Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Weird; Like Normal

For a long time I wondered if something was wrong in our relationship. Was I trying too hard? That explanation seemed very unlikely. Perhaps I wasn't trying hard enough? Why didn't this seem to be going the way I had been told to expect?

I needed to stop measuring by other people's standards and recognizing the good thing in front of me. I had heard about and read so many people describing their relationships with adoptive families I lost focus. So often the description "like my sister" came up, shortly followed by tales of "countless texts back and forth" I started to think that might be "normal".

For a brief time I actually felt a little ashamed that my relationship with Ms Scarlet and Prof Plum didn't resemble those stories. I wanted our relationship to be like a beacon for how good everything can be in an adoption. I wanted to be the wildly successful anecdote people share, secretly hoping the same can happen to them, like when discussing film stars and rock gods. I looked at the markers for that quality relationship and found many of them lacking.

Instead, I found a real relationship. I found the kind of relationship that expresses, and more importantly respects, the strangeness of how our relationship came to be. Let's face it, adoption is a pretty strange way to kick off a friendship. "Hey, here's a kid, let's be friends!" It doesn't exactly fly in most social circles. So instead, I decided to let this relationship be exactly what it is; It's a little weird in that it's completely unique.

We don't get together and hang out at the park just because. We don't send each other endless text messages about our day at work, or the film we just saw. We don't gab like old friends who have known each other forever, because we haven't.

Instead, when we meet (about once every month) everyone is clearly aware of why we're together:

Our Son

Don't get me wrong. I really like Ms Scarlet and Prof Plum. They're great people, and I always enjoy the time we spend together. We have very little in common in terms of factual experience, but we have a great deal in common with regard to temperament. We tend to think and behave similarly, even though our contexts are quite different. But then that's the wonderful thing about this family we've built; we like and are alike, even though we differ.

Our relationship with each other is icing. The cake is everyone's relationship with Festus. That is what makes me feel that this is something to be truly proud of. Our adoption is truly and completely centered on him. Without him Athena and I probably wouldn't have a relationship with Prof Plum or Ms Scarlet. And that's fine. Our relationship is a little weird. It is awkward to explain, but is becoming very natural to those that are in it. We are not like family in the SitCom sense, nor the story book way. We are not like long lost siblings who gab and joke all day. Our relationship runs deep, and quiet. Our relationship is our shared son. We all know it, and we don't need it to be anything else.

The laughter and fun we share, when it happens, is icing. Our son is the cake.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Bonds that Sever: The Birth/Adoptive Parent Connection

The new trend in the adoption world is to view birthparents and adoptive parents as equal and opposite. They are, after all, on the opposite sides of the table when it comes to adoption. One group gains a child. The other loses a child.

But there are significant similarities in the experience of adoptive parents and first parents. Most prevalent is the common experience of pain. That, however, is skimming the surface. Surprising to many is the cause for that pain is also similar; the existential loss that happens before one can approach adoption. The easy connection is to say couples who struggle with infertility have experienced the loss of a child as the birth parents will upon relinquishing parental rights. This is the simplest, most concrete, connection to make. If the experience beneath the factual events is examined, the parallels show themselves clearly, and with ferocity.

The loss found with infertility extends beyond miscarriage. People who struggle with infertility that never successfully concieve can experience just as potent a loss as those who have lost a child that could not be carried to term. That may not always be the case, but it is possible. But what can link the experience of a family, one that has never had the possibility of biological parenthood, to the experience of a first family about to place their child forever in the care of strangers?


The loss of possibility is powerful. It ignores the lines drawn between "us" and "them". It excludes literal experience and context. The loss of possibility is among the worst we can know. Without hope for our future there is little cause to continue caring for ourselves or others beyond stubbornness, and a refusal to give up in the face of certain defeat.

This is what links the experience of first parents and adoptive parents. Each has encountered their hopes for the future, and each has watched them crumble. No matter what the cause of their decision, first parents leave their desires for their future lives the moment they consider adoption (or the moment an inopportune pregnancy is discovered). No one wants to be a birth parent. No one dreams of growing up to place their children in the care of another family. Similarly, no one day dreams about fertility treatments, years of medical frustration and struggle, only to learn the effort is lost. In this arena, too, adoptive and birth parents are linked.

