Friday, June 25, 2010

Open Adoption Roundtable #17

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

I'm new to the roundtable notion, but here goes nothing:

The question at hand, courtesy of Susiebook, is what I wouldn't like to tell the other members of my adoption triad? Or what would I rather not know about them?

Unfortunately this is just a wee bit awkward as a fellow member of my adoption triad is also a blogger. However I think I can honestly answer the question without saying everything that I'm trying to keep private. In short I'll be talking around what I'd rather they not know.

Honestly there's only one thing that comes to mind when pondering this question. I consider my family. I don't want the other triad members to know how the adoption plan and current adoption relationship effected the relationships I have with my immediate family. I won't get into the gory details in part because I don't remember enough of them to be accurate. Here's the basics:

Be sure to keep in mind this is a reductum absurdum.

My family never spent much time listening to me. It wasn't until my brothers (I'm the youngest of three) moved out of the house/state together that I had much of a voice. My parents said they never felt like they got a chance to know me before that happened. I was 17 at the time. By most accounts they were a bit late. Remembering that I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that no one believed me when I consistently affirmed my desire never to parent.  Needless to say they were dumbfounded when Athena and I told them we were looking into adoption for Festus.

The following nine months were the most tumultuous of my life. Unfortunately Athena was already six weeks pregnant at that time. It wasn't the pregnancy that was difficult. It was my family. Both my brothers and parents did their best to support us through the process. That meant pretending nothing was going on. It became clear our conversations and actions weren't being taken at face value shortly after Festus was born and went home with Ms Scarlet and Prof Plum. My family chose that as the appropriate time to ask why Festus hadn't been placed with one of my brothers.

I'm already getting more specific than I meant to. The point being my relationships with my family will never be the same. There has been a lot of healing in the pursuant year, but they'll never be the same. The unbridled confidence in the trust and support of my family is gone. I love them. I'm enjoying spending time with them again. They are not the comrades I thought they were. They don't "have my back" as it were.

That's what I don't want my triad to know. I don't want them to know the growth I underwent in the adoption rent me away from my family. I don't want them to know how lonely I feel. I don't want them to know the sense of hurt, disgust, and bewilderment I carry. I don't want them to know because secretly I want my triad to like my family. If my triad likes my family then maybe I got it all wrong. I want to be wrong about them. I want the last two years to be a series of misunderstandings and miscommunications gone horribly wrong. If I'm wrong they didn't hurt me and they didn't ignore me. If I'm wrong they listened to me.

More of the Roundtable

"How Could She. . ."

I've heard the question "how could she do that?" more than I care to. It never fails to impress upon me how certain many people are that their ideology is the right one. Because they've never found themselves in a position to seriously consider adoption they "could never do that" and "can't imagine how a person could do something like that." I think my favorite is "something has to be wrong with you to abandon your own flesh and blood." I often overhear these things said before people know I'm a firstfather.  I'm directly told these things after I've informed them.

The prejudice runs deep. So deep it's considered okay to tell someone they're inherently broken, nigh inhuman, because s/he made a difficult choice. James Gritter has once again addressed these attitudes in a book. I haven't read it myself, though it's now on the list. Fellow blogger Luna reviewed the book and answered a pair of questions about her experience here.

"As Gritter points out, the more compassionate query is what dire circumstances led to such a difficult and life altering decision (p27). Gritter suggests the question 'How could you…' may only be appropriate when posed by an adoptee. 'A question from his soul deserves an answer from hers,” he writes, even though it is “an experience for which there is no adequate language' (p31)." - shamelessly stolen from Luna.

I love that turn of phrase Gritter suggests. "What dire circumstances. . ." It cuts to the quick of things very well. Most often that's exactly the case. Pregnancy occurs surrounded by chaos and a time-limited inability to parent. But here is where the standard version and my story diverge, yet again. I could parent. I don't know how all the details would have worked out but I could have made it work. I chose not to.

My earliest memories of my projected future in childhood involved parenting. In kindergarten I imagined growing up a raising a family much like my own. In second grade I replaced my future career of psychology for my father's in the pastorate. By the age of eight I had changed my mind. I didn't want a family with children. I didn't want to raise children. I couldn't imagine being responsible for another person's life. In the years following my attitude toward parenting has changed a little but not enough to convince me that it's an endeavor I want to participate in. That's the truth of it.

I don't want to parent. I've never been able to integrate it into my sense of self despite years of being told to do so. Much like trying to talk a man into being a woman it just didn't work. It's either there or it isn't. While varying shades of grey exist I don't believe it can be significantly altered nor fabricated. That is why, for as long as my sense of self has been tied to my own experience, I have no identified as a father figure.

I consider myself extremely fortunate that Athena feels the same way. Even more so I'm lucky that both of us were being honest in discussing children before her pregnancy. Our "dire circumstances" were being in a situation neither of us wanted to be, ever.

