This week, someone I know thanked me for raising an African American male. This statement took me by surprise and it's something that I am still processing. I have been told that I have been making choices that are atypical for an African American child.
If you meet my son in person and get to know him, you realize though that his actions have motivated most of my choices for him. My son loves the water so he takes swimming lessons. After seeing horses repeatedly on Elmo, he started to talk non-stop about horses, so now he is experiencing horse back riding. My son fell in love with chickens when he saw them in person for the first time. So we talk about chickens and impersonate them often. I am trying to follow his lead on things because I believe strongly that children have their own inner compass. It's not my job to dictate the direction of his life, but to encourage him to follow his passion.
Of course, some things we have tried and well, they did not take. For example, soccer tots. My son loved soccer tots with the open field, lots of toys and heaps of little people his height. When it came time to do the soccer drills with the coach, my son wanted to use the field cones as microphones. He imagined the hula hoops that the other children were using for shooting drills were actually lawnmowers. On his last day, the coach said good bye to kids with kudos. "Wow, your kid handles the ball so well" or "Your kid is a natural at dribbling the ball". My son got, "He is always so happy".
Yep. We are finding our way. I am glad that I have African American friends to make suggestions and become a presence in his life, but in the end, my son is leading the way here. You don't have to thank me. I am figuring this out as I go.
I found myself this week reflecting on the words shared during the adoption panel last week. A man shared a story of putting his young daughter to bed. While he kissed her good-night she stated, "Daddy, I don't want to have brown skin anymore."
Every parent in a transracial family knows that one day the conversation is coming. Your child will notice that you two have different skin color and that you don't match like the other families around you. You worry that you will find the right words to say. Did you read the right books to prepare you? Will you say the right words in the right order that make my child both proud of their race and your family? Since this conversation comes without warning, will you been in the right frame of mind to handle this situation?
Most days, I will be honest, I don't worry. My son is going on 19 months old. He loves all things Elmo, chickens, water, graham crackers and sticks. Sometimes when he holds my arm while he is fading off to sleep, I stare at the combination of our skin tones. He has this lovely dark-honey brown complexion and I have white skin with dabbles of pink with assorted age spots and freckles. It's so lovely to see how our skin tones bring out the best in one another's complexions. People are the same way. Our personalities and likes are different, but together we can bring out the best in one another. I just hope when that conversation comes up with Jules that I can help him understand this.
Back to that father putting his daughter to bed.....Well, he thought, "Oh no, here it is. Here is that conversation." He replied, "Oh honey, what color do you want to be?" She replied, "Blue, I want to be a smurf."
Children will realize their race. They will rely on their parents, the world around them and in the end, themselves to sort through the issues and make their own choices about their race. As parents, all you can do is be honest with grace and let the child guide the conversation so that it meets his/her needs. Because sometimes, the child just wants to be a smurf.
Yesterday, I spoke on a transracial adoption panel with four couples in Raleigh. For 2.5 hours, we shared our adoption stories, talked about what it's like to raise children who are a different race than ourselves and answered questions from the audience. I remember vividly sitting in this same audience three years ago wondering if I had what it takes to be a mother of child from a different race. I worried that I would make some major, cultural mistake and harm my child in some way.
It's wonderful being in a room of people who have experienced or about to experience the exact thing you have gone through when it comes to adoption. They understand the awkward moments, the second and third glances from strangers and inappropriate questions from others. They also understand how completely you can fall in love with a little baby just holding him/her in your arms for the first time. When that little person looks into your eyes and you feel your brain re-wiring itself and your heart changing its rhythm, the last thing you are thinking about is race.
So, I told my adoption story (it's in this blog if you want to read it) and shared some of my thoughts. Most questions were easy to answer but one in particular was hard. It was asked early in the panel. I can't remember the exact wording but the person questioned how we plan to raise our children and prepare them for racism and prejudice with our white priviledge backgrounds. Without thinking about it, I went last to answer that one. Everyone on the panel was white and I think everyone did a good job answering the question, but it was obvious that it was an awkward question for most of us.
