First Mother’s Day

May 7, 2010

Mommy, what was it like on the day I was born? Oh, Little One, the sun was shining and the flowers were in bloom! The world was crisp and new!

Mommy, what was it like on the day they told you I would never be normal? The clouds gathered, Little One, and blocked the sun from my tear-filled eyes. For awhile, I thought the sun would never shine again!

El Paso, Texas. Mother’s Day. The newborn baby would remain in the hospital for another two weeks while tests were done. The New Daddy was determined to not be like other daddies – anxious and worried — so he took the car and went to Juarez with friends. Defiant, The New Mother took a short-cut through the scrub desert, down the steep sides of a sandy arroyo and up the other side, to stand on the veranda of the Army hospital and peer through the nursery window at the tiny baby girl. The New Mother’s arms ached to hold the baby she had not yet touched – if you don’t count cradling with her insides for nine months of pregnancy!

How strange it must have been to be on the inside of the hospital, looking out at this chubby woman in a pink tent dress, her only dress that fit. It might have made someone uncomfortable to see the tears rolling down the cheeks of The New Mother, but no one offered a word of solace or advice. The New Mother peered in at the baby, sleeping with an IV needle in her freshly-shaved scalp, the needle pumping in medication to control the seizures that started shortly after delivery. Whenever the baby moved a smidgen, The New Mother tilted her head like any new parent, to glimpse a nose, an ear, and identify whose looks the baby inherited.

An hour was all the time allotted to The New Mother to observe her child on this Mother’s Day. Then, it was home again, through the sand, with grit accumulating between her toes in the pink, open-toed sandals that matched the tent dress.

Such emptiness. Such utter loneliness. The New Mother wailed her misery. She cried in anger and frustration. “IT’S NOT FAIR!” In self-loathing, the New Mother pulled scissors from her sewing basket. What would she do? Without looking in the mirror, she cocked her head sideways and whacked off her shoulder-length hair below her ears. More wails. Now what had she done!

A knock came at the door — the door with the ill-fitting frame inside the 18” thick adobe walls, where the wind let in the sand. The door made a scraping sound as The New Mother opened it. There on the threshold stood a wizened Old Crone – the only words to describe this hunched-over dark woman with a shawl over her head and shoulders. She spoke not a word of English, but consoled The New Mother in soft Spanish. The New Mother was at last soothed and relieved. Closing the door, saying adios to the only person who came forth to say she cared on this, her First Mother’s Day.

Advertisements

Alchemy

February 13, 2010

I’ve been a little blue today and I think it is because Valentine’s Day is just a day away. I remember an earlier Valentine’s Day when I was a college freshman. I borrowed my boyfriend’s car to go to a florist’s to buy him a dozen red roses; it was 1962 and girls didn’t do such outrageous things in those days. Then I picked him up outside his dorm for him to take me back to my dorm. As we sat in the car to say goodbye, he got serious and told me that he’d been thinking that we should break up! Startled, I said, “I feel like a fool. Here’s why I borrowed the car today.” I reached behind the seat and pulled out the roses. “I bought YOU flowers for Valentine’s Day. You might as well take them. Here!”

We didn’t break up. Not then. Painful as the breakup was when it did come ten years later, I wouldn’t trade anything for the years we had together. We shared a lot of diverse experiences I would never have had otherwise, and I grew up a lot. I had my two girls with him — the one who died the year that we divorced –I never put that sequence together until now! — and the one who today is my best friend, my daughter Heather.

Look! I just took a sad memory and turned it into a bittersweet one!

Blog for Choice

January 23, 2010

In my thirty years as a pregnancy counselor at adoption agencies, I met many women who had been forced (by social convention, by family members, by partners) to place their babies for adoption. Because of their stories, I developed a renewed support for keeping abortion a legal option for women.

Before Roe V Wade came along there were maternity homes, and a general attitude of forget-this-happened-you’ll-have-other-babies-who-will-take-his-place. (For a great read about those days, see The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler. )

My own interactions with birth mothers from the years before Roe V Wade:

1. One day in about 1981, a hesitant voice on the phone said: “Ten years ago I gave up a baby for adoption through this agency . . .” When she didn’t continue I said, “Yes, how can I help you?” “You mean you’re going to talk to me? I expected you to slam the phone down!” Tears of relief flowed as she realized she was going to be listened to.

