Monthly Archives: January 2007

Introductions, of sorts

meetingmaeve.jpg 

Meeting Maeve: Her ‘Wave’ Hello

In one phone call a year and a half ago this week, I became a mom. And almost exactly 24 hours after receiving The Call that would forever change my life, I met my daughter.

My husband and I watched her get wheeled into the hospital nursery where we sat with anticipation. She had only been in this world a little more than two days, and she had just spent the last moments with her birth mother as the only maternal force in her life.

Still clad in her hospital-issue pink blanket and medical bracelet, she was about to meet us, another set of parents.

Days later, after we returned home from a hotel stay in Maeve’s birthstate while we awaited the legalities of waiting periods and signatures, I wrote a note to a good friend who also was waiting for The Call that would change her life. It was a hard letter to write, knowing that my experience was exactly what she was waiting for. But in all our planning and dreaming during the process and while we waited for word, we had agreed that we wouldn’t let the difficult emotions in not being placed affect our ultimate happiness for the one who would become a mom first. We both acknowledged the pain it would cause, yet we understood that we had shared the journey and we planned to share the destination together, too.

And so I wrote her with a heavy and cautious, yet full and fulfilled heart, and hoped our promise would hold.

(Her wait would not last much longer. Our daughters are three weeks apart.)

And speaking of heavy hearts, that day, of course, was more to us than the start of our family. It was bittersweet in that we left the hospital with a child and another mother left without her child. The note below was written as a chronicle of our experiences those several days because I feared that, in time, they might fade from memory. (It has been edited to protect Maeve’s privacy.) Perhaps I wrote it then from Maeve’s viewpoint because I wanted to record the days’ events as simple and straightforward as my memory would allow. This is what came of those desires:

***

Dear ‘Aunt’ Maureen,

My mom has told me so much about you in the little time I have known her, so I thought I should introduce myself.

My name is Maeve, although my indecisive folks still don’t have a middle name for me. I was born three minutes after midnight Sunday — 12:03 a.m. July 24.

I was born 7 pounds, 0 ounces, and 20 inches long. Scored an 8 and 9 on the Apgar test. I look like the lightest of cocoa milk, mom says, with the deepest rose-colored lips that form a little puffy heart when I sleep.

I have soft, black, straight hair. It’s short, though, and seems to have a slight wave, so maybe it will be a little curly when it grows. I have good lungs and like to test them out every once in a while. But really it’s just for fun, because I get to watch mom and dad run around trying to make me as happy as can be.

I stayed in the hospital with my birth mom until Tuesday afternoon, when these two very, very nervous and frazzled people came to meet me. I was wheeled into the hospital nursery after spending quality time with my birth mom, who also would leave the hospital the same day as me. She was not yet sure if she wanted to meet my adoptive parents.

I know my mom will tell you some funny stories about how the nurses insisted she sit in a wheelchair to leave the hospital with me, or how she and dad had to pass muster of the “carseat nazi” (as she was introduced to them) before they could leave with me.

They lived the next very strange couple days in a hotel, just staring at me, feeding me (I eat a lot and very fast), and making sure I keep breathing. I initiated them very quickly in the how-to’s of diapering. I don’t think they’d thought about things like cleaning the umbilical cord area (gross, mom says) until I came along.

I snorted a lot. At first they were worried about it and kept looking it up in Baby 411, a book they received from my aunt, mom’s sister. I know mom would recommend it to you because when The Call comes, she says you’ll be surprised how much you suddenly have to look up “just to be sure.”

Thursday morning, mom woke up feeling sick and shaking, and had to keep herself from throwing up. I think it was because it was our last day in the hotel and if ever things could change for the three of us it would have to be that day — since my birth mom still might decide to parent me herself.

After all, mom had just spent days memorizing every inch of my body, including finding a tiny, light-colored birthmark on my back that eerily matches one on her own back.

(I think she might love me too much already.)

The phone in the hotel rang a lot. It was my mom’s parents, my dad’s parents, friends and other family wanting to hear about every little thing. Some even asked my folks to find a hotel e-mail account to send photos. Wow, it sure seems like there are lots of people waiting to meet me!

One phone call on Thursday came earlier than expected, which had my parents thinking it was to tell them they needed to bring me back. Instead, it was to say that my birth mom was on her way to sign the papers and that she had decided to meet them after all.

Upon hearing this, my mother had to keep from throwing up her insides. She was both scared and happy at the same time. (Boy, you adults sure are complicated!) I wish I could talk, so I could have told them there was nothing to be nervous about. I had just spent the last 10 or so months with her and she is a kind and gentle woman.)