When it came to that question, I agreed with my fellow panelists. Most days, we don't think about race with it comes to our children. Our children are in kindergarten or younger. We visit the same places and see the same people so the issue of race is not something we consider daily. For me as a single parent, I think more about my son not having a strong male figure in his daily life than the fact that our races don't match. I have a strong, diverse, vocal village of people around me to provide suggestions and insight that I value. I will make mistakes like all parents. I will miss something culturally that I realize later that I should have known, but it's OK.
Adoptive parents are just like biological parents. We feel a strong connection to our children. Oftentimes, we put their needs before our own. Unlike biological parents, our journey to become parents required us to endure a strange twist in the road involving legal hoops, specific training and a lifetime of awkward questions from strangers. My son being a different race than me means that I must always be on the lookout for diversity in future opportunities like school and hobbies. I will need to rely on my non-white friends to guide me on racial situations and challenges. My son will experience racism and prejudice that I have never known. Before this happens, I must surround him with great models of all races to help him learn how to handle these situations with honesty and grace.
Three years after attending my first transracial adoption panel, I no longer worry about harming my child with some misunderstanding of a cultural experience that is new to me. Instead, I worry about classic toddler things - will he get away from me and run into the street or will he put something in his mouth that will become a choking hazard.
I know now that I have what it takes to be a mother of a child of a different race because I am completely and madly in love with my son.
On Saturday (tomorrow), I am going to Raleigh with my son to talk on an adoption panel about being in a transracial family. I am honored and nervous.
I am honored since I remember sitting in the audience several years ago hanging on every word of the panelists while I was waiting to adopt. Adopting someone from another race seemed so foreign to me. Now, I am one of the few people asked to talk to others about what this journey is like. I understand the anxiety of the people in the audience. I am so honored that they are letting me help them through this.
I am also nervous. People waiting to adopt are tense by nature. They don't know when things are going to happen or if they will happen. They worry about making the right decisions. Being a "second-glance" family can be tough stuff. Do they have what it takes. I understand their worry.
Here's my truth.
I don't have all of the answers when it comes to raising an African American male as a white woman. I know that I will make mistakes. I have already made some mistakes. No parent has all of the answers. We are all just making this up as we go.
Right now, it's still easy. We venture into familiar places with people who know us already. We encounter few people who give us dirty looks. The people who have given us dirty looks have gone unnoticed by my son since he is only 18 months old. That will change. He will notice and I will have to help him understand what is happening. I just hope that I can do this with honesty and grace.
I am quite comfortable with my son's race. I am not always comfortable with the ways people around me talk about race especially people younger than me. For example, it's considered appropriate to ask someone what you are "mixed with" - as if your race was a list of cake ingredients mixed together in a bowl. When people ask me this about my son, I pause. I pause because I am angry and I am trying not to react to that word, but to the intention of the question. I will have to get over this.
The biggest challenge to having an African American male as a child has been the hair. Learning about his hair care has taken longer than I expected. All kinds of people are trying to give me advice and even say mean things either to me or through other people directed at me. Like most new things, you have to find the people that you trust, ask them honest questions and shut out the rest. My job as his mother is to keep his hair as healthy as possible so that he can make whatever decision he wants later about how to wear it.
That's my truth, or at least part of it. I just hope that I can provide some insight about what it's like to be in my family. Everything seems so natural and easy.....at least for now.
I love my son’s birth mother although there is a strong chance that I may never lay eyes on her again. This beautiful, yet fragile creature created my favorite person on this planet and knew that she didn’t have the ability to give him the life he deserved.
I don’t like the saying, “giving someone up for adoption”. These are easy terms to use when you are an outsider to this situation, but they are not accurate. She did not give him up, she raised him up. She raised him up higher than her own emotions and needs and picked out a family that would give him the life that she wanted for him.
