Choosing Children. Or Not.

Adoption as a choice.
Not a default. Not because of. A choice.

This is a vent post.
I am currently frustrated. Intensely, immensely frustrated by a post I just read on a friend’s facebook wall where someone stated that to actively choose to adopt or stay “sterile” for the sake of not having children, and so that you could have sex without procreating, he didn’t believe was biblical.

Song of Songs seems to suggest otherwise.

He also believed that women are saved through childbirth – a little out of context as the Word clearly states that women and men – both are only saved in the Christian faith through the Cross. In other words through Jesus.
That aside.
When did we become the police of people’s choices to have children, or not to, or how to?

I selfishly love the spaces & freedom my friends who choose not to have children invite me into. Not because I don’t want to be a mother. But because it speaks to other parts of who I am and who they are.
Before we got married my guy and I spoke about how we were going to grow our family. My vision was ALWAYS adoption. It was just a matter of when we were going to adopt.

Not because I want someone else’s child, but because the reality is that there are children who need to be in families and I wanted to be a mother and actually, I still continue to want to be a mother.

I don’t have strong need to be pregnant. The only time I did have strong need for this was after 6 months of considering this as a possibility and knowing that it mattered to my husband AT THE TIME and wanting to honour him in this – the perfectionist in me felt the need to get this right. Sadly, we had a miscarriage, but even so, according to the Gynae, there was absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t fall pregnant should we CHOOSE too. See that word? It’s been a loud one in my head and heart.

We did adopt. We have a gorgeous one year old son.
We want him to have siblings. We have recently wrestled and worked through which way we want to grow our family next. We have prayed about this. We have spoken at length to each other. We have sat with the options individually. We have had to take a long hard look at our motives and ourintentions and selves (the good and the ugly) and come to a decision.
A decision based on CHOICE.
A decision based on who we are, where we are, who our son is and what we believe about parenthood.

Regardless of whether people come to the point of adoption through the initial plan A or a journey with the grief of infertility or a journey of life not working out quiet the way they envisioned with a partner – It’s a CHOICE. It’s a choice to love another. (Like you choose to love your partner who wasn’t born to you). It’s a choice to do midnight nappy changes, feeding, teething, hospital visits, interrupted sleep, reallocating budget. It’s a choice to be a parent – regardless of whether we get there through sex, adoption or marrying someone who already has children.

It’s a choice to not be a parent too.

Our lives exist outside of our children, we are people apart from our children and they are people apart from us.

We have the freedom to choose. Most of us reading this anyway.
Maybe we need to honour other’s freedom in this too.

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Violence

itisnolongeri

I’m definitely not a violent person. In fact, I hate all forms of violence and don’t ever see causing pain as a useful solution to any problem. However, this week I have really wanted to hurt someone, like take someone and physically harm them, and shatter them to pieces with my words at the same time! I wanted to demonstrate my power over them because of my outrage for how they were dominating and hurting someone I love so deeply. I can see how people have gotten to a point where they think redemptive violence might just be ok.

I’m not proud of feeling like this, and while my violent urges have almost subsided, my anger has not. I don’t actually think it’s supposed to just yet, but the question I’m checking with myself is if this anger is breeding hopelessness or is this anger broken-heartedness? Anger that leads to…

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In your eyes I see me

In my son’s eyes and through our relationship I am finding out things about myself – some just at a greater depth than what I knew existed. Some new.  Some expected, some unexpected – both affirming and areas for growth.

Last month was a month which magnified so much of all of this.

The discoveries of new.

The knowledge of what was known.

The challenging space of dealing with what was known intellectually but I was confronted with emotionally and physically.

I feel like I am still playing catch up.

Like at times, a lot of time, I need to remember that I can breathe out and not just in.

Last month saw the whole household hit with survival spaces in different ways.  The car broke down twice.  The dog spent a night at the vet.  My husband was ill.  I was ill and bed bound – something that hasn’t happened in months and months.

My son.

This was the hardest part of all.  My son was ill and just didn’t get better.

Despite the conservative alternative approaches.

Despite the modern medicine approaches.

Despite resting.  Despite everything we tried.

He just kept getting worse.  It was exhausting.  It was frustrating.  It was perplexing.

It left me feeling helpless and questioning the parenting decisions that we, I, had made around certain issues.  It left me searching for concrete answers and affirmation.

I found myself often looking into his big beautiful eyes and seeing my reflection and in doing this needing to confront my biggest, deepest fear.

