Category Archives: Closed Adoption

From grief … a gift

I’m in the midst of losing my grandmother. Losing her to a wicked disease that has transformed her body into a prison from which she cannot escape. Not being able to turn a key became not being able to hold a fork, which became not being able to walk. Now, she cannot speak. But I look into her eyes, a color of brown that Maeve’s crayon palette would deem Burnt Sienna, and I see a world of things she wants to say but cannot. I see a life of experiences she can no longer share with those around her. Recipes and rituals once rote to her are now outside her reach, and outside of ours for posterity. Her body has turned on her.

I watch all this play out before me like a car accident, tires screeching with urgency, yet seemingly in slow motion.

I am not unique, I imagine, in having the childhood memory of riding in the front seat of the family car when a parental arm suddenly flings out, steady and firm against the child’s chest, as the car brakes to avoid an accident.

Today, dear mirror on the wall, I see that I am my parents after all. My arm now instinctively reaches to Maeve, as if I can somehow protect her from the tragic scene unfolding before us. Yet I know that as the matriarch of the family slips away, I must loosen that grip and expose my daughter to certain pain.

As little as two weeks ago, Maeve could run into her grandparents’ home to greet her great-grandmother like countless times before. She’d sit near my grandmother’s chair and they would chat, Maeve bringing to life my grandmother’s pale blue plastic statues of the Virgin Mary in skits of domesticity or glamorous theater like only a young girl can.

Those rituals are no longer; my grandmother has slipped further away from us. My grandmother was there the day we arrived home from our three-day stint in a hotel as new parents. She has since attended her dance recitals, kid-centric birthday parties, and even watched from the front row as a cap-and-gown clad Maeve graduated preschool.

Her presence over the years has taught Maeve to be gentle with her touch, to recognize when someone might need extra help. Like “helping” Gram-Gram to the electric lift chair along the stairs that Maeve not-so-secretly wishes was her own plaything, installed not to give mobility to an ailing parent but rather as a grand gesture purely for a granddaughter and her visits! Or the birthday candles Maeve proudly “helps” Gram-Gram blow out on her birthday cake — this despite my grandmother’s germ-concerned pet peeve about the whole candle-blowing ritual to begin with.

While their lives have overlapped just a handful of years, the two generations are now forever linked by these memories, these threads that when woven together create a tapestry of family history and heritage.

The grief in eventually losing Gram-Gram will eventually be outweighed by the gift of them knowing one another. Each flavored one another’s existence in some unchangeable way that is unique to them — all the while without a shred of shared DNA.

So exactly why is it that so many seek to keep others — with actual genetic proprietary rights! — from living so authentically?

Sealed birth records take what is splintered and force a fracture. As manila files replete with long-sought answers sit in dark, dusty storage units, life outside moves on, time takes its toll and key characters in each story can be lost forever.

Blacking out identifying information weakens the thread of family heritage, to be sure; but such black-lining cannot erase a story that’s already begun. There is no ink dark enough.

Now, I have no pie-in-the-sky notion that every birth mother, birth father and child will link arms, sing Kumbaya and skip into a forever full only of familial bliss. (Do you know any family like this?) Still, we each deserve the opportunity to write our own stories with its full cast of characters. No one should have their story written for them, missing chapters be damned.

Yes, Maeve will hurt when she loses her great-grandmother. Yes, my parental arms will instinctively reach for my daughter, trying to lessen the sting for us both. Yes, I will seek solace in knowing it stings because we were lucky enough to know her, to love her, and to share life with her.

Not everyone gets that chance.

The Adoptee’s Birthright Bill permits access to original birth certificates. A-1406 awaits a posting before, and vote by, the full New Jersey Assembly. Encourage your legislator to support access to original birth certificates. Call 800-792-8630 for your legislators’ names and contact information, or log on to http://www.njleg.state.nj.us for contact information and a full text of the bill.

This is my latest column from Adoption From The Heart’s Adoption News.

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Filed under Adoption, Children, Closed Adoption, Death, Latest AFTH column, Legislation, Making a difference

Finally, some adoption nitty-gritty (revised)

It’s been a while since I got down and dirty here with the nitty-gritty of adoption issues. A long while.