When my son was one day old, I was standing in my birth mother’s hospital room. It was December 24th, Christmas Eve and only a few people on the planet knew where I was. CNN was on the TV and her head was turned to the screen most of the time out of habit and nervousness. I refused to sit because I had adrenaline pumping through my veins. Moments before, I held my son for the first time and fell in love instantly. I have never fallen for everything so completely or quickly. Now, I had to make sure this young girl stayed in love with her choice for me.
I don’t remember what we talked about but I remember that I felt like I had to keep talking and asking questions. I didn’t want her to think that I was boring or uninteresting or not really into being a mother.
I used questions like -
I was sweating through my clothes trying not to pace which is my natural tendency. The nurses asked me to stay to chat with the doctor since I signed papers for him to be circumcised in the morning. They wanted me hear about the procedure and ask questions about after care. They thought that the doctor would be there any moment, but our wait went past 90 minutes. During this time, I called my friend Joann who was in the lobby still to come and join us. I needed a logical, clear head in the room to help me remember what was happening.
My son is going to ask me about this day. I remember thinking about that while I stood there trying not to shake. He was going to ask me questions about what she looked like and how she acted. A big part of my memory is the haze of emotion that I felt standing in a room with someone who looked at a list of people and chose me for this honored role. I kept asking her if I could hug her. She liked hugs. So do I.
When my son asks me about this day, here is the jist of what I plan to say:
Your birth mother was a regal-looking woman with beautiful skin, striking features and a calm demeanor. She was quite tall and commanding in stature. You have her lovely face and complexion. She was a peaceful woman, at ease in solitude who didn’t have much to say but she was affectionate willing to humor people around her who seemed overwhelmed with emotion.
She walked into the hospital and immediately told the staff about her plans for the adoption. They assigned her an alias name and she gave birth to you that morning around 10:08am by cesarean. Later the day, a staff member from my adoption agency met with her and gave her a stack of 10 or so brochures of families wanting to adopt and willing to accept a child last minute after the child was born. She took about an hour to look at and read the brochures. Then, she told the agency that I was her first pick.
Once they got me on the phone, my heart knew that you were finally here. My long wait had ended. When I talked to your birth mother, she wanted to hear about my journey to try to get pregnant. She liked the idea that that she helped someone who could not create a child to have a child, it made her happy to give someone else this joy. She picked me because I am a teacher and she had always wanted to be a teacher. She wanted someone in your life to value the importance of learning.
You have her eyes, skin, look, curly hair and calm demeanor. When you sit quietly and play, or when you stare ahead looking at nature around you as you ride your stroller or as you play with your rabbit and become mesmerized by the silkiness of its ribbon trim, I see your birth mother. When you smile at me right before you give me a big bear hug, I see your birth mother. As I bathe you at night and clean your skin, I see your birth mother.
She is one of my favorite people on this planet. I will carry her in my heart for the rest of my life.
As a potential adoptive parent, your mind harbors several scary secret fears that you can be afraid to articulate out loud. Yes, you will worry if you can be a decent parent or if your bank account can withstand the impact, but that’s not what I am talking about.
Biological parents literally push mini versions of themselves out of their bodies everyday. They look at the bald little creature in the goo, see themselves and cry passionately about the love of their lives entering the world. Instantly, they know that they will love this child through anything.
As an adoptive parent, you secretly worry that you will not love or connect with your new child or worse, that your new child will not connect to you.
In adoption training, I remember sitting there trying to pretend that I was believing what they were saying. The counselor was talking about being in the hospital and meeting your child for the first time and how wonderful that would be. Of course, most of the talk was not about that magical moment, it was focused more on how not to tick off the birth mother and make her change her mind. The birth mother is in full control of the hospital situation. You are just along for the ride.
I worried daily that my child would feel foreign to me. That I would hold him in my arms and he would become scared since he would not recognize my voice. My thoughts wandered over into even darker areas about that moment. Once I dreamed that I would instantly dislike my child and find ways to get out of having to take him home. This child came out of someone else’s body listening to her heart beat and her voice. How will he ever connect with me? Would I ever have that magic moment that biological parents have?