2. A woman who called from Florida on her child’s 21st birthday, said that she didn’t know if she’d had a boy or a girl, so she and her family always spoke of “the baby.” “It feels weird to say ‘The Baby’ turns 21 today,” she said. I asked her if she would like to know the first name of that baby, and she was amazed that I offered to tell her. I took her phone number, looked up the information and called her back to let her know it was Linda who turned 21 that day. “You don’t know what a gift you’ve given me!” she said.

3. About six years later a woman called and said that fourteen years earlier she had placed a baby for adoption through the agency. The day she signed papers, when he was only three days old, her worker told her they didn’t have a family for her baby because he was mixed race. “I’ve never forgotten him and I have worked hard to better myself, and if my child is still in foster care, I could take him back now.” I was startled; for one thing, it wouldn’t be that easy, but I wanted to give her some information. I took her phone number and went to the files. Her baby had been placed in a loving adoptive home the next day after she signed relinquishments, but no one had told her this. I called and apologized profusely for the lack of courtesy that she had been subjected to. “I thank you for letting me know that he has a good home,” came her response. I invited the birth mother to write a letter to be placed in the file in case her child contacted the agency. I don’t know if she did, or if he did, but I hope so.

As soon as Roe v Wade was announced in January of 1973, the adoption rate dropped dramatically. If they opted not to terminate the pregnancy but to give their child life, these pregnant women were faced with another decision: whether to raise the child or to make an adoption plan. None of their options was easy to take, but being in control of their lives and their bodies, made a difference to their psyche. They had an active role: to choose their outcome. And having the power to make the choice made all the difference in the world about their feelings when they chose adoption!

And that’s why I don’t want to return to the days when abortion was an illegal and criminal act and adoption felt like a punishment to mother and child.

The Rush is On!

January 21, 2010

Amidst all the terrible news from Haiti, an awakening of interest in adoption is taking shape. I’m getting calls (as are other people in the adoption world, I am sure!) from a variety of people — Where can I go to adopt from Haiti?

Yes, there are vulnerable children. Yes, there are many families who would love to adopt a child. Yet, I extend a caution, to ‘think before you leap.’

An excellent way to crystalize thoughts before taking this enormous step would be to get a copy of: Inside Transracial Adoption by Gail Steinberg and Beth Hall. Until the end of February Perspectives Press is making this book available for only $10 to those who write “Facebook” on the shopping cart memo line. Go to: http://www.perspectivespress.com.

Happy reading!

Review: Spirit Babies.

January 19, 2010

I was at a conference when I noticed a woman standing in front of a display in the exhibitors’ room. Suzanne Arms read her name tag. “Are you THE Suzanne Arms?” I blurted out. A photographer and author, Suzanne Arms’ best-known book is Immaculate Deception, published in the mid 1970s, which chronicled inhumane treatment of hospital births and heralded the home birthing movement. In 1983, Suzanne Arms wrote about birth mothers in To Love and Let Go; ten years later she followed up with some of the same women and wrote: Adoption: A Handful of Hope (published in 1995) reporting how the effect of adoption on the lives of these women. These were the first books I found that honestly dealt with the emotions of birth mothers and offered the practice of open adoption, which was just beginning to be discussed in the adoption literature. Over the years I bought and gave away many copies of those two books on adoption.

On this conference date, Suzanne had a display of books and materials she was hawking to the convention of child birth educators. She piled books into my willing arms, and I was happy to start reading them later in the day. One that caught my fancy is Spirit Babies; How to Communicate with the Child You’re Meant to Have by Walter Makichen, published in 2005. The author is a self-proclaimed clairvoyant medium who specializes in healing work. Sometimes this involves working with couples who can’t get pregnant. He says he looks at the aura of his clients and identifies a ‘visible oval’ which is the spirit of a child who wants to be born to this couple. He communicates with the spirit babies asking what is keeping them from being born. It may be the fears of one or the other potential parent; he gives the couple breathing exercises to do and encourages them to have discussions with these spirit babies, inviting them into their lives. He illustrates with case histories of couples he’s worked with who later report to him their successful pregnancies.
So I’m reading, fascinated, but at the same time my own inner voice is crying out: “But what about adoption?” and then I saw that he has a chapter on adoption, and another on abortion. He is not judgmental about either of these choices, rather, he reports that how spirit babies feel about the decisions of adoption and abortion have more to do with the prior experiences of the spirit babies.