One reason — and seemingly the simplest believe it or not, is the major life changes going on round here for me. From starting my own craft biz geared toward children and also experiencing a serious career-shocker regarding my day gig, it’s been all about new patterns, new priorities and new timeframes in which to manage them. I’m still learning on that one, and from what I can tell, the next month or so will add yet another new layer of  changes to what my life is, or who I am, becoming these days.

(Yes, that was the simple reason.)

The more difficult reason, if you will, for quiet time around here is because I’ve always liked to think (naively, I know, so don’t burst my bubble) that I’m only venturing in here and donning this specific writer’s cap when I have something I need to say, something that’s worthwhile in the moment.

I’ve never wanted this to be a space to talk about the deal I got on such and such at the shop downtown or what I had for lunch that day, and unless I could devote the time to musings:mamahood&more — even after the house is finally still and the thermostat plunges into its insanely low sleeping temperature so my tapping fingertips are numb and hard to move — and be able to say something of value (even if only for myself), well, I’d rather it let it stand on its own. Quiet, but standing tall nonetheless.

Sure, every writer who is a mother and an employee and a juggler of many things she loves has the same issues. So I suppose that’s not the truly difficult part, either.

Rather, it’s difficult because the ebb and flow of adoption as I know it sometimes hits so hard and so personally that I’ve not yet processed it in a way that is 1) ready for public consumption and 2) even something I’ll want to share here.  

Those of you who are regulars here, friends here and in real-life know I’m touched by adoption in two ways. Both my daughter and my husband were adopted. One is meant to be open, the other is terribly closed due to unrealistic laws that disrespect those they affect.

Tonight, while avoiding the To-Do list that sits before me as this weekend is packed with things I must attend/do/finish and prepare for, I popped in on one of my favorite bloggers. It was meant to be a quick read, a small diversion from what I must do tonight before my head hits the pillow.

Instead, the floodgates opened and salty tears came a’flowin. (Yep, I’m lookin’ mighty fine right about now.)

The words she shared today, on the eve her daughter’s birthday, had me awash in tears not only for her and her daughter (whom she placed for adoption five years ago but remains active in an open-adoption arrangement), but ultimately, I suppose, for my own daughter as well.

A few simple sentences and I was a goner. She’s done this to me before, and since I’ve been reading her since Maeve was just a wee one, it’s happened plenty. I dunno, maybe this time though it also has to do with the season. After all, just around the corner from where I sit right now, my family’s Christmas tree sits in all its splendor, centered before two front windows, glistening in its white lights, sentimental ornaments and cranberry garland. My large and stately fireplace is softened by garland Tom has wrapped it in, white lights and berries and all. Our knit stockings dangle with anticipation and the staircase leading upstairs is wrapped in garland and lights and love.

And running about among all this light and love in my life is my beautiful three-year-old daughter. She wakes up each morning to find “her” tree “stayed there” all night and delights in that fact (whatever that means, goodness knows what she’s worried about!). She’s enjoying the events of the season this year as she’s now old enough to participate more actively, chatting with St. Nick today on his lap (“What would you like for Christmas, Maeve?” he asked. “A present,” she says simply, before thanking him for letting us take a photo of them together.)

I am so lucky to have her in my life. Even at 4 am when her cool little hand touches my warm leg as she hoists herself high into our big bed, having just pitter-patted across the hall into our bedroom. And as she works to tuck her legs under the tangle of all the blankets, nestles in alongside me and rests her arm on my hip, she groggily begins a full-blown conversation, pulling me from my sleep:

Can I go ride my tricycle outside now? (Despite it being dark and cold.)

Is the sun still in its nest or has it left to find the sky so the morning can come?

Is the moon tired from all night? Will it sleep all day in its nest, mommy?

Do girls have mustaches? Can I have a pink one? Right …. here? Look, mommy, open your eyes. (She taps me from the oblivion I’m trying to rediscover and points to her upper lip.) Can I have a pink one … right … here?

Despite this burst of inquisitive imagination, within moments of my answers, the rhythm of her breathing falls into a pattern I have come to know as if it were my own.

