to move. Gelatins are out. Nothing fibrous either. Pureed vegetables, unless filtered through cheese-cloth or steel strainer, are out. The major problem with this? I'm hypoglycemic. Not just any old kind. No, no that would be too simple. I have a rare form of hypoglycemia largely unrelated to diabetes. The form I have keeps my metabolism running full tilt no matter what I'm doing. I burn as many calories sleeping as I do working. As an example, I have taken to drinking a large protein shake immediately before going to sleep. I burn through those 700 calories and awake with hunger pains about 6:00am. Doctors often recommend people with my condition set two alarm clocks. One to wake them in the morning for work and the other to wake them in the middle of the night for a meal. So my typical 5,000-6,000 calorie diet has been reduced to about 1,800 because I simply can't push the calories in fast enough. The meds make me too nauseous and tired. I hope to be well soon. I can't take much more of this.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

P.S.A. - I'm out of my mind

That's putting it a bit far. I had oral surgery and will be recovering all week. As a result I'm on significant pain medication (ugh, I hate this stuff) and generally distracted and managing with disjointed thinking and very, very low resources. As such there will be no posts from me this week. Additionally I ask your patience with any strangeness that may appear in any comments I put forth on your posts. Much obliged.

Friday, August 6, 2010

State Birth Father Registries: Call and Response

In review: I asked you to read an article and post your replies. Thanks again to everyone who did. To those who didn't feel compelled or comfortable doing so I understand. I'd also like to know what, if anything, I can do to remove any hurdles you may encounter to sharing your experience. Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any inspiration. Back to the topic at hand I'll now pick apart the article in question myself. I began writing this post last week. I delayed publishing it for a few reasons. The biggest of them was my realization that the post length was out of hand. After reviewing three paragraphs I had better than two pages. I'll attempt to be more succinct this time. With that in mind please be aware that I can't dig as deep into this article as I'd like. There will be a lot of subtle connections glossed over. If there's anything here that you find confusing, as always, please ask and I'll try to clarify my thinking. Without further ado, here we go:

In approaching this article the title interested me. I found the article by Mardie Caldwell looking for online resources and support networks for birth fathers. As I read the article I was particularly horrified by her obvious bias. In the first paragraph Mardie describes birth fathers as men who have impregnated multiple women without regard for financial or emotional support and willfully block the adoption of their children without justification. She does admit that some birth fathers are "devoted." Her definition, however, is deeply troubling. A devoted birth father, according to Mardie, is "interested in being part of an adoption plan and supporting the birth mother as she tries to make the right choices for her child." Here I must become the pedant. The birth father, in order to be devoted, must fully back the adoption decision in total deference to the birth mother. This is evident in the statement that he is "interested in being part of an adoption plan and supporting the birth mother." The implication is that he must support the birth mother's decisions to be dedicated. No mention is made of participating in the decision. Only being part of the adoption is necessary. Nor can he expect support from the birth mother. That doesn't sound like a relationship of equals to me. Furthermore the distance is imposed upon the relationship between the birth father and the child. This is evident in the author's choice of pronouns. It is the birth father's job to support the birth mother as "she tries to make the right choices for her child." The birth father is not making the decision. The child is not his.

On and on she rants about women in poverty caring for multiple children by multiple fathers. The birth fathers in this article are described in unilateral and defamatory terms. I was particularly shocked by the implications that most birth fathers are also wanted criminals incapable of entering a court without immediately being incarcerated. Later the author mentions cycles of abuse and poverty. Unfortunately poverty isn't actually addressed here. That troubles me as poverty is a significant factor in many adoption decisions. I believe it is important to remember that poverty is more than a lack of money, but rather a lack of resources of various types. Lack of time, money, energy, health, relational/emotional support are all forms of poverty that can play heavily into adoption decisions. Instead of discussing this very real problem Mardie speaks only to abuse. Sort of. Here we find one of the most disturbing intimations yet. Here's what she has to say; "[i]f a little girl sees her mother abused, then she will often be attracted to men in her life that will treat her as her mother was treated. The mothers that call us are trying to stop this cycle." Remember that this article is about birth fathers and reread that quote. She has now implied that women making adoption plans are doing so for fear of domestic violence against their children. Birth fathers are now non-monogamous, habitually unemployed, drug addicted, ego-centric, sociopathic, woman and child abusing felons. Among her other irrational claims, Mardie suggests this justification for men objecting to the adoption of their children: "When birth fathers do object to an adoption, 85% say they don’t want the child placed because it will make them look bad." I question the validity of this statistic. More than her numbers I question the point this "article" was attempting to articulate and her reasons for writing it.