My biggest fear is losing someone close to me.

During all the screenings for adoption, we were asked about out biggest fears.  My gut response is this:

‘to lose someone close to me’

I recall this fear when my mom was in hospitalised for a triple heart bypass 6 years ago.

I recognise this is in my worry when my husband used to ride a motorbike to work in wet and windy conditions and I would hear ambulance sirens from our apartment.

This past month though I had to live through it.  I have only once been able to acknowledge to a friend how afraid I was without bursting into tears.

Right now, the floods are threatening once more.  The floods are getting less though.

I am so grateful for the fact that we had doctors who picked up a rare and uncommon, but not unusual, to quote the paediatric cardiologist, illness.

I am grateful for doctors who were honest enough to say that they were concerned by the fact that my son wasn’t responding to the ‘big gun’ medication and that while the tests were all showing indications of different things, that my son wasn’t responding to the treatment of these.

I am grateful for doctors who are humble enough, professional enough to consult colleagues and talk through possibilities and options.

I am grateful that the day after the turnaround happen, our paediatrician said to me that he had gone home and was starting to feel desperate himself about what would happen next if the strategy we were employing didn’t yield a positive response.
I am grateful for nurses that were compassionate and understood that making sure my son was comfortable despite the raging, repeated temperature spikes was as important as observations and the clinical parts of their work shift.

I am grateful for friends, like Belinda, who came and helped me make my son comfortable, repeatedly.  Who in her professional role as a nurse knows things, who in my role as friend knew what I needed emotionally and physically to get through this.

I am grateful for visits and meals and prayers from many people.

Right now, I am grateful for the space to remember to breathe out even if there are still tears in this

The day my son was admitted to hospital I thought about Mary (Jesus’s mother). Elizabeth (John’s mother),  Hannah (Samuel’s mother) and committed my son to God.

My heart was at peace.

It was also aching.

After repeated days and nights of him struggling to breathe, of seeing him not responding to meds, of seeing the impact of his body trying to deal with different things (and now the peeling skin as a reminder of what his body has dealt with), of eventually feeling fobbed off with this is “just” and recognising that this was more than that, I am grateful to God for the peace that came in that commitment.

I am grateful in a weird way for a nursing sister mom who verbalised that this fear wasn’t ungrounded if we hadn’t made the decisions in managing this like did.

I am grateful for a demanding, busy, mischievous, chatty, dancing, affectionate little boy.

So, now I get to breathe out.

And remember that we have lived through this fear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before the Birthday Candles

I lit a candle tonight and reflected on the fact that we get to celebrate my son’s first birthday soon.

We get to celebrate the laughter, the giggles, the mischief and snuggles that is fully him.

We get to reflect on the joy of the last 6 months of being his parents. The joy in seeing him sit up, cut teeth, crawl, walk and speak his first basic words to us.

Before we celebrate the sweetness of adoption though, the bitter part of the grief of adoption has shown itself.

I told him his basic adoption story again this evening – he has heard it before.  It is his story after all, as much we are a part of it and he is a part of ours.

His story, the details of which are his to hold onto or tell as he grows.

Tonight on reflecting on our beautiful son and how awe inspiring it is to see him growing before our eyes, I was reminded of the fact that he is going to have things to deal with that we can’t pretend he isn’t.

I was reminded that  for 9 months, he grew under his birth mom’s heart – and as much as people say that adoption is when a baby grows in your heart instead of your womb, this baby grew under a heart in another’s womb and that is a part of his story.

It is a part of her story and now it is a part of our story too.

A friend recently reminded me that the Psalmist speaks in Psalm 139 of being knit together in a mother’s womb and not being hidden from the start.  She reminded me that my son was known from the start as much as we didn’t know him from the start.  I was reminded this evening that as much as adoption was always part of how I planned to grow my family one day, of the conversations my guy and I had prior to marriage that, this plan brings with it a story of loss for two others – but that they are known too.

Tonight I want to make sure that he knows that we will stand next to him in responding to the things that are going to be his to deal with as he matures into manhood.

More than that, before we think about candles on cakes, tonight I lit a candle and want to honour a birthmother, who a year ago was preparing for labour and to relinquish (the details of this are hers and his) the baby who became our son.

I want to honour her simply for being his other mother.  We don’t know her and she doesn’t know us and yet our life stories are intertwined.

So before the candles celebrating a year of life are lit, there is another life I want to honour tonight and have no idea how do that.