I think that's all for today.

This post is probably a bit scattered and almost certainly rather negative. Life circumstances are pushing me around a bit and my stress is on the rise. Car trouble is teaming up with low funds to make for a less than joyous week. Hopefully you'll find me in better spirits next week. Until then I hope you have a sunny and relaxing weekend. Good luck to you all and be gentle with each other. It can be a tough world. No need to make it any harder.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Great Visit

When first making the adoption plan for Festus with Ms Scarlet and Prof. Plum the question of how often to visit came up. Pretty quickly we settled on getting together once a month and an incidental contact that may happen in between was a bonus. Athena and I figured that we would want to see Ms Scarlet and Prof. Plum that often just to get a chance to have some kind of relationship with them before the actual placement. We never scheduled a regular time in the month for us to get together. We're all busy people and Prof. Plum has to travel a fair amount for his job. Similarly, in the regular school year, I have to work weekends sporadically so establishing the third Friday of every month just wasn't practical. It's worked out quite well. I don't think we've missed a month yet and the visits have continued to become more and more casual. Then came our visit at the beginning of June.

The wine, in truth, wasn't entirely to my taste. It was a little more acidic than I'm used to, which is strange for a lover of Chilean wines to say. That's the only negative thing I can say. It was a wonderful evening. Athena and I had the chance to see Festus crawl for the first time! He had been crawling for a while, we simply hadn't seen him do it before. He was very happy to show off this new accomplishment for us. Festus was quite the little showman that afternoon playing his musical instruments and grunting excitedly. For the first time in a couple months he seemed happy to spend some time interacting directly with Athena. The previous two visits he wasn't too happy about sitting with anyone who wasn't mom or dad. His coy glances made while chewing safely on Ms Scarlet's shoulder were very cute, but not as satisfying as the toothy (all four of them) grins we got this time.

But the best part was talking with Prof Plum and Ms Scarlet. There was, naturally, a fair amount of chatting about Festus and his latest fascinations. Some of the best conversation that evening, however, was about life in general. It felt less like an agreed upon child visitation and more like two couples getting together for dinner. I can report happily that we, all four of us, enjoy each others' company. Are we to the point where we call each other to make spurt of the moment plans to catch dinner? No. Do I think it's possible to get there? Yes.

It feels like the "hard work" of spending time with each other is really paying off. The awkwardness of the first getting-to-know-you conversations is melting away leaving friendship in its stead. Little by little, brick by brick, minute by minute, we're building a friendship of peers. We're building a family.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Regular Life

This post is a bit of a departure. I'm going to talk a bit more about my daily experience. Normal life stuff that isn't directly connected with my son, my identity as a birthfather, nor the adoption process. If you're not interested in that I suggest skipping down past the break where I'll write a bit about my first fathers' day as a birthfather.

I can now report that the days leading up to Fathers' Day were the most difficult I had to deal with this week. That is, however, not entirely for apparent reasons. There's been a lot of tumult in my life these days. My health has been flagging for a while as I've been combating an infected wisdom tooth for a little over a month now. I haven't been able to work in that time which means no money has been coming in. Similarly I haven't been getting out of the apartment much at all so the only social contact I've had is Athena. Don't get me wrong. I love spending time with her! But it's important to see other humans too. Reading other authors' blogs has helped assuage that a bit but as we all can recognize it isn't the same as a face to face conversation with a good friend.

As a result of not getting out and seeing people, having my daily routine demolished, I've lost a sense of grounding. As Athena put it, "all the cues you normally use to tell yourself that you're fine and life is okay aren't there." Very astute of her to point that out. So I've been feeling emotionally chaotic. It is typical that when I lose a sense of routine and regular little doses of accomplishment (I just built a wall, a bike, a 30' pile of stage-ready rubble) I tend to focus on the negative and dreary side of things. That really came out this week and relates to future plans for the blog here, which is why I mention it.

I've decided that I need to get more regular into my regular life and less digital. So I'm going to be reducing my posting schedule a bit. I've been trying to get something up every day and succeeding in posting at least every other day. I'm going to be stepping to something more like two to four posts per week. There will be a new balancing act going on for me as I attempt to integrate writing regularly about adoption into my normal routines, which presently have been completely supplanted by blogging. Another change you may notice is more focus on the contemporary. So far I've written mostly about the pregnancy and a few examples of the extremely difficult experiences Athena and I had during that time. That was very cathartic. It will continue to be a regular subject but I'll be adding the contemporary experience. The adoption process was a very difficult one, but also extremely successful! Athena and I are quite happy with our decision and have great relationships with Ms Scarlet, Prof Plum, and Festus. In the future I'm going to try to present a more balanced view of what adoption actually means to my daily experience. The subjects I've written about here to date have been very important. It's not surprising to me that I chose to write about what I did. Those were some of the most troubling experiences I had during Athena's pregnancy. In a Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs sort of way it makes sense. I had to get the most pressing issues of my chest first. Now I feel better prepared to move on and proclaim there is light at the end of the tunnel. Because it is true that things get better. My life was never harder than when making an adoption plan. Similarly I've never felt better in who I am than as a birthfather.