I cannot help but smile in these simple moments. It’s a reflex gushing with thankfulness for this light in my life. So sweet, so genuine and somehow, because they happen under the cover of night, these moments are even more special, more sacred, more … gourmet. As if I was the lucky recipient of a little bit of heaven. Moments one might not notice so easily had they happened once the dawn, with all its duties and responsibilities, has broken.

It is not at all uncommon, though, that in these joyous moments, her breathing lulling me back to a blissful sleep, my happiness turns to a bittersweet reality. A cloud has rolled in and I am pulled awake again.

After all, no matter how much I love her, no matter how deeply or how perfectly (in goal only, of course) I love her,  I will never, ever be her first mother.

Don’t get me wrong, or jump to an incorrect conclusion: I’m not pondering my own short-falling.  This isn’t at all about me.

It’s not something I can change, no matter how hard I try, who I know, how much money I have or how many magical powers I can muster from a genie’s lamp. I Will Never Be The Woman Who Made Her Who She is.

And therein, my friends, lies Incredible Loss. Loss for Maeve. Loss for B., her first mom.

Loss that I cannot sweep under a carpet or pour into a box to perch on a dusty old shelf to be long forgotten. I cannot do that, because B. is with me every single day. She is entwined in my heart so completely there is no parting us. She’s there because Maeve is there. B is there because of everything she and I have known together, because of how she has forever changed the course of my life, the story I am living.

Bittersweet is an overused and shallow word for what I’m trying to describe. So I will try to say it as succinctly as possible (for verbose me): The depth of my joy in being a mother seems matched only by a constant and acute awareness of a sadness equally as deep.

Anyone reading this who is a mother but who is not touched by adoption, try to gather the myriad feelings, emotions, thoughts and experiences that are permanently wrapped in to your motherhood. A scope and depth of love so serious and raw and real that it’s hard to adequately find the words.

Now take that powerful mix, relish in the joy you feel in being the mother to your children, and add to that wholehearted devotion the strength of your instincts to protect and nurture.

Being a mother means doing everything in our power to ensure our children are whole, healthy, happy and kind. We work to ensure they are comforted in the strength of our fierce love for them and the power it ultimately gives them to thrive.

As Maeve’s mom — but not her first mom — it’s something I struggle with. How can I make her whole? I believe her happiness comes from that wholeness. Yet my very presence in her life is because something else, someone else, is missing.

And not for nothing, but if I feel this strongly, how will Maeve feel as the flesh and blood of a mother not nurturing her on a daily basis?  

This Spring, contact was the best it had been. Leaps and bounds in connections, in conversations, in sharing — whether small, idle chats or more serious discussions.

It was Exhilarating. Exciting. There was Relief.

And then, like a thief during the dark of night, while we weren’t paying attention, while Maeve was busy coming to our bedside and nestling in close, a part of us, a part of her, integral parts to the puzzle assembled ever so slowly since she was born, simply vanished with the arrival … of silence.

I cannot help but grieve the loss for them both, all over again.

Is it an ebb and flow (its own issue to make peace with and make the most of) or was it just too much?

I’ve spent far too long, in those rare quiet moments alone the last few months, wondering. We continue to let B. know we’re here. Our arms are open, our hearts are committed. Tender now from the pain, but our hearts are always, and will always be, ever-so committed.

After all, she is part of us. She is part of Maeve. Maeve is part of her.

The simple sentiments in the aforementioned blog post that released all of this from me tonight were thoughts reminiscent of where the blogger was five years ago tonight.

Five years ago the baby inside her tossed and turned and made her presence known as if she were having “a party” in her belly. Now she recalls that evening and writes:

“I did not know, however, that it was her going away party.”

Today, in describing that night, as she tried to get comfortable amid contractions signaling the end of one part of her journey, she writes:

“It was the last day that I was ever her only mother. It was the last day that she was truly mine.”

My heart hurts for her, for B., for Maeve. As I told this blogger in an embarrassingly long comment, despite feeling sadness for her tonight, I also cannot help but revel in the blessing her daughter has — because no matter how difficult it has been for these five years since placement, she has, without a doubt, stuck it out. Been there. Worked on her pain and healing and kept in contact. Visits. Letters. Phone calls. Emails.