I consider this a ‘woo-woo’ book, and not everyone will be open to the subject of the spirit world in a way that may be completely foreign to the reader. The author gives a clear explanation of his view of this world, reincarnation and karmic contracts. Whether you’re a believer in this realm or not, it is a very interesting read.

Vicarious Thrills through Social Networking

January 18, 2010

Joining a social network is a little like having a telephone with a ‘party line.’ For those of you too young to know, a party line was a way to serve sparse populations in the expansion years of telephone service. The expense of the infrastructure (all those wires strung on miles of telephone poles in rural areas) were borne by several families sharing the same line. In our case in West Texas in the 1940s and 1950s, there were eight families on one line, all sharing the same number but each having a different ring. This required more than a little common courtesy to allow the other parties their privacy, which was universally NOT adhered to. If you happened to pick up the phone when the line was busy, you heard both sides of a conversation. Ah, the thrill of a conversation heard while muffled by your hand held over the mouthpiece!

Social Networking is a little like that, except that we can, within certain broad parameters, pick and choose who can ‘listen in’ and how much of our ‘posts’ (or conversations) others may see.

It has been my fascination this last week to ‘listen in’ on adoptive families waiting to bring home children they have already adopted who are still in Haiti. Because of the way international adoption is handled, adoptions are processed in the country of origin of the child. Each country handles the process differently, and the receiving country has to approve of the legal action as well. (This is not so different in domestic adoptions, except the process requires input from the sending state and the receiving state,) Haiti has a long process from start to finish during which time the children wait for two or more years before they can come home to a country they’ve never seen and can hardly imagine. Because of the earthquake in Haiti, there’s a good chance that this long wait is about to be shortened for those Haitian children whose adoptions are already ‘in the pipeline.’

Having your children held in another country for years after they are legally yours is a very difficult thing to endure. I’ve watched my online friends hold garage sales, book sales, gift wrapping paper drives and all kinds of ways to raise money for their trips to visit their children during the wait and / or to send clothes, toys, diapers and formula to help other orphans who are waiting for their forever family. Their posts have the effect of bringing their friends (and other party line readers) to vicariously live out the hopes and dreams of adoptive parents everywhere. Basically, this has been an education for many of those friends. I’ll bet the questions common to adoptions everywhere: “Can you love a child not born of your body?” “Can you love a child who looks different from you?” are being answered every time these waiting parents post an update. When they waited those first horrific hours, hoping for a word of safety about their absent family members, we held our breath, too. When they asked for prayers for the safety of their children, we prayed. When they asked us to write our congressmen and women to encourage the State Department to approve emergency visas, we made calls and sent faxes. Now, just days from the children’s arrivals that we hope and pray for, we are banding together en masse to bundle good wishes and gift cards into the hands of the parents who will have to travel somewhere not yet determined to meet their children and bring them home.

Historically, there was another time the nation watched from the sidelines for planes bearing children to be adopted to our shores. At the end of the Vietnam war, as the government in Saigon fell, children and babies were placed on ‘the last plane out of Saigon’ where they would fly across the world to a new life.
Those Vietnam Baby Drop children grew up. One of them has recently edited a book for and by teenaged adoptees. In an upcoming blogpost I’ll review Pieces of Me: Who do I Want to Be? by Robert L. Ballard (EMKPress, 2009). In the meantime, we’re praying for the safe arrival of this precious cargo from Haiti.

The Client

January 16, 2010

Most of you know that I did pregnancy counseling for many years before I started my private practice. Let me tell you this story of The Client.

It was unusual for a married woman to ask for a pregnancy counseling session, but then this was not a typical pregnant woman. Overwhelmed and just a few weeks away from delivery of her second child, The Client had come in for help in handling the burdens of her life. She had decided to work right up to the last minute before the due date because it kept her mind occupied. Otherwise she said she would worry that this second baby would be like her firstborn, a profoundly retarded blind child who at 3 ½ years was unable to sit alone, feed herself or be potty-trained. If the second baby was handicapped, what would it do to the shaky marriage she was barely holding together? Her husband had never accepted that there was something wrong with their daughter who took Dilantin-in-suspension to control seizures. The medicine didn’t mix well – more seizures at the top of the bottle and by the bottom of the bottle their daughter was sluggish and slept all the time. The husband was in denial, preferring to believe it was the medicine that caused the problem.

Yes, The Client desperately needed someone to talk to about her fears and concerns. She couldn’t afford to pay for counseling but she couldn’t afford to go without counseling! Finally she found an agency with a sliding scale payment system, something she could afford.