In a strange city, they stopped at the best store they could find — a Barnes & Noble — to find a special photo album for my birth mom. They wanted to explain to her that it was symbolic of their promise to send her photos and letters very often — and that they planned on filling it for her.

Dad stayed with me in the car while mom looked around inside. She found a pretty, light green one with embroidered flowers made from tiny pastel ribbons. She liked it so much she bought two — one for my birth mom and one for me. That way, if my birth mom ever sends us anything, it will go right into my album and I will always know we each have the same book.

Mom nervously fidgeted at the register, unhappy with the gift-wrap choices. She didn’t seem to think anything was going to be good enough for the very important person she was about to meet. She chose the best they had while rambling something to the cashier about ‘meeting her daughter’s mother’ and ‘the store needed more options’. Her hands were shaking when she paid. (I think she might have scared the cashier.)

By now, all the paperwork was signed and my birth mom was waiting for us. I would definitely be going home with my new family today.

We arrived at the adoption agency. Mom was trying not to cry and dad was carrying me in the carseat carrier. He definitely was calmer than mom, who I am learning is very sentimental. I think this meeting was very special to her.

We entered a small white room with white wicker furniture and floral seat cushions. My birthmom stood up and shook my parents’ hands and hugged them both.

They sat and talked, at first idle chat, as they all watched me look beautiful (which, mom says, is evidently very easy for me to do) in my carrier, set on the floor between them.

Mom asked my birth mom if she wanted to hold me. She seemed surprised my mom would offer. “You wouldn’t mind?” she asked. “Of course not,” my mom said. My birth mom held me for a while and it was really nice.

Later, when it was time for me to eat (I do like my bottle every three hours, after all) mom and dad asked my birth mom if she would like to feed me. Again, she seemed surprised they’d asked, but said she’d love to.

She touched my face and looked at me a lot. I noticed mom and dad were watching intently too, because these were some very nice moments for all of us.

My birth mom gave me a stuffed puppy with floppy ears and soft fur. It sits in my room on a bookcase where I can always see it. She really seemed to like the photo album my parents gave her. She asked them if she could please send me Christmas and other cards. My parents said, “Yes! Please, please write anytime you want. You are always a part of her and we want her to know her story.”

My mom and dad learned that my birth mom chose them as my forever family because she really liked that my dad was adopted too. She said that as I grow up and have questions, dad would be a good person to help me.

She really must have thought hard about what she wanted for me. (Moms are like that, ya know.)

When it was time for everyone to go, my moms hugged and my new mom said, “Thank you soooo much” to my birth mom while trying to hold back tears. But it was too late for that, she was already a blubbering mess.

(My mom later said that “thank you” felt strange and empty because they were just words and hardly enough. She asked my dad how to adequately thank someone so strong and so brave for sharing their child with you.)

As they hugged, my birth mom said, “Oh, please don’t cry, I will cry too. And I was doing so well.” But she also started crying and they just held each other for the longest time.

Then mom and dad drove me to a place they called home. I met more family: a grandma and grandpa were waiting in the driveway, and soon my aunt, another grandma and grandpa, and a great-grandma arrived.

I also met a cousin! (I can’t believe I have a cousin!) He brought me a drawing with a note that says he loves me. He’s four. I know I just met him, but I really think I love him too.

Mom doesn’t put me down much, but dad says she’s had just about 10 hours sleep since Monday when they first learned about me, and she should rest. Sometimes when her “feeding shift” is over, she doesn’t wake dad. She says it’s so he can continue to sleep, but I think it’s also so she can stay with me. She runs her hands over my face, my hair, my toes. I think she still can’t believe I’m here. When she does finally sleep, she wakes up later worried it was all a dream.

My mom wants me to tell you, ‘Aunt’ Maureen, that she can’t wait for your phone to ring too so we can all celebrate together.

Please say hi to ‘Uncle’ Paul, who I hear is a really fun guy and is very tall — so I look forward to riding on his shoulders! (And don’t worry, I’ll share my dad’s shoulders with your new baby, too.)

We’ll all have so much fun.

Love, Maeve

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Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Children, Family, Friends, Gifts, Husbands, Love, Maeve, Parental surrenders, Parenting, Promises, Relationships, The Call

Book, marked

Judy over at Just Enjoy Him wrote a very interesting post about Jeanne Marie Laskas’  book, Growing Girls. I haven’t read the book, although I know of it and its columnist-author.

