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.