I was worried for several days. Not knowing how I would experience Fathers' Day was a bit nerve racking. This was my first Fathers' Day as a birthfather. I went on a tear of reading about adoption and infertility. A part of me I couldn't admit to believed that if I became well informed and well adjusted enough in my understanding of adoption I could avoid any pain Fathers' Day would bring. So I kept reading. I was digging through everything I could find on the experience of adult adoptees and the reckoning that comes with infertility. But there was something that drove me more than wanting to avoid pain this weekend. As I read page after page of anger, hurt, and confusion something kept tugging at me. There was one thought that kept popping up; "don't let him feel this way." I kept reading. I kept going again and again to these archives of rage, pain, and poisonous revulsion. If I read enough I could understand. If I understood thoroughly enough maybe I could empathize with Festus. Maybe he wouldn't have to feel this angry and hurt. If I became an expert on everything related to adoption I could rationalize and explain away every iota of hurt and confusion. Maybe if I knew enough he wouldn't have to hate me.

That was a very difficult idea for me to admit to myself. I was three days deep in my research before I was so upset that I had to look it in the face. It took a long conversation with Athena before I could bring that to the surface. But there was a big surprise in store for me later.

The next morning I awoke feeling better than I had in a week. Athena and I spent a long day relaxing and enjoying each others' company. We purchased a card for her father. Athena also bought a small journal for me to use as a wine journal for Birthfathers' Day. On Sunday morning we planned to make a day trip to her parents' house to celebrate Fathers' Day. First thing that morning I asked Athena what she wanted for breakfast. "Just eggs, I want to leave in the morning." I chose to exercise "dad's prerogative" and made pancakes too. It was a beautiful day. We drove to Athena's parents' house and hung about. We spent time stretching on the carpet, playing in the garden, getting chair massages (her mom is a massage therapist and is learning some new techniques) and eating a fantastic dinner. It was a wonderful day. All except for the drive home, which construction doubled in length.

My closing thoughts on Fathers' Day; Festus will be as he will be. He will love me as he can, and be just as surly as any other adolescent boy. He'll be frustrated by me "not getting it" both when it is and isn't appropriate. There will be many things in common with my own experience. There will also be new challenges that I have made the choice to face. I don't know what they'll be. There isn't much out there about the experience of adoptees who grow up in open adoptions. We're making it up as we go. Today, as a father of sorts, I'm okay with that.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fathers' Day

I may reflect more on my experience of Fathers' Day later. That's not what this post is about. As, no doubt, many of you are aware the Saturday before Mothers' Day has been declare (if unofficially) Birthmothers' Day, I thought I'd personally call for today to be Birthfathers' day.  The Birthmothers' Day celebration this year was an exceptional event. Our local branch of Catholic Social Services did a really nice job commemorating the joy, loss, and general intensity of Birthmotherhood as reflected in the mirror of a traditional Mothers' Day celebration. It was complete with fruit cocktail and unappetizing bagels. I'd like to mark today as special for recognizing the joy, loss, and intensity of Birthfatherhood.

Honoring Birthfathers Today

Make a call. Send a text message. Write an e-mail. Post a card.
Tell a birthfather you appreciate him.

But please, don't say "congratulations" or "happy" unless you know it will be well received. This is going to be a difficult weekend for many men. I recommend the terms honor, celebrate, recognize, and appreciate instead.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A rant about relationships

I promise I won't make a practice of this. I swear I'm not making a regular feature on picking apart comments read elsewhere. Unfortunately I really need to get this out of my head!

I was just poking around reading some blogs by adoptees. It's a very different lense on the adoption experience. Specifically it's one that I feel I need more of if Festus' adoption is to remain child focused, not me focused. So I'm stretching myself a bit and trying to grow. Good for me. I came across a post regarding a facebook group called "Birth Mom Missions." I haven't looked into it personally. I'm a conscientious facebook objector. In the comments section I read the following:

"My head is spinning. I just read over there that God gave Jesus to Joseph for adoption because he couldn't raise him.

God hadn't finished college yet? God was too immature to stand by Mary?"

There are so many things wrong with that statement I don't know where to start. I won't even get into the question of an omnipotent/omnipresent being who is incapable of doing something. There's just too much dumb there and I don't want to get anymore on me than there already is.

But here we have yet another example of the classic stereotypes coming out. The adoption had to happen because he was too immature to stand by his woman. Granted this is an intentionally ridiculous example. But the sentiment remains. This picks at a wound that has been on my mind a lot lately. There are a few common assumptions about why domestic adoptions happen.

