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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It’s not my story to tell

We were joined just over 6 weeks ago.

6 weeks of getting to know each other.

In these 6 weeks we have had to navigate being a new family with a baby, but who isn’t a new born.

We have been exceptionally grateful for the conversations, the listening, the facebook groups talking around things from a transracial adoption perspectives, adoptive parents, birthmoms perspectives and adoptees perspectives that happened in the build up to meeting our boy.

We ventured out the house for rambles, just the 3 of us in the first week of being together.

In the first week of being together we had already run into questions and statements– some well meant, some simply curious and some just inappropriate re: how our family was joined.

We have had to navigate some racial stuff.

We have had to navigate questions around his story.

We have had to navigate questions around the adoption process and costs.

All of this is stuff beyond simply being a family. Beyond simply being a new family. Beyond the (happens to all I know) unsolicited comments and advice.  Comments and advice which I know are well meant but don’t always acknowledge that adoption starts with a relationship (or more than one as between birthmoms and adopted families there are foster/ place of safety placements for adoptees too) ending.  So regardless of how cute, or little, or challenging our children are, when we adopt, our families start with navigating a grief.

My own story involves having being intimately involved in another little boy’s life who called me his mamma for a season despite my reminding him that I couldn’t be. Having to step back from his life was one of the hardest things I have ever done (He is in a permanent placement now with siblings and I celebrated the sweetness of that despite the bitterness of saying goodbye.  He taught me much about parenting and loving babies and being available when you don’t ‘feel’ awake, rested & sociable enough!)

My own story involves having to face an awareness that the grief that I have around this creates empathy for my son’s birth mom and yet is not the same.  The grief of knowing that you have to say goodbye to someone and step back from their lives and yet they are very much alive.

We, my guy and I, both believe that our family story isn’t just ours as the adoptive parents.

 

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Not every adoptive family will feel this way. The internet is full of public disclosures by adoptive families.

Our family being an adoptive family is already public – we can’t pretend that we are genetically his!

Our family story also belongs to his birth mom, as well as to him.

We adopted by choice. He needs choices to navigate the world as the world gets bigger and he engages more of it.

It needs to be his story to tell.

Deeply grateful for friends and family who have honoured this space as well as created safety for us as a new family to be a new family, regardless of our incredible boy’s age!

The grief of adoption

Some reflections on our initial screening to becoming potential adoptive parents

Celebration. Joy. Permanency. Family. Forever (in faith). These are all words we see and hear around adoption. The past few weeks though as we have journeyed through our initial screening and preparation to be presented as prospective adoptive parents, I have become acutely aware of the grief in this whole process.
My professional world is predominantly child focused, so it has been easy for me to be able to think, focus and identify the grief process for a child whose birth family isn’t the one that they get to do life with. Regardless of how good the reasons are for this.
My grief for the birth mother – whether someone who has signed over their baby for adoption or has abandoned them (whether through leaving them safely somewhere or otherwise) is something I have had to grapple with. No one dreams of having to make an adoption plan. In my circles questions around parenting range from your birth plan to whether you believe in co-sleeping or not to which school do you think that you would like to send your child to and why. What a contrast to not knowing what you are going to do with the small person that has grown in you, but that you can’t (for whatever reason – from age to finances to addiction) care for and having to decide what to do with the small person.
Then there is a grief for us. Our grief is less complicated or compounded in some ways as we are not grieving infertility issues. We are choosing this. In choosing this though, there is still grief.
There is no romantic standing in the hospital while a mother gives birth (thank you Hollywood) for us. Our meeting our small person only happens once there is no chance of it legally not working for the baby or us – once all the I’s have been dotted and the T’s crossed – such a good thing for everyone actually but so hard in terms of the knowledge that from the time the small person is born until we meet them, they will have had at least a birth mother and one other carer in their little lives that they will have to say goodbye too.
My heart is sore in ways that by the time I get to meet our small one, that he will have been held by many arms, not mine. My heart is okay with the not carrying him. My heart grieves at the knowledge that I don’t get to delight in his initial newness in life (sleep deprivation and all). That’s sad for him and us…it’s a part of the bonding that birth moms and dads have with their smalls. It’s not insurmountable grief. It’s just something we need to process.
I have recently heard more than once the declaration that we are lucky to skip the exhaustion of pregnancy, the birth process and the repeated wake ups of a new born baby.
I have witnessed more than once the surreal reality of friends anticipating the phone call saying that their small is ready to meet them, but none of the ‘natural’ preparation of a visible pregnancy in the future mother for people to be engaging with.
Adoptive parents are expectant but the way in which we process this has to happen a little differently to a set of pregnant parents. Choices to get ready to meet a small person happen along the way too – but our timelines, our bodies, our planning is not benchmarked by bellies and breasts.
Our world is about to be turned upside down. We will have to get to know a small one from when they have already engaged with the world. There are going to be joyful discoveries and heart rendering moments of oh my goodness. Life is never going to be the same again. That’s not lucky though – our journey to the discovery of each other comes with a cost to all involved – one we choose and process. We are still figuring out what this all means – luck doesn’t need any of that work!