You must know something about me right now to put this next part into perspective. I am a fiercely logical person. Sometimes I find myself leaving situations because they suddenly feeling too hippy dippy for me. Hearing someone tell me that I was going to connect instantly with my child when I met him made me shut down and pretend to be listening because that could not be possible. Love that lasts is not something created in instants, but over time when the child sees me always showing up when no one else will. Yes, I played along, but my heart was not buying it.
On the day that my son was born, I was in the act of giving up. Mentally, I had been thinking about giving up for several months. I was tired, physically and mentally. My depression was becoming too hard to hide from others. I passed the one year mark meaning that I had to do all my of my adoption paperwork again. On December 21st, I called my adoption counselor to let her be the first person to know that I was going to walk away. She convinced me to go through the holidays since nothing happens anyway and schedule a talk in the new year.
My brother was coming to town with his kids that evening and last minute, they had to stay with me since my mother was sick. I came home early to prepare my house for five visitors. The baby slept in my room to allow me to “practice” waking up with a little one. I didn’t have the heart to share my plans to quit so I agreed. When my little nephew woke in the night, I did not get the bottle prepped in time and his mother had to help me. In the morning, they got ready while I went for a run. During my run, I could not get my lack of ability out of my mind. Maybe this is happening for a reason to show me that I should not do this.
My friend Joann who lived about an hour away wanted to have a single girl’s holiday with no kids just alcohol, great food, a movie and a visit to a local bar with fantastic Christmas decorations. I agreed immediately and brought the dessert. I remember standing in the upscale bakery near my house full of cake stands. My life seemed decadent. I could buy expensive cake and go out of town on a moment’s notice and enjoy rich things without a child holding me back. Quitting seemed so realistic.
It was December 23rd. By noon, I was heading to my friend’s house with expensive cake and going out clothes. By 4pm, she was making us turkey (my favorite) and asking me questions about quitting since I shared my conversations with my counselor. What are you doing to do instead? My answer was thought out over several runs - sell everything I had, give my cats back to their foster mother, secure online teaching employment and move to France. There, I would drink wine and live outside of the lavender fields in the South of France. I was done with this life and excited about another.
It was at this moment that my phone began to ring. I ignored it convinced it was my family wanting me to feel guilty for skipping a family dinner. It rang again. They are persistent. I stayed strong. It rang again. Joann and I looked at each other. Something must be wrong. I remember having to hunt through my purse for the phone. When I looked at the caller ID, my heart stopped. It was my adoption line. I answered it.
One of the adoption counselors was on the other line. I will confess the conversation was a blur. Joann put paper and a pen in front of me to take notes to help me stay focused. A young woman in her 20s entered a hospital that morning and gave birth to a little boy at 10:08am. She told the hospital upon entry that she was going to give the baby up for adoption and they called my agency. By early afternoon, she was looking at adoption brochures of families. Within an hour, she chose me as her top candidate. By 4:30pm, I was contacted with 20 minutes to make a decision.
Lots of red flags were shared during this exchange. We don’t know who the birth father is so your legal process will be longer and more expensive. She received no prenatal care during her pregnancy so we don’t know what you are about to walk into here. This is a last-minute adoption with a 40% or higher reclaim rate. Joann stared at my face and reminded me that this scary stuff. My logical side heard all of this, but I could not find a “no” anywhere in my brain. Here I was about to walk away from everything when a child suddenly appeared. I said yes and waited to hear when I could meet him.
The next day, I waited until a polite time of 9am to call the birthmother and left a voice mail. The night before, Joann and I drove from fire station to fire station looking for someone to put the car seat in my car that I had been carrying in my trunk. At midnight, Joann put a gift registry wand in my hand at Target to build a gift list since loved ones will want to do something for me. I argued that this was too soon, but it turned out to be brilliant thing to do. I had no sleep, only pretend sleep where you assume the position and close your eyes, but your brain has too many thoughts.