Mardie calls for state birth father registries. Her suggested function for these registries is to make adoptions easier for women who's partner's stand in the way of adoption proceedings. The exact process by which this is to happen is, perhaps, the most infuriating proposition yet. Men are to sign on to the birth father registry to confirm their desire to support their child and the child's mother emotionally, financially, and legally. If the men don't sign onto the registry their paternal rights are terminated. This is a legal rat's nest. In order to have rights birth fathers must first be aware of their status as fathers. They must also sign on before the birth of their child. I am unaware of any other area in the United States' legal system where ignorance of one's rights can be used as sole legal justification for stripping those rights. Further, the author mentions no recourse or ramifications should a mother fail to inform a father of her pregnancy. But there's another issue of discrimination here. Among married couples parentage of a child is, legally, presumed to belong to the two members of the married couple. Thus married men are automatically given parental rights of their children. A state birth father registry presumes unmarried men have no parental rights. This would also apply to common law marriages and domestic partnerships. So were a couple to live together in a domestic partnership, have children, and later separate the father would be, at best, presumed a birth father who failed to sign onto the registry. Hence, in our hypothetical situation, he would have no parental, visitation, nor custody rights. The notion of a birth father registry has ramifications far beyond its intended purpose.

Reading this article landed one important point home for me. My interpretation is very simple. Mardie Caldwell's goal in this article is character assassination against birth fathers. When approached as a collegiate argumentative essay her thesis statement is "[birth fathers] refuse to sign for the adoption yet will not provide any assistance in the form of financial or emotional help." State registries aren't mentioned until the final quarter of the essay. That this rant masquerades as support for involved birth fathers is profoundly troubling

Thank you to everyone who read the article and responded. I'm terribly sorry for putting you through such an experience. To be honest I have never encountered such open faced libel against birth fathers. However, despite her best efforts, Mardie did get something right.

"These children need to grow up with parents that love them, committed to giving them the opportunities to be all they can be in life." I can't think of a better description of a first family.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Timeline - An innacurate account off the top of my head

As requested here is a rough timeline for the series of events pertinent to my adoption story. There are two important notions to keep in mind while reading this:
1) Athena still has he calendar from the year of her pregnancy. I don't have it in front of me. I may mix up a few things here and there. No promises on 100% accuracy. I'll try my best.
2) I'm posting this because a reader requested it. I really do take everyone's input seriously and respond directly. If you have an idea, question, or anything you'd like to share with/say to me I'm all ears.

About 2008 - This year I found myself living with a couple (one a good friend, the other his partner at the time) in a house 44 miles from work. Two years post college I was 25 years old. I had been hired at the university in August the previous year. Athena was living with her family and continuing to struggle with Crohn's Disease. Not a fan of major surgery and a lifetime of steroids she was attempting to control it through diet and Traditional Chinese Medicine (herbal decoctions, tinctures, and the like).

February 2008 - Athena contacted me via an art website to commission a piece. It was quite complicated, I was a bit lazy, and getting adjusted to 60 hour work weeks for the first time. It took months or working and revision.

July 2008 - Athena and I met for the first time. The intention was to hand off the piece or find all the niggling details to revise that couldn't be expressed properly over e-mail. We walked better than 12 miles talking and stayed up all night staring at each other. I was in deep smit. I also moved into my brother's empty house. He moved to LA and asked me to watch the place until he could find a renter.

August 2008 - For reasons I'll not get into, I moved out of my brother's house. Significant family strife involved.

September 2008 - Athena and I started talking about moving in with each other because we suck at being apart. The hunt begins.

November 2008 - We moved into our first apartment. I dubbed 2008 "the year of the move." It was also Athena's first move. I was old hat at changing homes and had some difficulty understanding what's so hard about it. Removed head from sphincter and attempt to be supportive.

December 2008 - Athena's health declined. Stress went up. December 27th we get the big news. Stress went up more.

January 2009 - By the end of the first week we'd told both our sets of parents. In the middle of January I decided therapy was a good idea for me and started looking for services. By the end of the month I'd found a therapist and start weekly sessions. Somewhere in there is the visit to the Pregnancy Counseling Center.

February 2009 - We'd settled on adoption and had concluded that extra-familial is the only way to go. Adoption within either of our families felt too messy to consider. I believe this was the month we found Catholic Social Services and started working with them. Lots of reading and crying ensued.

