Category Archives: Making a difference

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

NJ advances open records, family leave legislation!

It’s been quite a busy week here in New Jersey for legislators and those with a stake in adoption-related laws.

Two bills — which for many years have floundered at various stages of the legislative process — have each made a substantial leap forward, and hold more hope than ever for adoptees seeking open access to their birth records, and new adoptive parents seeking paid time off to care for and bond with their new family member.

The state Senate approved S-611, a bill that would allow adoptees to obtain their original birth records — and therefore their medical histories and heritage — which currently are sealed under New Jersey law.

Adoptees at least 18 years old or the adoptive parents of a child would be able to petition the state registrar for an original birth certificate listing the biological parents’ names.

Birth parents would have one year after the bill takes effect to request their name and address remain confidential. Those seeking to do that, however, would be required to provide a health and cultural history every 10 years until they turn 40, and every five years after that.

Despite the bill’s decades-long battle, the Senate voted 31-7 to approve it without any discussion! The Assembly version of the bill is before its Human Services Committee.

Sen. Joseph Vitale, the bill’s sponsor, said after the vote, “Through this legislation, we’ve taken pains to balance the needs of adopted individuals to know with the needs of certain birth parents to maintain anonymity. For New Jersey’s adopted residents, this bill is about fairness, giving them the same opportunity to know where they come from as non-adopted people.”

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Paid family leave in New Jersey — which includes those having just adopted a child — is now also considerably closer to reality than ever before. The bill, S-786 — which has had its share of tweaking over the last few months, beginning as a 12-week plan, later reduced to a 10-week program, and stands now as six weeks’ leave — was approved 22-16 by the state Senate.

The full Assembly will consider the bill in the coming weeks and, considering it’s a bill generally favored by Democrats and opposed by Republicans, it should do well in the heavily Democratic Assembly. Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine has said he will sign the bill.

This would make New Jersey the third state to allow workers to take paid leave to care for a sick family member or a newly adopted child. Since 2004, California has allowed workers up to six weeks paid leave, and as of October 2009, Washington will allow workers five weeks’ paid leave.

New Jersey’s program would be funded through an estimated $33 a year per employee, taken through payroll deductions. Those taking the leave would receive two-thirds of their salary, up to $502 weekly.

The video of all the proceedings is here — click the March 3 session — about 90 minutes of debate and then the vote on the paid family leave legislation, and then a very fast vote (less than one minute!) on the open records bill.

Hoo-rah!

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Filed under Adoption, Adoption Ethics, Adoption leave, Birth parents, Family Leave, Legislation, Making a difference, Paid Adoption Leave

Survey for first parents

Received a heads-up about this very important survey from an adoptive mom friend of mine.

It’s actually for first parents, and the letter accompanying the survey link is written by Roberta MacDonald, chairwoman of the North Carolina Coalition for Adoption Reform and the state’s representive on the American Adoption Congress.

She explains the goal of receiving input in the Surrender Survey Project from at least 600 birth parents by the end of 2008. 

According to the study preface, the aim is for the project to become “the most comprehensive study of parents whose parental rights have been relinquished or terminated resulting in their children being adopted or remaining in foster care.”

It notes that the collection of “accurate data regarding attitudes, perceptions, beliefs and practices affecting parents in these situations is vital in formulating legislation in areas of family preservation, foster care and adoption.”

An opportunity to get one’s voice heard, indeed.

The survey is here.

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Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Discussing Adoption, Legislation, Making a difference, Parental surrenders

She’s a star in my book

Before I get this ol’ girl back up and flying again with some fresh thoughts, I first must point everyone toward the pink star in the upper right sidebar. It’s for Judy, a dear online friend who often has made her presence known here in mamagigiville, and whose own blog I haunt.

Her adoptive mom status was our initial common denominator, but it’s her that keeps me coming back. She’s sassy, supportive (personal e-mails exchanged with her some time ago are just one of a gazillion indicators of that), wise, thoughtful, snarky as all get out, and she doesn’t match her socks. She’s wife to Frank and mom to six-year-old Nate, whose smile is as juicy and full of light as they come. 

Last month she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s navigating a new path now and trying to decipher each bit of medical information as it comes. Although there’s been a hiatus here for a while, I check in with her at Just Enjoy Him each day, like so many others, for an update or to show my support. If you’re so inclined, please take a moment to head there and offer her a simple sentence or two of support. The power of your kind words will last infinitely longer than the time it takes to send her a message.

In addition, the pink star planted in the sidebar leads you to a page for Judy, hosted by Dawn of This Woman’s Work, that lists some simple wishes from Judy herself, and some good ideas from Dawn. The star is a perfect symbol of our support and love for someone who is, herself, a star.

Several years ago, I participated in Avon’s three-day, 60-mile New York walk for the cure. Although fierce rain and eventual flooding actually cut everyone’s adventure there short (Ack! Took me three days just to dry out!), I raised several thousand dollars in my personal journey honoring several family members and friends affected by breast cancer. While those efforts certainly are just a tiny, rippleless drop in the vast ocean of efforts to find-a-cure efforts, each of us can continue to effect change — even one drop at a time.

In addition, of course, to making a direct donation to fund research in finding a cure, here’s a list of the current corporate partners of the Susan G. Komen For The Cure. Click individually to learn about their contributions to breast cancer research each time you patronize their companies.