To ease the wait, Joann and I walked her dog around the neighborhood. I remember Joann talking about something but I could not focus. I was waiting for the phone to ring. After 10am, it did ring and the birth mother asked me to come immediately to the hospital that was 30 minutes from Joann’s house.
After a brief stop at the florist to buy her flowers, I walked into her private hospital room. There was a beautiful African American woman with exquisite skin and her hair pulled up in a wrap. My heart was beating fast and I had no ability other than to stand upright and be honest. I said my name and told her how beautiful she was. She thanked me and seemed shocked by my outburst. Soon, she asked if I wanted to see the baby. She had not seen or held the baby since she wanted me to be the first one.
Here it comes. That moment is coming. My secret fears lurched around the next corner as the nurse walked me into the nursery. She directed me to wash my hands and sit in a private room. I remember sweating through my clothes and being too anxious to sit down. Very shortly, they wheeled a beautiful baby into the room.
Now, don’t laugh, but I honestly did not know. African American babies are born quite pale. So, when I saw this little guy, I did not think he was mine. I stared at him but I did not dare touch him since I did not think he was my kid. After a couple of minutes, the nurse walked into the room. “You can pick him up and hold him. He is yours.”
Ok, so I am not off to a good start. My own child is wheeled into the room and I immediately do not think he is mine. He was so small that I physically shook trying to get him out of the crib. Eventually I did and moved over to a chair to keep my knees from knocking. I held this tiny creature in my arms and suddenly he woke up and turned his face towards mine. His eyes opened slightly and his expression was like, “Hey, I know you.”
Bam. Boom. Pow. That stupid hippy dippy stuff of knowing a child is yours the instant you hold him was right. I could feel my brain rewiring itself. A nurse walked into the room and she used my phone to take our photo together. Before she walked in, I managed to take a few blurry ones of just his face looking into my face. I sang Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” to him and wiped my tears off his face. The long wait, the failed attempts to become a mother, the miscarriage, the depression seemed like another lifetime. My secret fear of not connecting to my child was long since vanished.
I spent the next several hours trying to remember my training and not ticking off the birth mother. It was Christmas Eve, the day my family celebrates the holiday together. That evening we always gather at my grandmother’s house to eat meatballs and give presents to the children of the family. As I drove back home from Joann’s house to my grandmother’s house to tell them the news, I remember wishing my car could go faster. There was something about my family knowing that made this whole crazy thing seem all too real.
When I arrived and got their attention, I finally said these words, “Yesterday, my son was born and tomorrow I get to bring him home on Christmas day.” For the rest of the night, we cried, drank and laughed about what happened. They referred to him as my Christmas miracle. To me, it’s the moment when I let myself believe that love, the earth-shattering, knock-you-off-your-socks-instantly kind was real.
So yes, you may share my secret fear. You may believe that the child you were assigned will feel foreign and strange to you. I don’t blame you. Your fears seem very logical to me, but rest assured that holding someone in your arms may just be what you need to put those fears to rest.
Open adoption means that potential adoptive parents create marketing brochures to educate birth parents about their existence. Birth parents reach out to communicate with you initially based on your brochure or Dear Birthmother Letter. Most adoptive families will tell you that this is the most difficult part of the adoption process, writing a short letter convincing someone to give you her child.
The text and images have to be approved by the adoption agency. It sounds rigid, but it’s not. They have done this many, many times. Adoption counselors have sat in rooms with birth parents and listened to how they reasoned with their choice in an adoptive family. I had to go through six written drafts and my images had to be redone several times. I found myself asking strange questions like:
Beginning of text from Dear Birthmother Letter
To a special person:
Hello, my name is Amy Brown from the beautiful city of Greensboro, North Carolina. You have a lot to consider and I admire your bravery and courage. I am looking forward to meeting you to learn more about and your plans for your child, to the extent that makes you most comfortable. I am so grateful that you are considering me as an adoptive parent for your child. Thank you so much for your time and I would love to talk with you about your hopes and dreams of your child.