March 2009 - Ultrasound with terrible, terrible, terrible doctor. Immediately transferred care to midwives. Athena's Crohn's symptoms were dramatically reduced.

April 2009 - I was put on seasonal leave at work (annual four month lay off without the benefit of collecting unemployment. My stress about money sky rocketed). Athena and I began crafting the birthing plan. Touring the hospital was a significantly traumatizing experience which lead to the realistic fear that Athena would run away into the woods to deliver the Visitor. Alternative plans started hatching.

May 2009 - Ultrasound with the awesome tech. First positive hospital experience! Midwives found in Athena's home town associated with a private birthing center. Athena and I read piles of prospective adoptive parents profiles at Catholic Social Services. After reading the 11 that fit our initial screening criteria we took three profiles home. There were two that really struck us. One that seemed too good to be true in most respects, with a couple significant reservations. One pretty damn good without much to question. One was a ringer. Just in case. I read each profile at least twice every day for the following ten days. Clawing my way away from depression I managed to celebrate my birthday.

June 2009 - We scheduled a meeting with Ms Scarlet and Prof Plum. Once they're back in town we met. The significant reservations were all flipped on their heads in that conversation. Each concern became a boon. We exchange e-mails and start working out times to meet for dinner et cetera. Athena transferred prenatal care to the midwives in her home town. We became half time residents in her parents' home (practically speaking) for the check ups.

July 2009 - My brother asked that we consider him and his wife as adoptive parents. In the discussion I told him we'd already considered it and laid out our reasons for not going with intra-familial adoption.

August 2009 - We wait-wait-waited. Half way through the month I resumed work. Athena's due date was August 29th. We were praying the Visitor wouldn't show up on her birthday, the 31st.

September 2009 - The Visitor arrived! He went home with Ms Scarlet and Prof Plum from the birthing center. I took a week off work to help care for Athena at her parents' house. The labor was long and difficult. Athena lost a lot of blood and was structurally unsound for some time. After a week I returned to work, leaving Athena at her parents' house to continue her recovery. On the drive home I talked with both of my brothers for three hours about why they were not parenting Festus and why asking for custody now was inappropriate and disrespectful. Athena stayed with her parents for two more weeks before returning to the apartment with me. It was one of the most difficult times in our relationship and in my life.

October 2009 - Visits with Ms Scarlet and Prof Plum continued. Contact was a little weird at first, and somewhat stressful. I often felt, in the early visits, like I was going to a job interview (if I didn't dress right, impress them, make everything easy and pleasant, they'd decide I shouldn't be a part of Festus' life and cut off contact. I didn't really believe it, but that's how it felt). We confirmed that Athena's Crohn's was in full remission.

December 2009 - Athena's family joined us for a visit to Ms Scarlet, Prof Plum, and Festus for the first time.

January 2009 - I terminated treatment with my therapist.

Fast forward to the present. . .

Contact with Festus, Prof Plum, and Ms Scarlet continues and is getting better all the time. At this point I consider them friends I would enjoy spending time with regardless of an adoption agreement. My family still hasn't seen Festus. That continues to be difficult for me. Athena's health remains better today than it had been at any point since Crohn's first manifested. Her pregnancy, in a very real and literal way, saved her life.

Today Athena and I are still together, still living in our little tree house apartment (there's a bay window surrounded by trees. It's quite lovely). We're making plans for our future and long for a dishwasher.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Open Adoption Roundtable #18

