Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thanks, but I'll pass

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 25, 2011

On Why I Disappear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People make me sad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Applicable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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