That said, Judy excitedly launched into the book only to come to a screeching halt on Page 4 when she read this (emphasis added):

Anna was adopted from an orphanage in China. She was eleven months old when we got her on a clear February afternoon in a hotel lobby in Nanjing. She was wrapped in a fluffy orange snowsuit decorated with little white cats. I stopped thinking about her birth-mother the same day they drove us by the spot on the street in Kunshan where Anna was found when she was just a few days old. I just couldn’t bear to think about that ghost-woman anymore. What good would it do to keep worrying about her and hating her for what she did. “I was born in China,” Anna will say. “And then you came to get me.” That’s right. That’s the story. I don’t know when to fill in the details.

I’m hoping, as I noted in a comment to Judy, that somewhere in the book Laskas comes back to that sentiment and explains it or, better yet, confesses she might have felt that way initially, but later realized this might not be the best stance to take — for her daughter’s sake, if nothing else.

Whatever the circumstances of her daughter being left by her birth mother, it seems that we must consider the circumstances and context in which it happened. Western society, even with its own issues and assumptions about adoption, is far different from the mindset in China. She can hate that her daughter was left behind, and she can hate the circumstances that may have driven a mother to make such a decision. But isn’t declaring “hatred” for the “ghost-woman” who gave birth and life to Laskas’ child burdening the girl with knowledge that her own mother hates the woman she came from? After all, her birth mother is a huge part of her history, a huge part of her. It just doesn’t make much sense.

Maybe someone has read the book and can explain all this away? If so, please enlighten me. (I know, I know. I hear you. “Respect another’s feelings and experiences, Gretchen.” But sometimes it’s just so difficult to understand.)

Maybe I’ll just have to read the book myself in search of the answer.

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Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Children, Family, Parenting, Relationships, Someone else said

Adoption and shadow-chasing

Zara Phillips is an adoptee, musician and author of Chasing Away the Shadows: An Adoptee’s Journey to Motherhood.

Last night I met her and I heard her story. Let’s just say, she tells it like it is.

It was frank, honest, stark, poignant, sad, angry, raw, real. And as an adoptive parent, it was very hard to hear.

zaraphillips.jpgGuest speaker for a local adoption group, Phillips shared with attendees her experiences as an adoptee in a family that swept adoption — even simply the mention of it — under the rug.

Growing up in England as one of two adopted children in her family, Phillips had a plethora of questions. Why was she “given away”? Did her birth mother not love her? Was she not pretty enough? Did she do something wrong?

Questions that, I imagine, in some shape or form enter the mind of many an adoptee. Problem is, she never felt safe in asking the tough questions or even in admitting there were answers she needed.

She discussed how, as a child, she desperately wanted her parents to broach the subject, to offer explanations, and when there might be none, to simply talk about it. She’d plead in her mind for her parents to realize what she was thinking. She’d ask herself: Why can’t they hear what I’m thinking? Why don’t they see what I need? Why don’t they just know?

Phillips explained that when she would finally muster enough courage to ask her mother about her adoption, it was usually while she rode in the car. After all, it was easier that way. No eye contact.

She shared a conversation she’d had with her mother when finally, it seemed, she might have an ally, perhaps even headed toward some answers. At the very least, someone with whom to share her burden.

Phillips’ mother told her that if she ever wanted more information, wanted to search for the answers, she would help her.

But her mother ended the offer with this sentiment: But if you choose to do that, it would devastate me.

And so Phillips remained quiet.

She noted her parents were advised at the time of her adoption there was no reason to discuss it further, that the adoption was done, and that was that, end of story. Nothing left to say.

And that is how it was. In fact, according to Phillips, her father — an attorney and later a judge — still, to this day, has never used the word “adoption” with her.

It’s not that her parents didn’t love her, she explained. Her parents gave her the best in education, private schools and more. They had good intentions, despite all the debris piling up under  the rug. Now, years later, she thinks they did what they could with what they knew. 

As Phillips’ story continued, she explained that her own behavior, like her brother’s, would eventually turn destructive: drugs, promiscuous sex, hurting herself. It was after finally becoming sober Phillips realized many of her problems inevitably returned to the same theme: her adoption and its secrets.

Within a year, she’d found her birth mother. She passionately described the moments before she met her, the panic outside the door.

Now in reunion more than 20 years, Phillips poignantly talked about how she’d hoped meeting her birth mother would “fix” her. And she believes her birth mother had hoped the same for herself: that meeting the child she had placed decades earlier would “fix” what she needed fixing too.

She’s frank about the fact that although reunion didn’t mend everything, it gave her pieces to the puzzle. Pieces long missing, swept into darkness.

At first Phillips didn’t tell her adoptive parents that she’d begun a search for her birth mother for fear they’d want nothing more to do with her. When she did finally share the news, she mentioned she had learned that her birth father was Italian.