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 part of the Open Adoption Bloggers list 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--feel free to adapt or expand on them.
More of the Roundtable
We each interacted with at least one professional during the adoption process (agency, lawyer, facilitator, consultant, hospital social worker, etc.). What was one thing that they did that was most supportive of open adoption? What one thing was least supportive?
Strangely I thought this would be difficult to write about until I spoke with Athena about it. In our conversation we came to realize that we didn't encounter much direct opposition. In truth we didn't encounter any direct opposition from any of the professionals we encountered. Oddly the person who was most directly supportive of adoption was also the least professional person we encountered. That was the pregnancy counseling center woman (the full account is here). But it feels like a terrible cop out to simply put up a link to an old post and say "there it is." However I can't ignore the role that woman had in my experience of Athena's pregnancy and our decision to make an adoption plan. Instead I'll take a different tack and talk about two pairs of people. The two negative experiences we had with professionals and the two most positive experiences we had.
The woman at the pregnancy center was hugely supportive of adoption. She frequently referred to it as "the bravest," "most courageous," "most loving" choice. She was also, flat out, the least supportive of us as human beings. She did, after all, threaten that Athena would die of breast cancer if she had an abortion.
The close second in "least supportive professional" category goes to the obstetric gynecologist at the hospital. The full account of this can be found here. I honestly don't know how much of her terrible bedside manner was related to our adoption plan. It's possible she's just not very good with humans. Early in the visit she mentioned there was a note in Athena's file indicating we were considering adoption. She asked us if that was correct and we confirmed it was. The reason she hits number two on the list is how she ended the appointment. For the most part it could have been brushed off as a bad doctor's appointment and left at that. Until she left the room. Just before closing the door she uttered the one word we couldn't bear to hear. "Congratulation." Here I'll quote from my earlier post because I don't think I can do justice to how I felt hearing that word right now. 
" She had slipped out the door before I could react. I wanted to grab her by her highlights and pull her down to a chair. I wanted to lecture her about the gross insensitivity she'd displayed. I wanted to grab her by the head and shake it until she understood. We didn't plan this. We don't want this. We shouldn't be here! But we're dealing with it. We're being responsible. It's taking everything we have to put one foot in front of the other and survive but we're doing it! This is so hard that I lock myself in the hardware room at work to cry, but I'm still here! Every day takes everything we have but we got to this appointment. We even put up with being treated like cattle on a conveyor. We're trying so hard to do the right thing! "Congratulations." One word and it felt like every sacrifice we'd made had been spat upon. I wanted to breathe fire and melt the building down to glass. "Congratulations" meant this shouldn't be hard. It meant we shouldn't make the adoption plan. "Congratulations" meant we should choose to parent and give up everything we want for each other. "Congratulations" meant she was too busy to attempt understanding us or any situation she'd not found herself in personally. "Congratulations" meant we were too alien to matter."
Those were the bad parts.
Now that catharsis is out of the way let's move on to something sunnier. There were a lot of good experiences with professionals during the creation of our adoption plan. The single most supportive person I encountered was Julie, our adoption social worker at Catholic Social Services. Julie was incredible. She lent us every book she had to read about open adoption. Actually she was the one who introduced us to the idea of open adoption. Neither of us had heard of it before. We were still thinking of closed adoption days where we'd have to negotiate if we wanted to see our boy immediately after birth, let alone after placement! Julie consistently affirmed the difficulty of the work we were doing and reminded us over and over again that this was just a plan. We could change everything at any time. The most important thing was to be honest with ourselves and each other. There wasn't one thing she did. It was everything Julie did.
With an eye at symmetry it only seems right that I should mention another positive professional interaction. This one caught me by surprise. Athena and I went to the hospital for her ultrasound. I believe it was the six month check. We had been preparing myself for a terribly emotional experience. I wasn't sure if I could even be in the room. I promised Athena I would try. Imagine my surprise when the ultrasound tech had us both laughing within minutes of entering the room! We were there for about half an hour chatting away. That was a very important moment for me. Not only did the ultrasound give me the chance to see the Visitor in a new way, but the tech gave me the chance to see the pregnancy in a new way. In observing his approach to us I began to understand much more about the apparent dichotomy we were in. Pregnancy was funny and scary. It was lovely and terrible. It was joyous and horribly sad. It both connected us to life and isolated us. Most importantly all of this was okay. All of it was normal. The Visitor was rolling and tumbling and showing off for us for a solid twenty five minutes. The tech had taken over 100 images. He sifted through and selected the best 30, printed them for us, and headed for the door. Just before leaving he said something that surprised me. "Good luck."  

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reader's Reply

I decided to respond to your comments on "Under Every Freshly Turned Stone" in a new post which is separate from my own review of the article in question. For the sake of clarity I'll reply to each commenter in the order their comments were received. The writer's name links back to the comment in question.

The Mama ~ No need to worry about propriety for my sake. I'll be interested in rereading the article to look for degrading comments about women. Truth be told I only managed to read a couple sentences before making the post looking for others' feelings on it.

Sandy ~ The state registries do seem like a power grab more than anything. I didn't know such a thing existed. Thankfully I was also unaware of how difficult it can be to get a birthfather's name on a birth certificate! It may be because Athena's labor took place at a midwife birthing center instead of a hospital or because I was with her for every appointment with the social worker and signed the same reams of paper work that she did. My name went on the cert right next to hers without a problem. The notion of state registries failing as a result of trans-state adoptions is a very troubling one, nearly as troubling as their existence and their legal ramifications in the first place.