1) Money. The first-family can't afford to raise a(nother) child.

2) Drugs/Domestic Abuse/Chaos. The first-family is unfit to parent.

3) Youth. The first-family is in high school or early college and they're "just too young."

4) Dad's a Jerk. The first-father won't commit to staying with the first-mother.

The money issue is often a very real one. It often ties in with reason #3. After all there aren't many people in high school or their first few years in college who are financially comfortable enough to be independent, let alone be able to care for a child. High schoolers don't make that much money. Drugs/Abuse/General Chaos is also a factor not to be underestimated. All of these factors can be very real players in making an adoption plan. As much as I hate to admit it so is #4. There are some guys out there that are just jerks. Plain and simple. It's also true that women can be jerks too. I may be a misanthrope, but I'm a misanthrope of equal opportunity. But there are many more reasons than just four that an individual or couple decide to make an adoption plan. Perhaps parenting isn't right for them. Maybe the parents are in such different places in their lives they can already see no one would be happy if they "stay together for the child." Maybe, just maybe, there are relationship that should end before a child is brought into it.

I chose my words very carefully in the description of assumption #4. The first-father won't commit to staying with the first-mother. There's often a strong emphasis on the first-father's will here. The implication is that if the first-father would "man up" and "put a ring on it" he could live out his days happily with the first-mother and their child. Because he won't commit he has made the willful decision to be unhappy in the relationship. He should decide to be happy and then the adoption would be unnecessary.

It is at this point that I feel I must remind the reader that presently over 51% of marriages in the United States end in divorce.

I don't want to see that number go up. I don't believe that a person can decide to make a relationship work. Unfortunately sometimes things just don't work out. Sometimes love isn't enough. How disappointing a story would Romeo and Juliette be if the strength of their love made their respective families resolve all their differences and they never encountered another problem so long as each of them loved the other enough? No one would buy it because we know it doesn't work that way.

I think it's time that we put away the faerie tale and have a face to face with reality. Most romantic relationships fail. Sometimes someone is at fault. Sometimes circumstances just don't work. Most of the time someone feels very hurt, betrayed, and abandoned. Whatever the reason for the end of the relationship it always results in the same conclusion; the relationship failed.

That makes the ones that work so much more valuable.

Reflection: A happy evening

"I'm going to miss this," I said. The air was humid while Athena and I lay close. I didn't mind the extra warmth on an already hot evening. All my attention was in my hand and the thumping beneath it. "The Visitor" was very energetic in his exercises. I imagined him like a tiny taiko drummer playing the inside of a watermelon. I removed my hand. Athena said "he's stopped." I put my hand on another part of her round belly. Heartbeats later my hand was being kicked again in a rhythmless avalanche of excitement.

In that moment we gave him all he needed. In that moment the love and safety of cuddling on the bed was sufficient. I was in enraptured by the tiny life growing in my partner. The life that was half me, half her, and wholly its own. We could give him everything he needed then. Love and food. We had plenty of the former, and were managing to keep up on the latter. For a few evenings that spring it felt like everything was well in hand. Everything would be fine as we marinated in contentment. In those warm sunsets love was enough for everything.

For a few evenings I was the perfect father.

***Athena's Response***

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Reflection: First time to the OBGYN

I had asked Athena if she wanted me to join her on her first visit with the obstetric gynecologist. She said she'd appreciate the moral support. Unfortunately She couldn't see someone she knew. Before she became pregnant, Athena and I had just moved into an apartment together. I was moving across town while she was moving halfway across the state. Hence she had neither a job nor insurance. Fortunately she was able to jump through all the necessary hoops to get state aid through the a Healthy Families program.
***Tangent: To anyone that believes all state run medical care exists only for abuse and is completely ineffective I have but one retort: my son could not have received prenatal care nor even been born without it.***
It is worth mentioning that Athena has an aversion to doctors. It is, in fact, a very very strong one. She would not go so far as to turn away help that may save her life but it would be fair to say if she doesn't absolutely need a doctor she won't bother with one. This relates particularly to large medical institutions. I did mention that I work for a large university before so you may see where this is going. As we approach the giant medical complex I can see the tension in her body increasing. We make our way successfully to the gynecology waiting room and sign in. There are small children running around playing and more pregnant women than I've ever seen in one place before. As a man I've not spent much time near gynecological medicine. I imagine this may be a close facsimile to the experience of a woman in a welding shop. I'm one of two men present. Both Athena and I are rather exhausted. We have been for weeks. At this point in the pregnancy all I can see is a blackhole in my future and I am steadily walking toward it. Trying to make the best of things we chat a little and tell a joke or two. Our choice to sit with our backs to the rest of the room may not have been intentional on Athena's part, but I admit I didn't want to look at children and pregnant women to be reminded of why we were there. I hadn't taken the reality of what was happening in yet. I was still very invested in distracting myself.