No one wants to be betrayed by their body.

First and adoptive parents also experience similar alienation. The pain in our lives alone makes many around us uncomfortable. The literal source of our pain often makes us pariah. People tend to get very uncomfortable when sexuality, fertility, pregnancy, or birth enter their consciousness through anything other than rose tinted romanticism. To talk about hard realities and trouble in any of these arenas is taboo. In some contexts it may be considered acceptable, but typically only for a short period of time. Effectively, if adoptive or birth parents are given support, it usually expires within a few months. It usually isn't around long enough to get through one pregnancy, let alone the years of struggle and waiting adoptive parents often experience.

But the moment the adoption takes place the experiences diverge significantly. First families typically use the adoption process as a means of reclaiming control of their lives' direction. The birthparents, particularly birthmothers, are in the driver's seat each step of the way until the child to be adopted in placed with the adoptive parents. Even so the impending dates of an expected delivery range and court dates often feel like a slow march to execution. Yes, placing the child is something that has the promise of giving the first parents another shot at creating the lives they want. But there is no promise the lives they want are possible, nor that society will allow someone "like them" to have a good life anymore.

The adoptive family, however, has most of their dread front loaded. The court dates, while nerve racking, are steps toward finalizing a process that gives new hope and possibility. Adoptive parents' pain is redeemed through adoption. The first parents are condemned by it. These two families converge at a point in their lives, though they are on very different trajectories. That, anyway, is the promise of adoption.

The actual experience to follow may or may not live up to any of those promises. Adoptive families can be surprised to encounter significant bias, even disdain and mistrust, for how they built their families. First parents are often surprised at how their experience can become a lightning rod for similar stories. Suddenly the auto-mechanic, the guy bagging groceries, the woman waiting at the bus stop, all have stories about adoption that connect with, and share sympathy for, the first family experience.

But that isn't what it feels like. The promises and realities of adoption often don't agree. The attitudes each member of the adoption community has about others in their midst are often rather misinformed. We have a lot more in common than we give credit for, even if the order of those experiences differs.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A brief visit from Reality

Several times over the past couple of months I've had the chance to visit, talk, laugh, and play with my son.

Each of the visits has been significantly different from the others. One visit included Athena and her nuclear family (mom, dad, and brother). One was just Athena and me. The visit right before Christmas was a special one. It was just me, Prof Plum, Ms Scarlet, and little Festus. Athena was buried under school work at the time and couldn't shake free any time during the crunch of final's week.

I was disappointed she couldn't join me, but as soon as Festus waved "hello" as I entered the kitchen that disappeared. There was a lot of conversation, both between the adults and with Festus. He had just gotten a substantially bigger vocabulary and was all too happy to show it off. Though, at two and a half, it still takes some work to understand what he's saying. Doubly so when he zigs into Spanish and zags back into English mid-thought. All those years studying Latin are showing their worth.

But the real joy of that visit came near the end. We had already eaten and were winding down. I sat on the floor in the living room, knowing that Festus was soon to enjoy his bedtime stories. To my surprise he picked up a book, walked straight toward me, turned, and sat in my lap. He held up the book cuing me to take it from him. Ms Scarlet asked "do you want him to read you your bedtime story?" Again, to my surprise and delight he replied with a clearly audible "yes".

That was the first time my son clearly and demonstrably chose me to do something with him. I had butterflies. My heart leapt to my throat. The only time I can remember that kind of giddy feeling, the disbelief at the joy I encountered, was when I met Athena. In that moment, all doubt that my son knows and loves me disappeared.

That's something I don't talk about much, but it had been a lingering worry. Did my son actually recognize me? Was he starting to know who I am, or see me as someone important, or at least worthwhile? Silly questions to ask of a relationship with a toddler, perhaps, but they were asked nonetheless. And they were answered;