Reaching out to the little girl that is still inside her, although in a different way now.

No matter the road before her these last five years, she has chosen to travel the journey. She has not walked away.

It seems to me it will never be easy. How can such things be? But the path she’s chosen to take, despite the personal struggle it might be at times, is one that brings her the highest esteem from me.

I am in awe of how she continues, for the good of her daughter, her family, and the story she weaves of her life by living it each day.

Jenna, may this weekend’s bitterness and sweetness somehow mesh for you in a way that is bearable.

Happy birthday to your daughter. Relish in wishing the stunningly beautiful girl whose own eyes mirror yours all the very best.

Oh, and Jenna?  Thank you.

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Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Birthdays, Children, Closed Adoption, Family, Maeve, Open Adoption, Parenting, Uncategorized

Meeting Hollee McGinnis of Evan Donaldson Adoption Institute

holleemcginnis.jpg

Tonight my local adoption group hosted Hollee McGinnis of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. A most-interesting presentation indeed — and I’m not just saying that because she drew my name as winner of the raffle for a signed copy of Adam Pertman’s Adoption Nation. Really.

I’ve got more to say on the evening, but I just want to read over my notes and properly digest it all. More to come.

(And as an aside, yes, NaBloPoMo kicked my tush. Sigh. But I keep on keeping on.)

Photo credit: Pam Hasegawa

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Today’s NPR program on open records

If you can, tune in to NPR today at 3 pm (Eastern time) for its “Talk of the Nation” program which promises to be a lively discussion about access to birth and adoption records.

Panelists are Adam Pertman of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, Tom Atwood of the National Council for Adoption as well as a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The call-in number is 800-989-8255 if you’re so inclined.

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Opening adoption records

With all the hubbub today after the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute released its white paper, “For the Records: Restoring a Right to Adult Adoptees” — which recommends every state provide adoptees’ access to their original birth certificates — and news organizations picked up the report, thought I’d offer up the link to the full white paper here.

I’m also including excerpts of the report’s highlights below.

(But first I have to ask, Why on earth is this still such a big issue?)

  • Adopted persons are the only individuals in the United States who, as a class, are not permitted to routinely obtain their original birth certificates. This … raises significant civil rights concerns, particularly given the growing understanding of the need to know one’s history, heritage, medical and genealogical data.
  • Denying adult adopted persons access to information related to their births and adoptions has potentially serious, negative consequences with regard to their physical and mental health. As recognized by the U.S. Surgeon General’s office in its Family History Initiative, biological family medical history is vital to prevention, early diagnosis and treatment … [of] heart disease, cancer and certain mental health conditions.
  • As states have amended their laws to provide adult adopted persons with access to their birth and/or adoption information, there has been no evidence of the sorts of negative consequences predicted by opponents of changing these laws, including intrusive behavior such as stalking by adopted persons who receive their personal information.
  • Similarly, there has been no evidence that the lives of birthmothers have been damaged as a result of the release of information to the children (now adults) whom they relinquished for adoption. … Few birthmothers have expressed the desire to keep records sealed or the wish not to be contacted; indeed, in the vast majority of cases, the converse appears to be true.
  • Another assertion by critics of changing these laws — that abortion rates rise as a result of such access — is not supported by the experiences of states that have re-opened records (or have never closed them); in fact, the data indicate that reopening records may reduce abortion rates and may increase adoption rates.
  • For many adopted persons, the desire to obtain their records is entirely separate from any desire to search for their birthmothers or other relatives; they simply believe — as a human and civil right — that they are entitled to the same basic information about themselves that people raised in their birth families receive as a matter of course. Indeed, many who do get their birth certificates or other documents never search, while others successfully search (a growing phenomenon because of the internet) without any of their documents.
  • Research shows that knowledge of what happened to the children they relinquished for adoption plays a powerful role in the resolution of birthmothers’ grief, thereby suggesting that providing access to birth and/or adoption information can have other positive consequences.
  • There has been scant evidence that birthmothers were explicitly promised anonymity from the children they relinquished for adoption. Relinquishment documents provided to courts that have heard challenges to states’ new “open records” laws do not contain any such promises. To the extent that adoption professionals might have verbally made such statements, courts have found that they were contrary to state law and cannot be considered legally binding.