When filling out the paperwork for her patient history Athena asked me "am I seeing a midwife, or a doctor?" I had no idea. We asked the receptionist and figured out her appointment was, by default, with a doctor. We were both very puzzled as to when this choice had been made, and why no one let Athena be the one to make it.

When her name was called Athena and I went to follow the nurse. Stopping in the hallway before getting to the examination room the nurse took Athena's blood pressure. She was hooked up to the machine (it was an automatic pressure reader) and sat in a chair. The cuff inflated, deflated, reinflated, deflated, reinflated, and gave an ornery *boop* sound before completely emptying. The nurse came back, glanced at the machine, hit a button, and walked away. Inflate, deflate, inflate, deflate, *boop*. Several minutes later the nurse came by again, realized the machine was broken, and took Athena's blood pressure manually. That time it was done in less than fifteen seconds and we were escorted into the examination room.

A few minutes late a young woman walks in who I assume must be interning. I am woefully incorrect. Our doctor introduces herself and shakes both our hands. I must now say in my defense it was not only her apparent youth that made me think her an intern. It was her footwear. Knee high boots with three inch heels do not strike me as footwear typically worn by professionals who are walking and on their feet all day. The miniskirt seemed a bit inappropriate as well. After all, as a gynecologist, who was she trying to impress? Let's face facts. She's not very likely to get a date from a pregnant women she treats, so why wear the deep V-neck sweater showing off her lack of bra? Moving on. After a little conversation and flipping through her chart the doctor mentions a note that we are making an adoption plan. "Yes, that's correct," one of us responds (curse my poor memory). "Well, let's do an ultrasound, bloodwork, and something-something." It took a moment for it to register that she meant do an ultrasound now. When the nurse wheeled in the machine and handed the doctor a wand attachment that begged for the nickname "Violator" my face made three little "o"s. At no point in this process had the doctor explained anything she said nor had she asked us if we had any questions. I'm not sure if I had ever felt as sorry for Athena as I did in that moment. A few measurements were taken, a prescription for prenatal vitamins written, and in less than fifteen minutes total the doctor had managed to confuse, violate, and insult both of us. The final twisting of the blade came with one word on her way out the door. "Congratulations."

The doctor had specifically noted earlier, directly asking us in fact, that an adoption plan was in the works. "Congratulations." 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.

On the way out of the office, when scheduling her next appointment, Athena inquired with the receptionist about the midwife practice and what the differences were. After a very brief description she decided to make her next appointment with the midwives, to which the receptionist responded by winking and say "[g]ood choice." Athena had to tell me about that conversation later in the car. At the time I couldn't hear anything. The doctor's statement had thrown me into a state of semi-shock. I could tell people were saying things around me, but I couldn't understand any of it. It wasn't until I was outside of the building walking to the car that my brain hit "record" again and I was fully aware of my surroundings.

P.S.A. If you're a pregnant woman and anything written above relates to your experience, consider asking about a midwife practice. An online search for midwives in your local area often yields positive results and nurse/midwife practices are often covered by medical insurance. Give it some thought. Have a conversation. It could change your experience of pregnancy.

***Athena's Response*** 

Monday, June 14, 2010

As requested

I recently received a comment in which a reader asked that I make my e-mail available. She shared a bit of her story with me and I felt it may be inappropriate for me to make that information visible for everyone without her permission. In response there is now a visible e-mail address on my profile that everyone can use to contact me. Just look to the right and click on that "View My Complete Profile" link. If you're not interested in doing that, here's the mangled version:


To the young woman who wrote the comment requesting the e-mail; thank you for sharing. I kept a copy of what you wrote. If you would like to share it I would be happy to provide a post doing just that. I'll assume you would prefer to keep it private unless you contact me explaining otherwise. Please e-mail me at your earliest convenience.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Quest Continues

More links for information related to birthfathers and their stories.

This website has the best index I've seen to date of resources for birthfathers. Unfortunately the listing for the publications at consistently leads to a fatal java script error that crashes my web browser. I've tried several times to no avail. I'm particularly miffed about this because I was quite excited when I saw this;
"Birthfathers and Their Adoption Experiences by Gary Clapton"
A book I hadn't heard of! Though it seems it can be found on google books here. It looks like there may be a section missing. But in any case I think that anyone interested in reading it who has the financial means should buy it. After all money talks and all that.

Unfortunately I've found to be disappointing. The focus is definitely on birthfather legal rights and advocacy. That's very important work. However there are very few resources for post-adoption birthfathers.

In any case it seems that I've got more reading to do. I couldn't be happier about finding these today! I was worried that there may have only been one book and a handful of articles addressing the experiences, needs, and issues specific to birthfathers.