I was warned about Freedom Day

I was warned.

I was warned that as what would have been the due date of our pregnancy approaches that things might come undone.
I was warned that your first menstrual cycle after a miscarriage would be hard and it was.

But it also helped heal because it reminded me that my body was healthy and had normalised.

I was warned that this would be hard.
I just didn’t know how hard.

I didn’t know how hard it would be to have a grief erupt that had felt like it was over.
I didn’t know how hard it would be to feel undone. All. Over. Again.

BUT as I sit in this space
This hard space
This sad space
This space that could have been something else

I realise
That my space isn’t empty
Nor is it undone.
It simply is.

It simply is another part of the healing of a story that isn’t complete: That of meeting the dreams of a specific baby.
It isn’t just hard. It has softened my heart in ways that I never knew it needed softening.

In this 3 week period I expected to be on maternity leave.
In this 3 week period I expected to be nesting and putting my feet up.
Instead in this 3 week period I am living with the paradox that is life:

That there can be hope in the midst of grief and grief in the midst of hope.
That in the next 3 weeks both hope and grief can co-exist and as we approach Freedom Day,
Which would have been the due date,
That I too can find freedom in this.

First prize for our family

Recently my guy and I decided that the time was now for us to start the process towards becoming a family via adoption. In fact after during our December holiday we agreed that by March we wanted to initiate the process. Our December holiday included conversations with friends who have adopted, who work in the space of adoption, who have birth babies and adopted ones but claim them ALL as their children. In fact, it’s been interesting chatting to friends who chose to adopt first around their fear that they may not love the birth baby should they fall pregnant as much as they do their first child.

Before we even said yes to maybe I like you enough to exclusively figure out what life MIGHT look like with you as my SO (significant one) we had conversations that included the A-plan.

The Adoption plan.

FF 3 years, a cross country move back to the homeland (me) and figuring out what it means to be a CapeTonian person (him), a marriage, miscarriage, job changes, moving homes and lots of dreaming about what do we want our family to look like and the plan A of including adoption is and was always there.

It’s been sad, frustrating, interesting and sometimes bizarre listening to people’s responses when we say this. Responses that have included:
Are you giving up on birth babies? (According to the doctor for those of you who have asked, wanted to ask or the thought had crossed your minds, there is absolutely NO reason why we shouldn’t fall pregnant if we choose to. In fact I checked this again last month during a consultation with him).
ADOPTION for us is is NOT PLAN B if plan A failed. It was always part of plan A. Regardless of how our children arrive, they are our plan A for having kids.

It’s not the same you know: Yes, we do know. We do know that there are no guarantees of genetics or medical history or knowing how stressed the mom was or the level of prenatal care and antenatal care that our future small person received. We know that we don’t have the experience of bonding as a family during a pregnancy of kicks, nausea and bathroom runs. I also work in a space where children have been loved, had parents make informed decisions about how to raise a child and yet are dealing with Autism Spectrum, ADHD, learning challenges, anxiety and other things like managing my feelings (to name the safe ones).
None of the parents whose children are said to be atypical dreamt of these things either so maybe my fears around not knowing how our children will turn out are as grounded in the unknown as they are in my known working world.
I also work in a space as well as have friends who will tell you that every pregnancy and bonding experience with their different children has been different – sometimes guilt inducingly so.

Horrific stories of failed adoptions: I have the (mis)fortune of being able to tell heartbreaking stories of failed parenting in families where mothers’ carried their babies to term despite addiction and violence and everything else and as support therapists are working on how do we love and embrace these families and children to wholeness. I know social workers who have to make calls on removing kids from families or families who weren’t adequately ready, supported or prepared for the challenges of adopting children with learning and attachment issues.
– AND the list goes on….

WHAT I DO KNOW IS THIS:

Neither Charlie nor I believe that becoming a parent is about being in the delivery room.

We know that our future child’s story has to begin with loss and temporary care and this makes us sad – for the moms’ whose decisions to not keep a child (regardless of the reason) as well as for the child whose story doesn’t get to start in a nursery that has been colour coded and prepared from before the due date of pregnancy.

We do know that we are in a community of family and friends who are waiting to meet our children-however they arrive & that we are in the privileged position of being in a community where adoption is normal. Where diversity is normal. Where blended friendship and family circles are normal.