Her mother told her they’d already known that. Phillips described that realization as a “kick in the stomach.” After all, a piece of her puzzle had been so close, yet so hidden.

zaraphillipssings.jpgLater in the evening, Phillips performed several  songs from her CD, “When the Rain Stops.”

She played song after song, the audience asking for more. Some weren’t adoption related, some were. Her acoustic presentation of one such song, “Secrets,” was among my favorites.

My husband, an adoptive father in an open adoption and himself an adoptee in a closed adoption, asked for Phillips’ thoughts on today’s prevalence of open adoptions.

In answering, she reminded us that young children love freely and don’t inherently decide one person should be loved while another shouldn’t. She advised: Don’t fear talking to your children about their adoption and sharing what you know. Your child’s need for the pieces of their puzzle doesn’t mean they love you any less. The completed puzzle is their story, a “fundamental” part of who they are. I’m sure that in that moment I was nodding my head in relief and agreement.

The unsettled feeling I’d had earlier as she detailed her pain began to unseat itself from deep in my gut. Yes, I thought, relieved, this is precisely what I’ve believed and expressed myself. And Phillips, with her firsthand experience, has come out the other side proclaiming the same. In speaking with her afterwards, she and I discussed openness in adoption; she asked what it was like for us and our daughter to visit with her birth mother at our agency’s annual picnic.There were a variety of questions posed last night by audience members diverse in their makeup — birth parents, adoptees, adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents.

Some seemed to identify with Phillips while others hinted at a simpler journey. One attendee asked whether gender plays a role in how one’s adoption is processed. That is an interesting notion, after all: If women, as child-bearers, generally have an innate need to nurture — would a female adoptee have a harder time reconciling the fact she was placed for adoption?

Phillips also touched on questions that arose during her own pregnancies, things she hadn’t thought of or realized until she herself was about to become a mother.

At times dark, Phillips’ story also was, simultaneously, hopeful. Echoing her lyrics and the lesson to be learned from her journey, the message I took away from Phillips’ talk was simple enough:

Stop the secrets. Let in the light.

To learn more about Zara Phillips, visit zaramusic.com.

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Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Children, Family, Husbands, Love, Making a difference, Music, Open Adoption, Parenting, Relationships, Someone else said, Still learning

Three cheers for Cheerios

You know you’re a parent when ….

you’re in the bank or at the office or in the grocery store and you reach into a pocket or purse for change or a pen or a piece of paper only to retrieve fingers full of Cheerios.

Have these little crunchy circles of cereal inevitably found their way into the nooks and crannies of your life? Have you read and re-read that yellow General Mills box on your kitchen table more times than you care to count?

Well, it’s all about to come in very handy.

Seems the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and WomenHeart: the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, an advocacy organization representing 8 million American women living with heart disease, are partnering with Cheerios for “The Heart Truth” campaign.

Beginning this month Cheerios will donate $1 to WomenHeart for every online code entered through Jan. 1, 2008, up to $500,000.

So:

1) Wrestle the yellow box from your child’s hand.

2) Look for the “Circle of Helping Hearts” code on the back (specially marked boxes).

3) Enter the code at www.cheerioshelpinghearts.com.

4) Bing, bang, boom, you just sent a buck.

5) Sit back, feel proud and tell a friend to do the same.

(And it just might warm your heart, too.)

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Filed under Charity, Children, Making a difference, Parenting

Relief

pinkelephant.jpg

Canvas I painted for Maeve’s nursery school classroom, the Pink Elephants

Funny thing happens when you become a parent. It’s just like the adage: Having a child is like having your heart walk around outside your body the rest of your life.

I was e-mailing with an old friend who now lives in Seattle, and was trying to express to her the relief I felt — and never saw coming — once I became a mom.

Sure, there was relief the procedural part of the adoption was done. A welcome reprieve, that is, until we do it again to welcome a sister or brother for Maeve.

But that’s not the kind of relief I mean.

Now, as Maeve is embracing her toddlerhood at full throttle, I see the bigger picture of our lives the last year and a half and I’m relieved.

I’m relieved that in this big picture Tom and I aren’t the lead characters anymore. That we’re not so, well, important. There’s relief in knowing someone else comes before me.

Another friend, in a similar conversation, asked me if what I described wasn’t simply tantamount to meeting a mate.

I know what she means, I do. Meeting and dating and loving and marrying and living a life with Tom is extraordinary. But that love is yet another kind of love. A wonderfully worthy love. But different.