Tangentially I had a very telling experience while looking for this information today. While trying to find more information on Mr Clapton's book google had an interesting auto-correction idea for me. Instead of "Birthfathers and Their Adoption Experiences by Gary Clapton" it was suggested that I'd have better luck searching for "Birthmothers and Their Adoption Experiences by Gary Clapton." Indeed information on the birthfather experience is so rare that even when searching for the exact title and author of a book on it the search hits are so few that the engine assumes you've made a mistake. I find that to be both telling and disappointing. Any way I wanted to give a quick list of the books I've found so far. Take note that I haven't read all of these and cannot vouch for their quality. One of them has a rather scathing review, but it made my read list anyway. If nothing else I may be able to sit through it long enough to suggest others avoid it. Here's a very incomplete list:

Looks interesting if a bit clinical. I'm very excited to read this one!

Dear Birthfather by Randolph W. Severson, Ph.D - If anyone can find a copy of this please let me know! I know it's only thirteen pages long but it's very important to me to know what it has to say. I'm very interested and concerned about what information is given to young people considering adoption plans.

This is the book I mentioned having a scathing review. The author is a birthfather in a closed adoption. The reviewer's take is he is quite self obsessed and not emotionally honest. It's possible this is true as many people are self obsessed. It's also possible the reviewer didn't want to read a birthfather's story, but rather to read about birthfathers. I'll be sure to post a review once I've read it.

This is an excellent book. Athena and I read this cover to cover when making our own adoption plan and I can't recommend it strongly enough. The reading level is a bit tough. If you're not comfortable with college level reading it will be a lot of work. If you are it is the most emotionally honest and coherent book I've read on the subject.

There is one book that I read that I won't put a link to. The reason is very simple: I don't want you to read this book. "The Third Choice" was dismissive, biased, and sexist against birthfathers' experience of adoption. I felt actively dismissed and antagonized reading it. The "chapter" on birthfathers was nothing more than a short page discussing how we don't care and why we're not around anymore. Since Athena first announced her pregnancy I have, still to date, never been so offended as I was by the authors of that book. That includes the people who ask me how I could give up such a precious baby to total strangers.

Enough of that rant. I'm off to see a film with Athena. After all it's the weekend! Peace of mind and good luck to all of you. I'm pulling for you.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Boss

I had been avoiding it for at least a week, but time was running out. I waited for the screaming of the sawblade to stop before knocking on the door. "Do you have a minute?" I asked my boss as I stepped into his office. I shut the door behind me.

My coworker "M" was working with one of the workstudy kids and the painters were knocking around their shop. I had told M of Athena's pregnancy just a couple weeks after I got the news myself. No one else at work knew. It had been a secret held firmly under wraps for four months. It was imperative that the paint crew not find out! The lead painter's boundaries were so bad I could easily see her throwing me a department-wide party and subsequently begging me daily for custody of my unborn child. Fortunately my boss wasn't that kind of guy. He started out low on the totem pole in the union long before getting to an administrative position. He knew life in the trenches, respected our privacy, and cut us slack when it was needed. All in all, a really good guy to work for.

I only had a couple weeks of work left before my contract ended and I was on seasonal leave. I had to get the red tape out of the way so Athena and I could solidify the birthing plans. "Do you know the university's policy on paternity leave?" I asked. My boss' immediate response surprised me: high-five and "Congratulations." He waxed on for the next few minutes about how "it doesn't really change anything" and "it's a great ride." When there was finally a break in his train of thought long enough I reasserted my question. "Well, really though, do you know what the university's stance is?" He told me he'd look into it and get back to me as soon as he knew.

Fast forward five months. I've been back at work for two weeks and my boss still hasn't gotten any information to me. I've asked him two or three times. Finally he tells me to go see his boss about it. She is very conscientious in her word choices, only referencing my "family situation," not a pregnancy, and certainly not an adoption. She tells me that the university will allow me to use my sick leave to take care of Athena, but since the baby will be taken care of by someone else I don't qualify for paternity leave. She said she was keeping this under wraps and the higher ups didn't need to know everything about it. Apparently letting me use my sick leave was stretching the rules enough as it stood. Later that week Athena gives me the call.

I told my boss and supervisor that I'd take about a week off to make sure Athena was okay. The birthing plan we'd made had her delivering at a midwife run birthing center near her parents' house. That was a little better than an hour away from our apartment. Needless to say I was nervous. Fortunately when the call came Athena was already at her parents' house for a visit. The recovery period was difficult, but I'll get to that later.