We also know that there are amazing professionals who can walk alongside us when we hit hiccups.

We do know that we need to be thinking through what it means for our transracial family to thrive in a country still wrestling with identity which is linked to race.

We do know that there are a lot of unknowns and things that we still need to figure out but that we don’t have to have all those answers now.

My first experience of ‘motherhood’ was thanks to a little guy who climbed onto my lap and into my single woman heart as a weekend and holidays ‘family’ and I know that as much as I celebrated his adoption, my grief at saying goodbye to him forever when he was adopted was harder for me than losing my pregnancy was last year. I knew what comforted him, what he ate, how to manage tantrums when he was with me, what choices were helpful and which weren’t and we figured this all out as we got to know each other. I am not made to be a temporary foster mom – very clearly!

During a conversation about adoption the amazing guy I married said ‘being a dad is a choice – there are many men who father babies who don’t choose to be dads despite being physically present’.

We know we are choosing to do this.

We are choosing to love, live and grow our family with a small person whose presence in our lives is being welcomed and prepared for. As individuals, as a couple and within our broader community.

I sat in church this morning watching the families around me. I was saddened that people think, for us, that this is a plan B. There was a poignant moment as I watched a small person snuggle into their safe grown up’s neck and arms and just relax – and remembered what it was to have someone trust and KNOW that in that moment I was his. His fingers fiddling with my hair and head resting on my shoulder as we sang. THAT had nothing to do with where he came from and everything to do with where he belonged at that moment.

I can’t wait to see my guy hold a small person that way.
I can’t wait to get to know the quirks and wonders of the world through the eyes of a child.

I am petrified at how life will be changed. I can’t wait.

A Spoken Grief

Sometimes it’s about the things that are hard that people don’t know, that I don’t know – unless I say so, or someone warns me or when the expression of the thing that is hard catches me unaware – and the emotion feels raw. All. Over. Again.

Suddenly in the midst feeling of hopeful and mostly normal it’s hard not be back to the question of “are these PMT symptoms” (after 3 months of none) or are they “early pregnancy” symptoms? Despite a commitment to not think about this until I see my doctor next, I can’t ignore the nagging niggle or monkey on my back that sometimes is quiet, but sometimes is really very loud.

I didn’t know how much I relished being pregnant – 20 HR morning sickness and all. I didn’t know how much I needed things to work out, even when a part of me questioned whether they would.

I am a planner, an organiser of my life. I manage my space. I seek to control my world through understanding what to do next, my work space involves helping others heal and supporting them in the midst of the hardness.

This I can’t control. I can make choices, but there are aspects of this grief that don’t feel controllable some days. Uncontrollable variables – we only get to choose how we respond to them.

I can’t manage how fast the pregnancy hormones leave my body – and should I even want to?

I can’t manage how my quickly body settles back into its own rhythm again.

I can’t manage the things that people say, with good intent but that aren’t helpful.

I can’t not think about this. It’s only been 3 and a bit weeks. I am still grieving and sad AND being hopeful. I am okay with grieving. I need to be allowed to do this. My hormones and mood and sadness are all entangled currently – not forever. Just at this moment. Right now.  On International Pregnancy Loss day. 

I am resentful and saddened by the fact of possibly having to manage monthly cycles again when I would rather be managing morning sickness.

I am resentful of having to consider sanitary ware when I would rather be considering maternity ware.

I am resentful of needing to work hard to get rid of the extra curves that are now there to manage a morning sickness that no longer is (The things that helped me I don’t normally eat at all- but they worked and I was deeply grateful that they did – sadly it was “oat crunchies” rather than cucumber some days).

I got all the pregnancy things people do and don’t discuss – the nausea, the dreams, the tummy issues, the food aversions, the scent sensitive nose of a blood hound, the exhaustion, and the random discovery that foods I don’t usually eat solve morning sickness and foods I used to love make me gag. I got all of that. A good taste of what looked like a healthy pregnancy. And then that felt like it changed in an instance.

AND

I know that this too will pass.

I know that my body will settle.

I know that there is hope.

I know that we will have a family – and that this first pregnancy will always remain a part of that story. The dream to birth babies and the dream to adopt remains.

I know that by focusing on all the things that I can’t control I lose sight of the space and place where I can find healing and rest.

I know that surrender to this next part of the story is needed. And if surrender requires more tears, more expression and more letting go of things that I struggle to, then I am choosing that.

IN the midst of anger, and tears, and heartache and a very normal in this context anxiety, I am back to the place of choosing to let go of my control. It scares me to do this. Yet, it scares me more to stay stuck in this place where it’s hard to love and be loved fully.