I am a single woman who is a daughter, sister, friend and teacher. I also would love being a mom and can’t wait to share my life with a child. I have spent some time becoming who I wanted to be by pursuing my education and career. I love working in eLearning for the local college. My job involves working with faculty members to help them teach students online with the latest technology. I love having a job that give me such a flexible schedule. I am so glad that I’ll have lots of time to help my child with his or her homework after school.
When I am not behind a computer, you can find me hiking with friends on a local trail, kayaking on the lake or trying to convince my garden to grow. I love the outdoors and I can’t wait to play at one of our two neighborhood parks with my little one! When the weather keeps me inside, you can find me in a dance class, doing Pilates at a local studio and trying out new recipes for my friends. I can’t wait to teach my child the importance of being active and finding activities that he or she will love.
Animals have always been a part of my life. I have two energetic cats named Rufus and Ollie who love children, especially when they play with their toys. As a child, there were always animals in our home. From dogs, to cats, fish and turtles, if you name it, we probably had it. I hope that my child will enjoy growing up surrounded by animals. I can’t wait to see my child hold a brand new puppy for the first time!
Family and Friends:
I come from a family with lots of siblings and cousins. My parents are so excited about being grandparents! My child will never lack for love or affection in my family. Most of my family lives only a few minutes away and we love getting together to celebrate life and be silly. My grandmother’s cookies will be a favorite for my little one, just like every other child in our family.
I’m also so lucky to have fantastic friends. My best friends, Jenn and Sara, are like family to me and I know that they will always be there for my child. My friends share my passion for being active. They share my love of the outdoors, being silly and embracing diversity that life has to offer. We love attending local music festivals dancing, singing and juggling together. My child will always be surrounded by fantastic role models. They will always be ready to be there for my child at any moment’s notice.
Home and Community:
I live in Greensboro, a family-friendly town located in the center of North Carolina. Hop in the car and drive either east or west for a few hours and you land at the beach or the mountains. As a child, our family did just that and I can’t wait to do the same with my little one. I fondly remember climbing rocks, building forts and belly flops in the pool with my brothers and cousins around me. I plan to continue this tradition of travel and family time with my child with lots of little trips in all directions. I look forward to seeing my child building sand castles on the beach surrounded by lots of cousins.
My home is in a neighborhood with access to the best school district in town. I can’t wait for the day when I walk my child to school on the first day of kindergarten. My neighborhood also has two great parks less than 10 minutes walking distance from my front door. A branch of the local library specializing in children’s literature is also close by. I can’t wait to take my child there for an afternoon adventure for story time. There are children of all ages that live in my neighborhood. New playmates for my child are always just around the corner.
I know that you have a lot to consider. What ever you decide, I wish you the very best and I hope that you will find what you are seeking through this process. I promise that my child will always be my highest priority. I will always give my best to my little one as a parent. I want my child to embrace who he or she is and find happiness and understanding in life. I would love to develop a caring relationship with you that will endure for years to come, to the extent that you prefer. You are welcome in this family in whatever capacity is most comfortable for you. Thank you again for taking the time to learn more about me.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
With Love and Respect,
End of text from Dear Birthmother Letter
The letter is a four-page colorful brochure with orange, green and purple headings with a variety of images of me with others. The image on the cover is just of me. I had to have that image retaken the most. I hate my nose and joker like smile in most images. The few images that I liked, the adoption agency did not like.
My friends with kids were gracious enough to loan them for photo shoots with me. I am running and playing in the park with sweet red-haired Annie. I am laughing with my nephew Ty at a party. Amaleigh pretended to work with me in the garden. My friend Sara and I posed for a photo at my first 5K race. There is an image of me sitting behind my grandmother and mother at an event. My cats Ollie and Rufus like to sleep with their arms wrapped around each other so I used that image as an attention grabber. Finally, I am playing jump rope and drawing with sidewalk chalk with Olivia and Amaleigh outside of my house.