Artemis ~ Thanks for taking the time to comment. In this context "no response" is still a very useful response.

LeMira ~ I second your "first," if that makes any sense. I look forward to rereading the article now more than ever (as much as one can look forward to a nauseating experience) just because of the phrase "macho losers." Reading into what you've written I'd guess that this woman is still rooted in concrete operations (the inability to engage in abstract thought which is necessary to approach compassion from a "what's it like in their shoes" perspective [this isn't intended to be an insult nor insinuate she's dumb. Carl Jung estimated between 70% and 80% of the human population would never reach abstract cognitive operations]. Without abstraction we cannot separate reality from our own direct perception, hence her apparent inability to empathize with first-mothers/fathers). I'd also be a bit surprised (ah assumptions. . . here we go!) if there weren't an element of paternal estrangement and possibly racism involved in her hermeneutic (world-view).

Lia ~ Wow. I definitely didn't get to that part of the article. Wailing children, domestic violence, sleeping around, and total incapacity to express love? This sounds like a real piece of work. I'm sorry for sending you to such a dismissive trollop. But thanks for taking the time to respond anyway.

The reason I asked for input from everyone was to get an idea of where other readers are. It is easy to feel like I'm constantly ripping open my nerve endings and getting hyper sensitized to perceived sexism and pro - life/choice bias in adoption. Thanks again to everyone who responded and to everyone who didn't, that's okay. No worries.

While I have your attention, go here, here, and here. Be the supportive, wonderful people I know you to be. Read with open minds for these ladies have wonderful and very different perspectives. Leave comments of appreciation. They deserve more than they get. They deserve more than we can give.

Be gentle out there everyone. It can be a tough world out there. No need to make it any harder.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Under Every Freshly Turned Stone

I came across this today. I haven't been able to read all the way through the article yet. My mind is still too foggy to write a proper response. Last night's insomnia is doing me no favors. However, I just had an interesting idea. Consider this a call to reader participation! First there are a few caveats (I know, I'm dreadfully predictable in that regard. Please bear with me)

Whether you've been reading for a while or just stopping by I'd like to hear from you. I value everyone's opinion. That includes those that disagree with my own. Please take a few minutes and participate. Anonymous commenting is available. Similarly, if you want to write something but don't want it made public, simply mark it "PRIVATE" and I'll respect your wishes.

Here's the idea. Follow the link and read the article. Then come back here and post your response in the comments section of this post. The idea here is that you get to have a fresh eye at the read without my input predisposing you to experience it one way or another. Next week I'll post my take on the article and respond to everyone who posted public comments.

I'm actually quite excited about this idea so please participate if you can. Lurkers, first timers, and everyone in between are invited.

The Sonless Father

***Please forgive any grammatical or spelling errors. This is an insomnia inspired post and has not been proof-read. Editing and re-posting may occur by Wednesday***

Recently Athena and I visited Ms Scarlet, Prof Plum, and Festus along with Athena's immediate family. Festus wasn't too sure about that many tall people staring at him but he eventually warmed to the idea. That was almost entirely due to Ms Scarlet and Athena's dad playing with and generally distracting him. All in all it was a pretty good visit. There will be more written to recount the events of that later. I bring it up now because it was shortly after that visit that I began thinking about the terminology I use to describe my relationship with Festus.

If you've read many of the other posts on this blog you've no doubt seen me refer to him as my son. I've also referred to myself on numerous occasions as his birth/first-father. What I am wondering is how accurate these terms are. In the abstract sense what do these terms mean? Am I his father? Is he my son?

In a very real and observable way the answer is no. I am not his father. Festus doesn't live with me. I am not responsible for his rearing. He won't grow up calling me "dad" and I'll never be the person he reluctantly turns to in adolescence when things feel out of control. When establishing his individuality it won't be me he's differentiating from. That also means it's me he didn't identify with. These are facts I'm coming to terms with, sacrifices I've made. It may seem strange for this to come up given my primary reasons for choosing to place him with an adoptive family. To reiterate: since childhood I've known I did not want to parent. That knowledge, unfortunately, doesn't mean these sacrifices are without pain. Quite the opposite. They hurt a good deal. While these specific thoughts may not hurt me as much as a person who fully desired to raise his/her child I believe these circumstances do compound my sense of guilt.

Feeling guilty and selfish is something every first-parent experiences.