Other than to pray.

To hold the space with my son and to say to this other mother that you are a part of our story always.

In a respectful way.

In a way which honours a decision you made.

In a way which honours our son.

In a way that honours the unknown between us and yet shares a life.

Tonight I simply want to honour you.

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JUST STOP it already…unless you have the go ahead!

When I have to body block you, a stranger in a shop, in order to reduce the stress my child is experiencing from you repeatedly trying to take him out of my arms, it’s my more polite way of shouting JUST STOP IT.

My child is a cute, engaging little PERSON and when he is comfortable with people he knows, he will demonstrate this through smiles, baby talk and choosing to engage.

However, he is a little PERSON and is allowed to choose how he does this. When you are an UNKNOWN PERSON to my little PERSON and he chooses not to climb out of my arms into yours, this is entirely appropriate.

I baby wear (strap him to my back) my son rather than putting him in a pram in order to protect him OFTEN. On the occasions where I have had to put him in a stroller, I have been dumbstruck at the liberties that some people have taken in getting into his space. So much so, that despite his size (he is a big boy) I have had to strap him to my front so that he can choose to turn his head and hide in my shoulder when he has needed to.

The challenge in this isn’t that he is adopted and we don’t match racially.
This is a boundary thing.

We have grown accustomed to a certain level of conspicuousness –despite mixed race families becoming more common, people still are interested, curious and sometimes just rude really. I am aware too that as he gets older, and even now, that there are conversations that we choose not to have repeatedly in front of him regarding his adoption. Not because he hasn’t heard the details already, but because there is more to his world than just being adopted.

This morning, immediately after the body blocking incident we were due to go and see a friend.

I am grateful to him for letting me vent. I am grateful that we have these friends for being mirrors and for the stories and wisdom that they share from their parenting journey (and VERY grateful for the gift of a baby carrier before our son came home!)

He listened to me vent and then shared a story of how JUST STOP IT translated into asking someone, a strange person, to please delete photos that they had just taken of his daughter off of their phone.

The initial response was that the photos were just cute and that they would send them to him. He firmly repeated his request, affirming that he was sure that the photos were cute, but it wasn’t appropriate. This was done, with a bit of a huff, but it was done.

The next morning, they bumped into this same person who reflected that she had been thinking and:

Actually, you were right – I have been thinking. Your child needs to be protected and it’s not appropriate to allow people who are unknowns in your world to be walking around with photos of her’.

My friend went on to tell me more stories about how his daughter’s space and right to privacy required other JUST STOP IT moments. His wife and I have often spoken about JUST STOP when it comes to people offering food, trying to cuddle her or engage her when she doesn’t want to be engaged.

This isn’t about wanting to helicopter parent or creating crazy bubbles around our children. It’s not about not wishing for them to explore the world and meet different people. In fact, it’s the opposite.

It’s about teaching them that it’s okay to have boundaries.

It’s okay to not be okay with letting strangers or unknown people into your space.
It’s okay to say please stop.

My son gets given options about how he wants to greet people. He can choose to go to them (if he knows them and is in an engaging mood), he can high 5 them and sometimes simply acknowledging them by gazing at them is enough for him – he is only 10 months old. Gazing at this stage for him is acknowledging.

My son is adopted – something that he didn’t get to choose.
The day he chose to snuggle into my shoulder, rather than going to a friendly unknown person, clutching the back of my (needing some firming up) upper arm, I realised that we had grown more into family.

My son is allowed to choose. We want him to have choices that are appropriate and that he can make as he grows older. For now though, we get to make choices to protect him so that his world can expand and stretch and become an adventure of discovery.

There are lots of people who get this. Who get that babies and small children are SMALL PEOPLE with their own personalities and their own needs; who respect that though they be little, they can also make choices.

Our children need to be allowed to learn about go-ahead options and what these look like. We model and teach them what these look like.

So please, not just for my son, but for babies and toddlers and children, just stop it …unless you have the go ahead.

Being Black in White Liberal Seattle

THIS is a must read and am hungry to see South African stories emerge to grow, encourage and teach us how to do better…

EthioAmerican Daughter

I’ve often wondered about the experiences of black adoptees raised in an all white environment, where they had very little contact with people of color. Moving from DC area to Seattle has made clear to me how exhausting, isolating, and alienating life can be as a black person in a sea of white liberalism.