Also, 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of The Power of Now tee through the retail store LF goes directly to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Yes, that’s right. 100 percent.

Until, as Judy says, she “Evicts the B*tch,” this pink star remains at the top of my blog, as she remains at the forefront of my thoughts each day. Fight the fight, sistah!

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Filed under Adoption, Friends, Making a difference, Relationships

I think I can, I think I can (celebrate)!

Thanks to a fellow blogger and adoptive mom for reminding me that there are reasons to celebrate adoption. (Sound strange to some? Let me explain.) Although this is National Adoption Month, “celebration” hasn’t been a word I’ve been throwing around much.

After all, adoption is a very serious subject. There’s so much to consider, so much involved, so much to understand. There is loss. Inevitable loss, from first parents and first families to culture and more. And facing that loss, with my daughter in the forefront of my mind, is hard. It weighs so heavily on me. Add in the matter of ensuring that this and any future adoption be ethical and whew, boy! So much to think about, worry about, carry around in myself.

So for me this National Adoption Month has been about using my own experiences with adoption to educate. It’s been about taking advantage of those conversations, working to make a difference in how others perceive adoption, working to ensure that Maeve’s first mom is respected and that others understand how open adoption really works. In fact, I wrote about how I planned to spend this month in my latest AFTH column. And I stand by all of that. The month’s just half over — there’s plenty o’ educating to do!

But there is also room for celebration, too, and my sincere thanks to Judy for the most-needed reminder.

I carry around with me all the hard parts of adoption because I love my daughter. I love her so much that the hard parts impact me because I cannot help but think how they will impact her as she grows. These concerns don’t rest very often, and when they do, guilt creeps in and takes hold.

But, given all the concerns about the myriad hard parts of adoption, the truth of the matter is, adoption is how Maeve came into my life. There are beautiful parts to adoption. No, that’s not all there is to it, of course. Not by a long shot. But there is beauty and happiness in it too, and those moments mean so much.

After all, adoption gave me the most beautiful, funny, sensitive, silly, determined little girl to nurture and love each day. I am lucky enough to share my life with her and hers with me. She is my amazing daughter. My daughter through adoption.

Recognizing this — I mean actually taking the time to breathe it in and feel it — doesn’t take away the importance of all the other things wrapped up with adoption and doesn’t negate the loss involved. No, but I think it’s alright to relish the happiness she brings, that I hope I bring her, the happiness and joy in being mama to a little girl that makes my life seem like it’s playing in full technicolor.

Having this beautiful soul in my life is, quite simply, cause for celebration.

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Filed under Adoption, Adoption Ethics, Birth parents, Discussing Adoption, Love, Maeve, Making a difference, NaBloPoMo, Open Adoption, Parenting

Smell the fresh ink?

My latest column is up over at AFTH, and as usual, the link to it remains nestled in my sidebar. But in the interest of saving you a click or two, here’s what I had to say in :

Changing Leaves, Changing Minds

Some use the start of the new year as reason for reflection, as motivation for listing lofty resolutions dependent on powerful will. Me? I do this long before Dick Clark begins his countdown.

Maybe it’s the childhood ritual of beginning school, fresh-faced and ready for a new start, or maybe it’s because November brings with it both efforts to give thanks and raise adoption awareness. Either way, as the crisp autumn air nips at my toes, I’m contemplating what I — both an adoptive mother and wife to an adoptee — can do better.

This year not only will I continue to respect these roles of adoption in my life personally — which includes a commitment to my daughter’s first mother that she’s needed in our lives — but I will transform everyday situations into teachable moments that matter.

When discussing our open adoption, if folks mention Maeve’s first mother “taking her back,” insisting on co-parenting and existing only to confuse Maeve, I will, without waffling, dispel the untruths and undo the damage of Lifetime movies.

When asked about Maeve’s “real” mother “giving up” her child and whether she has “moved on,” I will explain we are both real mothers, that there’s nothing in her adoption choice resembling giving up on her daughter, and I will remind them that filling someone else’s arms with your child isn’t the same as losing a favorite stuffed toy.

I will applaud television networks and programs portraying adoption and its triad in an accurate and positive light. I will just as fervently contact those making adoption jokes or depicting birth parents as anything less than they are. When represented accurately, adoption’s mystery diminishes and our children benefit.

I’ll write municipalities I’ve long lectured in my mind, explaining that adopting a road is nothing like adopting a child. I will demonstrate not only how “sponsor” suits their needs just fine, but how their use of “adopt” makes my job of raising a healthy, well-adapted adult that much harder as I need to explain the difference between cleaning dirty roads and forever loving a child.

This Nov. 17, not only will I ensure adoption-related books are read in my daughter’s daycare and our library, I will volunteer to read them myself. And then I’ll encourage their use year-round, not just because a calendar dictates it.

I will make all these everyday moments really matter.

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Filed under Adoption, Adoption Ethics, Birth parents, Children, Children's books, Community, Discussing Adoption, Latest AFTH column, Maeve, Making a difference, NaBloPoMo, Open Adoption, Parenting, Promises

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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Filed under Adoption, Adoption Ethics, Birth parents, Closed Adoption, Discussing Adoption, Legislation, Making a difference, Open Adoption, Parental surrenders