All adoptive parents are advised to get toll-free phone numbers for the birth parents to use to contact them instead of their personal phone numbers. That was a wise move. It tells you quickly at the person on the other end of the phone is a birth parent. I found a service online that would ring directly to my cell phone but indicate that it was from my adoption line. I also had a separate email address and website just for the adoption.
Standing in the hospital room with my son’s birth mother and many adoption brochures on her side table, I had to ask why she picked me. She liked the idea that I was an educator. That was a profession that she chose for herself and hopes complete in the near future.
See, in the end, you can only be yourself. She never remarked on my shirt color choice, the size of my nose or the joker-like quality of my smile. She saw a person who was doing what she wanted to do and she wanted her son to be in that environment.
By the time I reached adoption, I had spent almost four years trying to become a mother. Fertility was some of the worst chapters in my life full of physical, emotional and financial turmoil. As a potential single parent going this alone, I know that I wore out some loved ones. Most conversations with me were depressing because I was transfixed about trying to become pregnant. With adoption, this did not stop, but the conversation changed.
During my adoption training, we learned how we could not predict when this could happen, but we were advised to become prepared since it could happen any moment. I remember hearing stories of couples and single parents meeting their birth mothers mere weeks after their adoption profile and brochure became available. Their stories were full of surprise and wonder. One day, they were just driving to work and by the end of the day, they were on the path to becoming someone’s parent.
This was a huge change from fertility. Nothing happens that fast. Instead, you are constantly waiting and testing for your fertile cycle to come around again. This change settled into my heart with pure joy. I loved the idea that any day, my life could change. Turns out that I loved this idea too much.
I supervise a department of people at work. Out of the nine of us, I had been there the longest. There were things that I did that no one on the campus did. If I went out on maternity leave, someone else was going to have to get those things done. My mind raced as I made numerous lists out my responsibilities.
Slowly I started to wear out my employees. They were gracious enough not to complain, but I put them through some wild rides. For instance, a crisis happened during a weekend with a technology outage. During this crisis, I was out of town at a dance workshop with my phone on mute. My staff blew up my phone waiting for me to reply to put a solution into place. This event taught me that not enough people in my department had the means to report problems to our vendors. This situation needed to be fixed. Instead of just giving more people access, I held a meeting with the entire staff quizzing them about how to handle events like this without me. I wanted to feel good about being away for several months and not worry that the department was falling apart.
It wasn’t just one meeting though, it was many meetings. One time, I held two of those meetings on one day. My employees were assigned appointments to come to my office to learn my set-up like how I file things in my file cabinet, how to find report templates on my computer and how to decipher our budget in case things had to be purchased. You would think that I was leaving that week with the sense of urgency I had around getting everyone ready around me.
All of this was happening during my FIRST MONTH being eligible to adopt. My online profile just appeared on the website and my brochure was still warm from the printer. It was a bit like Chicken Little believing that any moment, the sky was going to fall and everything was going to be harder without me around.
Eventually, I calmed down. It took a while, but I learned to pace myself around my co-workers. In the end, they did great. Things ran smoothly without me though I was relieved that they were glad when I returned and reclaimed my tasks. Being away taught me to trust others to figure out scenarios and find the best solutions for the problems. Things didn’t have to go my way all of the time. My co-workers are great people who are full of ideas on how to solve things. I had to relax more and trust that they were going to figure things out.
Once you become eligible to adopt, one of the most difficult tasks you will be able to complete is to relax and enjoy your last moments of freedom. My adoption counselor told me in training to enjoy this time, schedule some vacations and try not to focus on adoption things all of the time. The wait for adoption is primarily out of my control. It was hard to do, but some days I succeeded. My strategy now was to work out as much as I could before the baby arrived. Running was now running training for many 5K events and even my first 10K. I auditioned for a dance troupe and performed in public more.