When I returned to work "M" pulled me aside first thing in the morning. "I need to tell you about something that happened while you were away," he said. Alarms of all shapes and sizes were going off in my head. "M" tells me the story of how my boss took the news that Athena was in labor. You see, shortly before Athena gave birth my boss asked me what he should tell people when I suddenly have to leave for a week. "Tell them the truth," I said "if someone asks tell them what happened. I'm not trying to lie to anyone, but I don't want to put it on a billboard either." It seems my boss and I understood that conversation differently. As soon as he got my message (Athena went into labor around 8:30pm so I left a message on the answering machine at the shop) he immediately drove up to the other side of campus where all the other department heads were and announced "'I-am' won't be in for a while. Athena is having a baby, and they're putting it up for adoption." The responses varied from the lead painter's "oh my God what do we do?! Should we throw baby shower? Should we have cake? I don't know what to do with something like this! Why didn't anyone tell me?!" to the props guy's "It's none of our damn business and it was extremely inappropriate of you to say that! If you ask me, we don't talk about. It's his business and if he wanted us to know he'd have told us."

Awkward silences were by and large the rule upon my return. No one talked to me about the pregnancy or birth. What little small talk did happen lasted less than a minute. Glances became furtive. It felt like I was a walking bomb. After a week my boss' superior came to talk to me. She said that she didn't know if it was appropriate for her to say anything or not, but she wanted me to know that a woman in the department was an adoptive parent. She suggested that if I wanted the perspective of "the other side of the equation" I could talk to her about it. "I know it can be haunting" she added before leaving.

Since then I've been able to crack the wall of silence little by little. Talking about Festus has become like a secret handshake. When I can talk about Festus and the pregnancy the other person knows I count them as a friend. If I don't talk about him they aren't. It's taken work. Piece by piece I've been taking down the wall and letting people relax about it. The adoption isn't taboo if you're invited to talk about it. It's part of my normal daily life now. Anyone who gets to be part of that normal life is invited into the whole of it. My colleagues don't need to know how my visit last week went, but my friends are dying to know! That wasn't true seven months ago, when Festus was just two months old.

It's a lot of work to demystify an adoption but it's worth it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A quick but important read

This is an important article. It's razor thin, very quick to read. It also illustrates how similar the emotional needs of a birthfather are to a birthmother's.

Written by Mary Martin Mason

To any Randys reading this that is taking part in an adoption:

Congratulations. . . and I'm sorry.

To everyone else; good luck.

A word from our sponsor

There are, no doubt, going to be some changes in the look and content of this blog over the next few weeks and months. It's a work in progress. If there are things that you would like to see here that you don't, please mention it by leaving a comment. There will be some new content coming up shortly that I'm rather excited about.

In discussing the events of the past year with Athena it came to our attention that we remember very different aspects about each event. Truly she has the sharper memory of the two of us. So I asked her to make some posts of her own to add detail and a bit more perspective to my ramblings. She decided she'd make her contributions in the "Comments" section. That way someone who wants just my perspective as a birthfather can read straight through the blog. However, someone who wants a little more detail, more factual information, and more concise writing can read Athena's take on things as well.

That's all for the moment. This concludes this Public Service Announcement.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Reflection: 1st Day, The Big News

It was cold outside. I was in the no-man's-land of time between Christmas and New Year's Day. I had vacation time since Christmas eve and wouldn't return until the students came back in the first week of January. I was already a little nervous when Athena had asked me to go with her to the store to buy a pregnancy test. She wasn't feeling quite right and "had some related symptoms" that could indicate pregnancy. So we went to the drug store. All the while I told myself that we were just being thorough. The pregnancy test was just to rule out pregnancy as a possibility. This was nothing more than due diligence. We returned to our apartment and I tied back the curtain over the large window in our living room. I was inexplicably tired all of a sudden. Looking back now I know I was holding my breath. I lay down to take a nap on the futon, asking Athena to wait for me to wake up to use the pregnancy test. I wanted to be with her when she waited for the result.

Shortly after 2:00pm Athena woke me up saying she had to show me something. "I'm pregnant," she said. Time froze. My limbs went into a frenzy trying to get me vertical. I nearly fell off the futon trying to sit upright. Equal measures of panic, terror, and despair were pumping in my veins instead of blood. Every inch of my body was trying to run away from the rest. There was no where to go but I felt the need to move all the same. I honestly don't remember exactly what happened next. I held Athena. We cried. I paced. We lay down. We cried. There may have been a failed attempt to eat.

My world had burst apart into a million pieces. Every plan I'd made for my life came loose and crashed down destroying everything it touched. My world was eating itself. In the end I wasn't in a new world. There was nothing new or scary about where I found myself. There was nothing. Everything I thought I knew and understood had been replaced by the utter blank vacuum of space. I wanted to ask "how did this happen? How do I go on? How can I be a man now? How can I take responsibility? How can I make this go away? How can I get my world back?" With nothing left to interact with my mind soon fell into a repeating loop asking one question, "How?"

I wish my first response had been to tell Athena we would be okay, that I was going to stick with her, and we would find a way to make everything better. All I could do was cry.

The experience was one of utter devastation. A bomb had gone off inside me blowing apart the structure and sense of my understanding. I could barely string together a complete sentence.