I’m not sure I could have completely understood it before Maeve came into our lives. Sure, I imagine I’d be thinking right about now: Yeah, yeah, I get it lady. Parents love their children. Incredible bond. Twinkle in their eye. Yada yada yada.

But now, I really get it. The years Tom and I spent growing and learning as individuals and as a couple, making decisions, buying a home, accepting jobs, taking vacations, even purchasing household things together — these are all parts of crafting a foundation. They are all parts of a wonderful, memorable, smile-inducing journey.

Yet our focus was one of self-interest. No, we weren’t living an egoistic life of pure self-involvement, but we only had to think of us.

Funny how goals shift, priorities change, plans and adventures take on a different hue.

There’s a satisfaction in realizing that old dreams of having the latest electronics, seeing the newest movie or donning a trendy outfit don’t matter much anymore. They just don’t come close to being truly gratifying.

Instead, gratification comes from all sorts of unexpected places.

It comes in spending two long nights painting a baby pink elephant in a diaper for Maeve’s nursery school classroom, as part of my gift to them for teacher appreciation week. I worked so intensely because I needed her teachers to know just how much I appreciate their care and attention and love for Maeve, the child whose well-being matters more to me than I ever knew possible.

Gratification comes in reading a book to Maeve and seeing the light bulb click on in her mind. There’s even gratification in her gently wiping my nose with her used tissue, like she did tonight. Because I know that her intentions are good and come from love.

It’s gratifying to work alongside Tom in crafting a family life worthy of Maeve and the childhood memories that are still just a twinkle in her eye.

No, the spotlight no longer shines on us. Instead, it’s aimed in its bright and blinding glory on the little girl who stops to smell (actually, blow) every flower she passes, on the little girl who ate sand her first (and second and third) time at the beach, on the little girl who lets out a satisfied “Aaaaaaaaah” after every drink from her sippy cup.

It shines on this little girl who scrunches her face into a gravity-defying grimace and sticks out her tongue in disgust as she sniffs her shoes or socks. (Even the clean ones.)

And yes, there’s even gratification in knowing that the shoe sniff — albeit not her most demure moment — is something I had first done in an effort to summon a giggle from her pudgy cheeks. And now she sniffs with abandon to summon the same from me.

Sometimes I giggle. Sometimes I laugh so hard I snort. But every time I take her little paw in my hand, hug her hard and kiss her scrunched-up face.

Relieved.

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Filed under Adoption, Children, Family, Friends, Husbands, Love, Maeve, Parenting, Relationships, Still learning

My winning weird ways

Good news. It seems my submission in owlhaven’s Weird Things About Myself meme were so weird that I tipped the Weird Scales in my favor — and get to take her Very Interesting Person Award home with me. See Exhibit 1, below right, in my sidebar. Ha! Who needs the Golden Globes?

Although this winning is fun, it does cause me pause. After all, I took the prize for being weirdest in the land.

Righty then. I’m off to fill my well-cured coffee mug and select a perfectly dry spoon with which to stir the sugar.

All this weirdness is making me thirsty.

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Filed under For fun

Weird ways

So all readers of owlhaven were tagged to partake in a meme that essentially asks participants to reveal an oddity (actually, six) about themselves. Seemed fun, so I’m jumping in.

Six Weird Things About Mamagigi:

1) I cannot drink from a glass or eat from a utensil or plate that is still damp from being washed or that I have witnessed being washed. It must first “cure,” by sitting in the hutch for a while. You’d think I’d have a specific amount of required drying/curing time, but I don’t. Just don’t rinse a glass (even one that I was just using) and then immediately refill it with something and think that I will touch my lips to the rim. Aint happening. Eeeeeeeek.

2) I can’t discuss bodily functions or fluids, as explained here, without using the word “unmentionable,” contorting my face and feeling flush.

3) I don’t ever use the highest setting on any appliance/electronics for fear of, well, exhausting the machine. I know. Strange. So, if I’m trying to boil water on the stove, the burner is never turned up to 10 which is the max, 7 or 8 will just have to do. I tend to stay in the middle upper range of the power option — no matter the device (this applies to stereos, hair dryers, dishwashers, you name it.)

4), 5) and 6) Seems I’m having trouble coming up with three more. Perhaps the first three are just so weird they account for the second three? I could ask my family and friends — but I fear what they would contribute.

So, let’s leave it at three. Yes, three.

A perfectly respectable number.

Now, what about all of you, dear readers? Tag, you’re it. Gimme at least one weird thing about you. And if you’d like, feel free to submit one Very Cool Thing about yourself to balance the scales. Come on, I dare you, delurk and tell me more about you.

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Filed under For fun