Still, the wait was HARD. At least with fertility, there were tasks that I had to do. For example, as my inseminations approached, I had to go to the doctor more often and take drugs at specific times of the day. Having a task gave me somewhere to place my focus. With adoption, it was like dating waiting for the phone to ring.
My final wait time was 16 months, 2 weeks and several days. The average wait time for a single parent is 14 months. When 14 month mark came and went, I was heartsick. My adoption phone line that I created, a toll-free number that my birth mother could use anywhere at anytime, never really rung besides two random calls. One of those calls came from a prison asking me to accept the charges, the next was a fax line trying to call me.
In the end, you can’t predict the future. You don’t know what is going to happen or when. Be mindful of not wearing out the people who love you. Yes, they are here to be supportive, but don’t make every conversation about your misery about having to wait so long to become a parent. Make yourself useful and busy during this time. Take excellent care of yourself. Do some impulsive things that you can never do as a parent. Things will happen, typically when you least expect it.
Today as I ran alone in the woods, I thought about every step. I dodged the roots of the trees, pulled myself up the hills and hoped for that finish line. At the end of the race, as my dear friends congratulated me for reaching my new personal best time, I walked in circles trying to gather my breath. It felt good to be done.
Adoption is like that darn 5K. I am nervous because I don't know what is front of me. I am surrounded by people who can have children without question - who know that after a few tries, it will all just work out for them. I know that you can't just rely on things to answer themselves naturally. There are going to be roots in my way that can trip me. There are hills that I will have to climb that no one can climb for me. The finish line will infamously move further back like some kind of oasis in the desert.
Honestly, I am weary. Sometimes I am full of hope like I feel when I cross that finish line. Other days, the race feels like it will never end. I want to be at the finish line, but right now I am at the weary part of the 5K when the muscles in your legs ache and you just learned that you have only finished 1K of the race.
I know this race has a finish line and I know what awaits me at that line, but running like adoption is not a physical thing. It's a mental thing and the self talk can be brutal. It's also brutal to hear loved ones say both directly and indirectly negative things about adoption while you are in the process. All I can do is breathe in and out, watch the ground at my feet and turn up the Prince song playing in my headphones.
I am lucky. I have a fantastic support system full of people who will drop everything at a moment’s notice and help me in some way. I hope you have some similar people in our life. These same people can also drive you completely insane by simply caring for you. Once my adoption profile went live, my grandmother called me everyday to learn if I had heard anything. At first, it was cute, but after 10 plus days of this and I was trying to put the thoughts of waiting outside of my mind, it was painful.
So, I decided to write a blog called Mommy Shark to share what was happening with the adoption process. I highly recommend it if you have a constant need-to-know support system like me. It gave me a way to educate people about the process, share where I was in this process and state my feelings.
The adoption wait was brutal for me mainly because I didn’t think that I would have to wait long. As the months dragged on, I was feeling raw and helpless. When I passed the average wait time of 14 months, I was inconsolable. Going past the average wait time was not supposed to happen to me. I need to cry it out on my blog then go on. If you are a private person, this option probably sounds awful to you but realize that I gave my loved ones safe ways to help me through this process. I answered common questions once about the process instead of repeatedly. Readers could see what I was thinking and avoid sensitive topics in person.
Writing down my thoughts on a regular basis was not foreign to me. During my fertility years, I kept a journal to document the process for myself. I wanted my child to know why I was making the decisions that I did in case something happened to me. The blog process was just a continuation of this process.
Don’t forget that blogs are not just one-sided events. They can make the experience collaborative as your readers reach out to you on the comment board or via email. People that I hadn’t seen in 15-20 years became regular readers of my blog. They shared my adoption profile link on their Facebook pages. They wrote lovely, encouraging notes to me during the process to lift my spirits. It can be a scary experience sharing your life and something so close to your heart on the Internet. It can also be a rewarding experience when you realize that you are not alone in your grief. Speaking out about my experience was my way to remind myself that even though I am a single parent, I am not alone.