I've been staring at that sentence for several minutes. Attempting to continue, I've tried out a dozen different follow statements to continue the paragraph. Each time I re-read that sentence a part of me becomes paralyzed. If I open this up I don't get to close it again. I may not get to sleep tonight if I'm honest about this sense of guilt and shame. The truth is that's the deadliest part of the adoption experience for me. It's not the sacrifice, the uncertainty, nor even socially endorsed ostracism. Shame. Despite my best efforts there are still parts of me that wish I could take back the last two years. The strange thing is the degree of compartmentalization. I feel no shame or guilt at all when I see my son. I wouldn't change anything in those moments. All the shame I experience is internalized. I'm ashamed for. . . what? I don't know why. Do I wish I had made different choices? No. Do I wish I had handled Athena's pregnancy differently? Only in rare instances and those usually related to doing dishes or feeling overwhelmed. So why this sense of shame? Because secretly I feel I was intensely selfish in my decision.

I feel selfish because I didn't sacrifice myself and my life for my son. I feel shame because I believe I was selfish. My guilt is compounded because of the circumstances that lead me to place my son for adoption. I didn't do it because I could not raise him. I did it because I would not raise him. That statement is my mental flog. It is rare that it does so but when the self-flagellation takes hold it is more than cantankerous. It is sinister and ruthless. There is nothing anyone can say to me that is more dehumanizing, cruel, or torturous than what I tell myself already. This is one arena in which I feel comfortable saying I speak not only for myself but for most, if not all, first-parents.

All this because I am not a father.

But what of my son? Is he, in fact, my son at all? If I am not his father how can he be? Here is where things get strange and language shows how utterly incapable it is of accurately representing reality. Festus is my son. Just as I am not his father he is my son. It is observable, objective, and real. His hair is starting to curl like mine. There are similarities in facial structure and the build of his body. For eight months (remember, we didn't find out Athena was pregnant the moment Festus was conceived) Athena and I cared for him the best we could. I must say the best we could was damn impressive. I'm very proud of how we responded to his presence. We completely rearranged our lives to aid every aspect of Festus' development. I cannot think of a single aspect of our daily lives that did not directly revolve around care for him. At the end of those eight months I was weary beyond my bones. I hadn't anything left to give. I was completely tapped out. I gave Festus all the help I could muster and I am dedicated to continue doing so until my death.

I am not his father but he is still my son. Prof Plum is his real father. Ms Scarlet is his real mother. He is my son. He is Athena's son.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On not being a Bastard

At this time I feel it's worth reminding all readers that this blog is coming from the context and experience of a birth-father. As a result the focus is on arenas in which men are the silent minority. I know women have a hard time seeking gender equality. It's not a fair world. Men have a lot of advantages, especially so in the professional world. Just as a woman has the right, indeed the obligation, the speak up when discriminated against so, too, do I.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Adoption - The Un-Manliest Enterprise, Part 1

I'm going to be looking at some themes in perceived gender roles, rights of passage, and socially endorsed expression of gender roles in this post. As a result there's going to be a lot of discussion about what "society expects" and some fairly global language about pressures on men , boys, and how they should behave to affirm those identities. I won't waste everyone's time with caveats every time I say something definitive. Consider this the catch-all: every man experiences social pressures differently. This is my experience and understanding. It has been garnered not only by direct experience but also through intensive study of anthropology and meandering study of gender issues in the U.S.A. and abroad.

I've heard since early childhood that if every man could just get in touch with his feminine side all conflict would end, world peace would be declared, famine would end, total racial equality would occur overnight, border disputes would end, global warming would be reversed, and there would never be another natural disaster as long as humanity survived, which would be forever. Naturally. Okay, I made up the one about natural disasters.

Sounds pretty good. So how do we get in touch with our feminine side and get the ball rolling here? Watch Sex and the City, use hand lotion, shave obsessively, consider allowing your significant other (who is a woman, naturally) to put nail polish on you for fun, cry when you see kittens, openly love everyone by giving them lots of hugs and listening intently to everything they say, and start asking people if those pants make your butt look big. Admittedly I made up this entire paragraph. However it isn't very far from the ideas typically expressed about how a man can successfully touch femininity. The general approach seems to be something like this:

Man - Masculinity = Man + Femininity

How wonderfully convenient that it should be so simple. Unfortunately that isn't actually the case. Femininity is its own entity. I believe it is much more than the lack of masculinity. If the equation above were true that insinuates the default position for humans is feminine. Therefore masculinity only shows up what it crushes femininity to take control. Right from the premise we see this is a set up for a fight. If that's our basic understanding of gender there cannot be a constructive dialogue because oppressor and victim roles are already firmly established. More so the oppressor can do nothing corrective to the power structure short of disappearing entirely! Even more dangerous is accepts femininity as being inherently fragile. As a result the only strong sense of femininity is one that is masculinity-proof. This is a very destructive view. It also happens to be the view of many "feminists"* I've encountered.