The following two weeks were a blur of weeping, shaking, and distraction. Athena and I barely left the futon in our living room. The only exceptions were a visit to each of our parents, and when I returned to work. Leaving the apartment for the first time after the news, leaving Athena alone, felt like a terrible betrayal. I wanted to stay with her. At the time, Athena didn't have a job. She would be at the apartment all day by herself. I had to go to work or we couldn't pay the rent, but I felt terrible doing it.

***Athena's Response***

Monday, June 7, 2010

An introduction and a smattering of loosely jointed thoughts

After wondering for some time where to begin I've come to the conclusion the only possibility is in the middle, which is where I am.

I am a birthfather. I am reviled, distrusted, and maligned. That is when I am remembered at all.

I've come to recognize this because when I look for resources, ask for help, look for someone to talk to, I find myself my living room washed up on the shore of a sea of 404 html errors and vitriol. There simply isn't information out there for us. Indeed  many people are more interested in taking revenge for their past hurts or demonizing a person in a situation they don't want to experience than there are who actually want to help. It is easier to envisage a person who callously tosses out a woman and child than to imagine the struggling with an adoption decision personally. Society does this with lots of demographics to make life feel a little calmer and a little easier to predict and control. If unplanned pregnancy only happens to the promiscuous, those uneducated people that don't use birth control, the drug addicts, the poor, or the foolish then it is possible to predict. If it only happens to "those " people all one need do is not fall into any of those categories. I know this thought process too well because it used to be mine. I thought I had purged it. I thought I had grown up better than that and I couldn't be so prejudiced as that. I was well adjusted and politically correct. After all I was college educated, working in my field at a prestigious university, and was very cautious and calculating in nearly everything I did. I learned that I am one of "those" people because chance and random events can effect me just as easily as they can someone else. When that happened I went to look for help and found it lacking.

Even those who do wish to help, including professional adoption workers, have their hands tied by a dearth of information. As my partner and I began looking into adoption we read every book the social workers at Catholic Social Services had available for us. The book that we both liked the best, The Spirit of Open Adoption, by James L. Gritter, very intelligently discussed the need for more participation on the part of birthfathers and also the need for more information about there experience. Very little work has gone into understanding what the process of adoption is and means for fathers.

Unfortunately birthfathers are largely silent because they are most often presumed to be "dead-beat-dads" who walked out on the birthmother the moment she announced her pregnancy and never looked back. While that makes for excellent television it is quite far from the truth. Many birthfathers don't know of the existence of a child until the adoption plan is already underway of the placement itself has happened. Those are the cases one hears about where a birthfather comes out of the wood work to claim paternal rights and wishes to claim custody of the child. Here in lies the danger of birthfathers staying silent. What little is heard is combative and unusual. The majority remain silent and do not address the inaccuracies of the media portrayal. As a result it's assumed that all birthfathers are going to be problematic and including them in the adoption process is considered an unnecessary risk. Being pushed off to the side makes the birthfathers feel even more powerless than they already feel (and there are pages worth of material on the subject of powerlessness for men in adoption) while also denying them an opportunity to voice their feelings and concerns. So to break it down,  a child is removed from a man who feels it is his duty to act as the child's protector, while simultaneously pushing the man further and further away from the process for fear he may do something irrational or reactionary. I can think of one other situation that functions on this precedent; bear baiting. A bear is stalked to its cave. The baby is removed. The bear becomes hostile as a result of its young being endangered, itself cornered, and only seeing one way out the bear attacks. In the context of adoption the bear attack is replaced with last minute litigation.

Most men don't go that route. Most birthfathers disappear quietly into the night because that's exactly what they're being asked to do! Mary Martin Mason, author of Out of the Shadows: Birth Fathers' Stories, related in an article for Adoptive Families Magazine (found courtesy of Birthmother.Com here) that "[i]n most adoption cases, everybody wants him [the birthfather] out of there. He's a legal problem. The birthfather and the birthmother may no longer be a couple. What happens is, he often exits, and everybody's glad he's exiting." However, in the same article, another advocate of adoption, Washington, D.C., adoption attorney Mark McDermott marginalizes the role of birthfathers to that of a risk to be contained. "I refer to that as the number one way to avoid contested adoptions, by treating the birthfather as a real issue on day one," said McDermott. "By treating the birthfather as a real issue." Not a real person. I don't need to be Freud to see what ideas lie behind that choice of words, nor do I need to be Jung to recognize those are not humanizing patterns of communication.

But why should any of this change? Why should I be concerned about the way we talk about birthfathers? I am concerned, not only because I am one, but because there are so many out there that society doesn't see or recognize as men who have gone through a significant hardship that merits both celebration and help in healing. After all, every successful adoption story has a birthfather, even if he never knew it happened.

I have chosen to end my silence. I choose to speak.
I am a birthfather and this is my voice.