Her counseling had a good outcome. She got a referral to a day program for her firstborn – an ‘Infant Stimulation’ class; a state van picked her firstborn up every morning and took her to a classroom where she learned to eat for someone other than just her Mommy. The new baby arrived and thankfully was born without problems. The Client welcomed joy back into her life as she prepared to guide her ‘normal daughter’ to be an intelligent and creative child who loves life. With a little encouragement from her counselor, she enrolled in graduate school, and earned her Master’s degree.

And so, every year when United Way makes its annual appeal, I am the first to sign up, designating my donation to agencies that provide low cost counseling. Yes, I was The Client who needed counseling and emotional support to help me through a rough time in my life. And just maybe it had something to do with my becoming a pregnancy counselor.

Informed Consent: Ignorance vs. Alternatives

January 14, 2010

Recently a co-trainer in adoption education mentioned that at a recent training she encountered participants who said that merely mentioning adoption to a pregnant person was trying to ‘sell it.’
I’m of the opinion that all options should be discussed so that the person facing the choice has a clear understanding of the options.

In the 1980s the Reagan Administration instituted a ‘gag order’ that declared health care workers at pregnancy clinics receiving government funds were absolutely prohibited from discussing abortion with a pregnant patient, even if she asked about terminating her pregnancy. In an op-ed piece at the time, the writer said that by not mentioning any option, there was an implied negativity associated with that option. If it’s so bad that you can’t even say the word, then there must be something wrong with abortion even if it was her legal right to know about terminating her pregnancy, the writer said.

Something clicked inside me. As a pregnancy counselor at the time, I had pondered how rarely the word adoption was mentioned by health care people, while abortion was frequently offered as a solution to an unplanned pregnancy. By mentioning ONLY abortion as an alternative to carrying out the pregnancy, it was implied that abortion was the preferable choice.

Once there is an unplanned pregnancy, there are no outcomes without heavy residuals: Abortion, often a secret to the outside world, still weighs heavily on the person who experiences it, just as adoption may, particularly because it is harder to hide adoption than it is to hide abortion. Even parenting as a choice has its drawbacks, like the pain felt by the mother who cannot provide an active and loving father for her child. In my opinion, knowledge of all her options is the best approach to counseling a woman facing this difficult turning point in her life and the life of her child.

Haiti; We Live in A Smaller World Today

January 14, 2010

I was driving home from my office yesterday when I heard news of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. I made a beeline to the computer as soon as I got in the house, to check with my FB friends Lena and Bob, who are in the process of adopting two little boys from an orphanage in Haiti. Sure enough, Lena was online asking for prayers for her boys and their country. I checked back periodically through the evening hours, as they put together an impromptu prayer meeting at their house, posted links to early online postings from Haiti (one in French), and posts from other waiting adoptive parents they’ve met.

Finally, at 11:02 PM, a msg from a Haitian missionary :
UPDATE: Just got back from upper Delmas area – Abbey and the children from 3 Angels are all fine St. Joseph’s home for boys is demolished but the boys got out safely.

All day today I’ve thought of other connections to Haiti in my life:

The daughter of my best friend’s sister went to Haiti twenty years ago, as a twenty year old college student. She was doing missionary work there when she was killed in an automobile accident. Life has been very hard on her family, after the senseless loss of their firstborn.

Then I think of children from Haiti who have been adopted by friends and families of friends: I thought of Stephanie, of Jemellie, of Kenson and Kenley, Haitian brothers I knew in foster care. How are these young people, all adults now, feeling today? Are they thinking of their homeland and wishing they could help?

In reality we are a small Universe, and we all share passage on this Planet’s Journey. It is right to be concerned for our fellow passengers. Times are tight, but we’ll all feel better when we reach out a hand to help. Suggestion for donations: http://www.ThreeAngelsRelief.org

The Best Pay

April 14, 2009

The paycheck is never the main reward for any of us in helping fields; otherwise, we would have chosen another field! But in today’s mail I got the best kind of pay. I thought it was an early birthday card, this small envelop that arrived four days before my 66th birthday. Instead, it is a Thank You card from a former client, with this message:

Beth. It was so meaningful that you sent me a card and let me know I am still on the right path!! I have started my undergraduate courses and will be finished in 2/2011!! It ls in Human Service / Management. I want to give back and help survivors of abuse like you helped me!!
Love always and God Bless, Charity