About 8 months ago, my daughter and I flew out of Reagan National and landed at SeaTac. Settling into Seattle, WA, the 5th whitest city in America, has been a huge cultural shock in more ways than one. I was raised in a diverse community with people of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, which I believe in many ways gave me an extremely balanced perspective on the black experience and a strong black identity. Even so, I don’t think anyone could’ve ever prepared my daughter and me for the challenges and complexities of living amongst well-intended…

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The world doesn’t work like that.

Over the past few weeks I have had the incredible honour of getting to know someone a little better who is in the same social media South African Adoption and Conversations re: race issues in SA as me.  She is someone who tentatively spoke out about the fact that white parents of black children need to remember that their children are going to grow up experiencing things around race that white people never need to think about.  She is someone who is South African. She is someone who has lost someone close to her under apartheid as a part of the struggle.  She is black.

And then the moderating of her reminder began from white people.

Assumingly good people who have chosen to adopt because they believe each child should be in a family.  People who want to parent children regardless of race.

It happened again when she shared her frustration (with evidence) of a racist encounter with an estate agent who told her a property was unavailable and yet it was available when her white friend called. THE NEXT DAY.

It makes me cringe when we, as a white community do this.

I say we as I am no more innocent of wanting to shout out loudly some days.

My most recent PAUSE moment was needing to check my own reactions to spaces I have been invited into and then question how I feel when people I am in relationship with use language or speak out their anger in a way that causes pain or unsettledness or fear in me.

Whether as well-meaning, faith filled people or not, simply as when we moderate someone’s experience of a racial interaction from outside of their racial experience not only do I believe that  we minimise their story, but we also assume we can fix it or know better.

Whether we recognise it in the moment or not.

Before my son made me a mama, while we were waiting for him, my guy and I had lots of conversations about how we wanted to manage being a mixed race family.  We realised the following:

  • While we might be given great insights into the challenges and glory moments facing people who belong to a racial group that is different to ours, we don’t have their lived realities and that it’s not random people’s responsibility to educate us. Rather, we need, out of relationship with people in our community to identify mentors and teachers to navigate things – both culturally and in terms of race.
  • Our son is our son is our son and we are his. Something I tell him often – mama is yours – but part of him being embraced in the fullness of who he is means recognising that some of the challenges that might face him aren’t challenges that we have had to deal with in our own worlds growing up.  This doesn’t mean that we make race the focus and family secondary; it means we recognise that our family has to learn new ways of engaging with the world.

It means we look at what do we need to equip ourselves and prepare him outside of what we strive to make a safe space for him within our home.  The language we use, making sure his hair and skin are cared for well, without making that the only focal point in embracing him and delighting in him as he explores the world.

  • I am (proudly) my boy’s mama – but no one is going to know or care about that when he is out on his own or an adult. He needs skills, support and insight into navigating spaces as a black man in South Africa.

Before I became his mama, people told me to just let him be my son when he came home.

He is fully my son.  This week he had surgery.  I have cleaned up the tears, the blood off his and my clothes from holding him to settle him.  I have held him or engaged with him almost constantly as he has needed through the day, and the night, so that he could rest, sleep or just be.  He is my son.  My tears have flowed at the physical discomfort and pain he has been in that I couldn’t stop and prevent and all I could do was be present with him.

I am reminded that our family isn’t always perceived as fully being just family when people glare, won’t make eye contact (and this isn’t a cultural thing), shake their heads or are simply rude when we walk past.

I am reminded that while he is still little and I am mostly around, I can field this and help navigate it, minimising its impact.  I can only do this though if I am willing to listen and learn and be challenged.

I am reminded that as he gets bigger, I won’t always be there to do so.

I am reminded as I watch him grow of children I have worked with, or been friends with who have shed tears because children wouldn’t play with them because they were too brown.

I am reminded that the world and its people see colour and that as adults we need to help children understand what that means.  I am reminded that we are in this world too.

I am reminded that this is beyond simply people being mean.  This is about a history of systemic thinking that is entrenched in us in different ways around superiority and inferiority and that we have a responsibility to navigate this out of ourselves and the world around us.

I am reminded that as much as I believe all people are created equal that the world doesn’t work like that.

I am reminded that as much as I might not agree with systems and social or business models that perpetuated race issues, and still do, that doesn’t make them not real.

I am reminded that for me to parent my son well means to embrace the fullness of his story, of who he is and that I need to do this in community.

I am reminded that I can’t pretend that these things don’t matter.

The world doesn’t work like that.  As much as we might wish it did.