Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Unpleasant Truths

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

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

I do not want to parent. 

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


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

We're different. It's okay.

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

Penis = Man
Vagina = Woman

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Trying to be Human 101: Assigned Reading - Splendid Doormats

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

An excerpt from Lifegivers: Framing the Birthparent Experience.

Splendid Doormats

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

Trying to be Human 101: Dignity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Open Adoption Interview Project 2011: Mrs R tells all

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

For more of the interviews, please visit the list.


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

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

I have been personally involved since 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Adoption Interview Project

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

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

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

Friday, November 11, 2011

Balancing the Personal Checkbook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Magic Number

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

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

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

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

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


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

0.00000000319% of the population.

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

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

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

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

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