*quotes used because I believe these women are co-opting a term to lend credence to their views

We also encounter troubling messages on the other side. I recently read a quote from a popular television show that got me thinking about this. On a crime show, the studly, troubled, masculine police officer speaks about his obligation to love and care for his children like this;

". . . it's not an obsession. It's a love. It's a connection that transcends anything and everything. I would die for my children. And there's nothing in the world that will change that. Ever."

Why would he die for his children? Is he going into battle? Does he expect their lives to be threatened by raiders in the harvest season? No. But why wouldn't it be manly for him to respond "I would sacrifice my happiness," "do even what I consider unimaginable for their benefit," or even "I will love them completely"? His statement reflected a preparation for death but not for compassion. Why is this the case? The answer is, unfortunately, a very simple one. In the western world masculinity has become associated with war, ownership, and procreation. From an evolutionary standpoint this makes some sense because it means the man will have resources, the will to defend them, and progeny to carry on the line who are likely to share those traits. In short he's got enough testosterone to keep humanity going. But this has become so overblown as to lampoon whatever biological basis may have existed. We're making fun of ourselves. It's now extended to other arenas. Mild homophobia is manly. Working with large, heavy bits of steel (preferably phallic) is manly. Listening to Country music or Classic Rock is manly, as is driving a pickup truck. Driving a sport car is compensatory manliness. These messages are all around us. All one need do is turn on the television and watch ten minutes of commercials. Oh, right, it's also manly to get skin cancer so one should never apply sunscreen and become very, very tan.

But more than any of that being masculine means ownership and procreation. Those add up to fatherhood. Being a man means being a father. Where does this put first-fathers? The primary directive of manliness has been violated. We have willingly surrendered our child. We have forsaken ownership. Our bravado is now hollow because no matter what we achieve, nor how virile we are, we could not care for our child.

Now I must transition and speak only to my own experience.

For a long time it felt like a formal declaration of inadequacy had been tattooed on my face. Everyone around me could see that I was not a real man. I was an unprepared boy playing dress up in adult clothes. It seemed something was fundamentally wrong with me that I didn't have the ability nor the desire to raise my son. Somewhere inside of me there was a horrible mutation that made me less than human. No matter what I did from here on I was not a man. I was not a father. I was a pathetic freak that would disappear from the face of the earth. Evolution made a mistake with me that it was soon to correct.

I count myself fortunate that I sought therapy as soon as Athena told me she was pregnant. Through those weekly sessions I was able to work through and unpack all the baggage I had brought into the pregnancy and develop a new definition for masculinity. It doesn't have a check list. It doesn't fight femininity tooth and claw for dominance. My masculinity is my own. No one can take it from me because no one gave it to me. It had to be built up piece by piece. Masculinity is the confidence that I am exactly who and what I am. My sense of gender is my sense of self. That is to say I cannot use gender to define who I am. First I had to know myself, then love myself, and recognize my confidence and strength. Then I could look outward to see what it means to be a man. To be a man is to be me.  Just as it is to be you. Or to be a woman.

I know my femininity and masculinity because I know myself. As a culture we're getting the cart before the horse. If anyone has a genuine claim to being a man it is a birthfather. Few others have had to deconstruct and rebuild their identity as thoroughly as an honest first-father.

That's all for the moment. No doubt there will be more on this later.

Addendum  in response to some questions put forth.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Reflection: Lies at the Pregnancy Center

A dark gloom had cast itself over us. No one was surprised. It was early January and the winters here are as grey as they are cold: disturbingly so. It had been a few days, maybe a week, since Athena had broken the news to me. I don't remember exactly how long it was and I'm pretty sure I couldn't have told you then. Days had been melting into one another. Morning and afternoon smearing themselves over into the evening darkness. That can happen when you don't see the sun for a week. More so when what little light there is disappears at 4:30 in the afternoon. When you haven't left your apartment for days, are dehydrated, and so stressed out that the thought of washing dishes makes you burst into tears, remembering the date seems trite.