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What she said, dangit!

“Keeping [birth] records closed perpetuates the myth
that open adoption is a fringe movement,
flirting with the potentially dangerous idea
of not cutting adoptees off from their families of origin.”

***

“Closed records play into the fiction that there is something
shameful in adoptees’ pasts. … They reinforce the idea
that first parents should disappear into the shadows
after relinquishment if they know what’s best for them
and their child. They suggest to adoptive parents that
the only way to be their child’s real parent is to see
themselves as replacements for the biological parents.”

***

“They [closed records] are simply an outdated and unwarranted
part of adoption … premised on the idea that adopted children
needed to be protected from the wayward parents who conceived
them and the stigma of illegitimacy. First parents needed to hide
their shameful secret from prying eyes. Adoptive parents needed to
be able to pretend they were a biological family.”

Wow. Is anyone else hearing the harps and angels sounding — or is it just me?

Kudos to Heather at Production, Not Reproduction who’s written a fantastic piece on the connection — yes, there is one! — between open adoption and the need for open records, both issues of import in this, my little corner of the blogosphere.

Anyone visiting here regularly knows how I feel about the need for open birth records, a position fueled initially by the fact my husband’s own closed adoption and the fact that his very own story is not, well, actually his own. You also know how strongly he and I feel about open adoption, and that we are committed to ensuring our daughter Maeve’s adoption remains that way. (Of course, one day she will step to the helm and steer her own course.)

Heather (she’s over there snug in my blogroll, by the way) makes myriad connections in her piece that had me nodding my head yes and thinking I should check for my byline at the top of it. We are absolutely kindred spirits on this.

For all my hours toiling away here with these issues, she’s got me wishing I’d gone and said it this clearly before. (Maybe I have, maybe not, sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.) All I know is this rings so true with me.

I could keep blathering on about why this piece touched me, how it states so wonderfully why I believe what I do and why I advocate for what I do, but ya know what? I’d be doing it — and you — a disservice.

Just go have a read for yourself.

Now. (Ahem. Please.)

NaBloPoMo Stats: 7 down, 23 to go.

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Filed under Adoption, Adoption Ethics, Birth parents, Closed Adoption, Discussing Adoption, Maeve, NaBloPoMo, Open Adoption, Parental surrenders, Parenting

Adoption and Awareness

As noted in a comment to yesterday’s post (thanks, Lauren!), not only is November NaBloPoMo, the month also is dedicated to promoting adoption awareness.

Let me be clear. For me, promoting adoption awareness doesn’t mean making people aware of adoption. It means making people aware about the issues in adoption.

This means talking. Talking about the absolute importance of ethics in adoption. Talking about what openness in adoption really means. Talking about open records and giving adoptees access to information that is already theirs. It means talking about using respectful language, about understanding adoption more than a predictable cable television movie. It means getting employers to offer adoption leave alongside traditional maternity leave. It means ensuring that all those involved in adoption are treated with the respect they deserve. It means opening a dialogue.

So this month serves to remind me of all these things. To talk the talk and walk the walk. To continue to correct and clarify every single time it’s needed in my own conversations with others about some facet of adoption. Sometimes it’s not easy. I’ve had colleagues, friends, folks in my family — casually roll their eyes or shrug because I care about syllables uttered and terms used and (try to politely) interrupt conversations to right the wrong when it happens. Those reactions are hard, too, because it shows me they aren’t willing to think about it more than the moment at hand — and this is for a colleague, friend, family member. The nuances matter. They serve to change mindsets, to shed light — and stereotypes.

As wife to an adoptee with no access to his own birth records and story, and as mother to a little girl in an adoption where preserving openness is a top priority, the message in this little video is quite appropos. Although it’s been around a bit, thought I’d share it in case it’s new to anyone seeing it here for the first time.

Watch it, then head on over to youtube and comment. If the piece wins the Dashboard Confessional Video Contest, the piece will air on MTV. And that exposure is yet another step toward enlightening those that only know adoption from bad jokes, bad movies and bad examples.

NaBloPoMo Stats: 2 down, 28 to go.

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