One week later: Things that helped, things that hindered & finding grace in grief

I have learnt, lived and experienced things this last week that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. In the midst of the heartache and disappointment there have been many reasons for gratitude. There have also been things that happened that were perhaps well meaning but really not helpful. There were things that I am not sure what they were about but have left me perplexed. They are things. Things for me work well in lists, so here goes the list.

GRATITUDE for the man I married who has loved, held, supported and shown up when nothing he can do can “fix this” right now. I have learnt that Charlie shows up in the way that matters and that he loves me more, deeper and far better than I could have hoped or imagined.

HELPFUL reflection: We need the love and support and ACKNOWLEDGMENT of our community but that much of this grief work is private as much as the journey is shared. So thank you for acknowledging our grief, for praying, for messages and for space. That is both something that I am grateful for and that was helpful. There is a part of this that is lonely and that I can’t share with others – but value them being there. Just being there.

NOT SO HELPFUL reflection:
We chose to share the joy of discovering we were pregnant, as well as the sadness of the loss. The amount of info we share around this is up to us – it hasn’t been so helpful when people have wanted details around either the pregnancy or the loss. We were clear about the reason for not meeting our little person when we announced this (a blighted ovum). Questions & responses which weren’t helpful included, and in fact were quite intrusive:

o Did the doctors do investigations as to why? Can they explain why? (No – if you want more info, perhaps use google, rather than me).

o Were you on hormone treatment? Will you be given hormones to help you fall pregnant again? (Really – this is loaded with assumptions about how we fell pregnant to start with or that there are issues – and if there are, that is obviously something personal that wasn’t shared; and if there aren’t, how do I respond graciously and honour my community who have had struggles in this without pushing into their pain. Fertility is an emotionally loaded area. Please be careful how you approach this with anyone, maybe don’t?)

o Inquiries as to how much (& whether it will be protected/ unprotected) sex we plan on having in the near future (My gut reaction to this: Why would you like to recommend a baby making position?!)

The spiritual side of things matter too. I don’t believe that things always happen for a reason, or that there is a bigger picture or obviously God wanted an extra baby in heaven – my faith in God wasn’t hinged on whether or not this baby made it to us: I was astounded at the amount of people who told me not to give up on God. It worries me that God’s faithfulness is perceived as being contingent on my circumstances – but that is another discussion. The world is messy. Life is messy. This happening is nonsensical to me, and as hard as it is is messy. God doesn’t owe me an explanation -I don’t want to get into a discussion like Job did where God had to remind him of who is who.

It has been a week today since we found out that we weren’t going to meet our small person this side of heaven. Acknowledgment of this means being sad, saying it’s hard and taking your lead from how much information we choose to share. Our medical history is ours and the way in which we are processing privately needs to be ours too.

It doesn’t matter whether this was a first time lucky conception or a hard prayed and longed for one (with or without intervention)– or whether it was an adoption that fell through. When people bond and dream of their small people, it’s a loss – REGARDLESS of how the small person was going to arrive.

HELPFUL reflection: Recognising that while we share stories I don’t want to own your story and I don’t want you to own mine. They are our individual stories of unique babies but with a shared understanding of loss. It is stressful and hard for anyone to have to listen to someone else’s outcome which is not necessarily true for the person. Thank you for the friends who shared their stories but also for those who shared the helpful parts and didn’t insert into our story what their outcome was. Our story isn’t finished yet. A parallel story to this was my younger brother getting married before me – people often asked me if it was hard for me to hope for marriage since I am the oldest and Mark got wed first – no it wasn’t hard. I was never going to marry my brother. His being married, someone else having a baby or not is not my story. It’s theirs. My cousin is going into labour (hopefully) any minute – I am excited at the hope of new life in the midst of our loss. It’s been hard but helpful, for me, to be able to weep and celebrate with her. This might not be true for anyone else.

GRACE moments: That this either owns me indefinitely or becomes a part of my story. My daily choices as I grieve and choose to process will determine this. This was a reminder again that there is a depth of pain that lacks words. It was a reminder that I don’t have to soldier on and that in the midst of this and that there is love in places and people if I am open to receiving and allowing it to be there.

This is a club that I NEVER signed up for. I resent at times the fact that I now have to be a part of this and yet I look at the amazing women in my world who are here too – some who are birth mothers and some who mothers without having given birth (or adopting) and realise that none of them did either and there are lots of clubs throughout the world that people didn’t sign up for.

In the meantime there is grace, gratitude and recognition that it’s okay to say things are sometimes more helpful than others.

This is dedicated to a baby we never met who we named Michael; who would have been born around Freedom Day (27th April). Trusting that his story will help bring greater freedom in our lives, other’s lives as well as a sense of God’s glory in the messiness of life