Around the corner from my parents' house there was and is a Pregnancy Counseling Center. Since neither of us had any idea what to do next Athena and I decided to head there. It was a house that had been converted into a little waiting room and a couple of offices. The girl who was interning as the receptionist was quite nice. Soft spoken and with kindness in her eyes she handed Athena some paperwork to fill out after asking what brought us there. I was amazed at how confident Athena sounded when she replied "I think I'm pregnant." The word still caught in my throat. Every time I thought it I went blank. Every time I said it I felt like it was a guillotine blade rushing down toward me. But there stood Athena, bold as life, saying "pregnant" as though it were any other word. I was amazed.

The counselor came out of her office and introduced herself. She was clearly surprised to see facial hair in the waiting room and commented on how nice it was to see a man there. She asked if we would be comfortable with the intern sitting in on our session to observe. I think we said yes, but I honestly have no memory of her presence. It's possible she did an excellent job disappearing. It's also possible that we said "no." In any case, before proceeding the counselor asked Athena to take another pregnancy test. She explained how it worked ("It doesn't matter if the line is pale, or crooked, or dark, or broken") and sent Athena off to the restroom. Once again the test showed positive in less than half the time allotted. That was a sight we'd grow accustomed to in the future. We sat in a couple chairs and the counselor closed the door to her office. She started giving us papers and flyers with information on them. She talked with us about how it's Athena's choice and she can do whatever she wants to do. I started noticing the way she was phrasing things. I grew suspicious of her reasons for being there. She asked Athena when her last period had been. Neither of us recalled exactly so the woman estimated from the earliest possible date. "So you're seven weeks pregnant."

Here's where the foley artist plays the scratching record.

I won't get into all the gory details of our sex life, but I knew that was incorrect. I knew without doubt that conception couldn't have occurred for another two weeks after that date. So I mentioned this. The counselor replied "well we go by the beginning of the previous period because that's when conception was possible." "So you're ignoring factual information in favor of rough estimates?" I thought to myself. My suspicion of this woman doubled.

More papers were handed to us with phone numbers of organizations to call to get Athena and Festus prenatal care. We were about to leave when the woman asked us "do you want to see what your baby looks like?" My first instinct was to break her jaw right then and there. "NO!" I screamed in my head. "That's not going to represent what our 'baby' looks like! You don't even know how long she's been pregnant!"

"Sure," Athena said. Clearly I wore a look of horror because Athena added "I'm curious." Out came the plastic case with models of fetuses at various stages of development. This was a tactic so brazen I couldn't even respond. I knew there wouldn't be an isolated fetus model. It was a full series. We couldn't see just one. We had to see all of them. Models for everything from one week (which, based on my research since, looked more like one month) to six months. I tried to look away. I tried not to pay attention. I knew this was manipulative horse shit and I would not be taken by it. Despite my efforts I couldn't help but see. I couldn't help notice the woman place her left hand along the edge of the plastic tray that notes the age of the fetus. I couldn't help but see her point to the "Week 11" model.

My outrage was expressed to Athena on the drive home. We looked at the paperwork the counselor gave us. Included was the dark red flyer entitled "Why aren't Women being Told?" It claimed abortion was the number one cause of breast cancer. I wanted to burn the counseling center down. "I know the study they're referencing" I said to Athena, "but this is total crap."

I thought of the college age girl I saw in the waiting room on our way out. I thought of the lies she was about to be told. She would be told that if she was pregnant her choices were delivery or death. She would be told how easy adoptions are now days. The scare tactics would be poured on by a "loving" motherly figure until the girl's mind had been made for her.

This wasn't a pregnancy counseling center. It was an anti-abortion ministry.

I don't much care where one stands on the moral issues of abortion and birthing. It doesn't matter to me when a fetus becomes a human. I do, however, care a great deal for anyone in a vulnerable position who's brave enough to ask for help. When people are lying to frightened, overwhelmed, and confused young girls and women to further their own moral agenda I consider it evil. In my book respecting human life begins with respecting humans.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Absence before absence

I haven't been able to keep my promised posting schedule this week. Life has been getting the better of me lately. Athena has been sick all week. Between work, cooking, caring, and haggling with mechanics trying to get my car functional again there hasn't been much time for writing anything. Let's be honest here. There hasn't been much time for thinking. Fortunately Athena is on the mend. We'll be visiting her family this weekend and should be able to get some medicinal aid for her as well. Unfortunately there's a long weekend coming up which means less writing for a while. I'll attempt returning to a heavier writing schedule next week. There are a couple notions that have been crashing around my brain that need to be fleshed out.

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