Grieving at the Holidays

I’ve written about Jane several times before. She and I have been friends since we were 14. Her birthday is coming up on the 19th, two days from now. And yesterday, her dad passed away after a long struggle with Parkinson’s. I didn’t know him very well – probably as well as she knew my father. But he and his wife – I know her only as Mrs. Oh – were always very kind to me, especially considering that I was a white Catholic girl whose lifelong friendship with their daughter could only have perplexed them.

Parkinson’s is an insidious illness that drains the whole family. Though there were certainly aspects of the martyr in Jane’s mom’s insistence on doing virtually all of the caregiving herself, she was also, as Jane described her in her FB post announcing her father’s passing, a warrior. Mrs. Oh was, in her younger life, a nurse. Her husband, Jane’s father, was an OB-GYN. It must have been terribly difficult for him to become the patient after all those years of having been the medical authority.

As I was thinking about how much more challenging it is to lose someone – even somebody suffering with a long, debilitating illness – right around the holidays, I remembered writing an article for a small, bimonthly local health journal a number of years ago. It was the first Christmas after my father passed away, and I recall it resulting from our family’s efforts to find a new normal. Here’s a bit of an excerpt from the article, originally printed in the Arizona Networking News, Volume 25, Number 6, December 2006/January 2007.

Losing a loved one is never easy, but it is particularly difficult when the loss occurs near the holidays. Whether it has been one year or 20 years, you are likely to feel the loss much more acutely during the holiday season.

Although everyone grieves differently, it is important that you be kind to yourself and find the best way to cope with your emotions at this intense time of year. What can you do if eggnog and ho-ho-ho are just not on your radar during this festive season?

  • Acknowledge your feelings.
  • Cry, if you need to cry. 
  • Get support.
  • Offer a prayer, blessing or good thought for your loved one. 
  • Light a candle.
  • Leave an empty chair at the dining table. 
  • Give a gift or donation in their name.
  • Write a letter to the person you lost. 
  • Do not be afraid to talk to your loved one.
  • Begin a new tradition. 
  • Create a memory book.

This is just an excerpt of my original article. Read the whole thing here.

The interesting thing to me, as I reread that article, is that I didn’t specifically touch on loss through adoption at all. I have truly been blessed to have experienced a relatively easy, predominantly open adoption. As a result, I never really went through holiday anguish of the sort other birthmoms understandably experience. I mentioned in a prior post the only time I remember having a significant sense of adoption grief/loss during the holidays – it was during a holiday party we threw for the employees’ children one year during my first tenure at Lehman Brothers. It’s not that I didn’t experience grief, loss, or regret – but those episodes have been blessedly brief and infrequent. I credit that to all the talk therapy I was able to do with my wonderful Spence-Chapin counselor, Mary Weidenborner.

Now that I’m on the thought train, I’m sure sad, grieving, and struggling birthmoms will remain on my mind for the duration of the holiday season. I send each and every one of you heartfelt love, blessings, and hope that the pain will recede and that you find a way to celebrate and enjoy the holidays in spite of the sorrow.

As for Jane and her dad: Godspeed, Dr. Oh! Love you like crazy, Jane!!

no more pain

__________________________
Laura Orsini
 is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who recently graduated from college and began his engineering career. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about the first book from her brand new publishing company, Panoply Publishing.

Throwback Music Memories

Throwback Music Memories

Something of a music aficionado/savant, my husband remembers hearing rock songs on the radio as early as age 6. I didn’t lose my musical virginity until about age 11, with the simultaneous purchase of the Journey “Escape” and Foreigner “4” albums. Today you can’t turn on the radio (AM/FM or Sirius) – at least in the Phoenix area – without being inundated with Journey, particularly “Don’t Stop Believing.” That song has moved from one of my lifetime favorites to my list of “I’d Be Happy to Never Hear It Again.”

John and I don’t watch a lot of network TV, but we have tuned in to the music contest shows, most notably The Voice, over the years since we’ve been together. I don’t have the technical music terms to describe why I like or don’t like particular songs or performances, but when I say “It’s too pointy” or “She really sounded off tonight,” John knows exactly what I mean and tells me I have a good ear for a non-musician.

The other night, The Voice featured a guest performance by Michael Bublé. He has a nice enough voice – God bless him and the people who enjoy him – but after the first verse, I think I might have been snoring. That old crooner style is the some of the most boring music I’ve ever heard. I’m no fan of hip-hop, but I’d take it any day over Bublé, Harry Connick, Jr., and even Seth McFarlane’s attempt to mimic Sinatra. Just days prior, I’d spent the weekend listening to a host of mostly local rock bands at an annual arts festival. (I snoozed through the Phoenix Ukulele Club’s version of “Frosty the Snowman” and other traditional carols.) The highlight for me was a punk version of the Christmas classic, “Feliz Navidad.”

This got me to wondering how much of my music taste is inherent – and how much of it was influenced by the happenstance of the music I was exposed to. I grew up in the ’80s when “alternative rock” was still a relatively new concept, and to this day I still prefer UK artists like U2, Sting, New Order, the Cranberries, and the Cure over almost any other kind of music. But maybe if I’d grown up in the ’40s, I’d have quite enjoyed that crooner stuff I find so distasteful today. Usually able to tune out commercials, I noticed yesterday that a particular investment bank is using a song from my youth in its newest TV spots – “One Thing Leads to Another,” by The Fixx – which means they’re definitely targeting people in my age range, and it’s working.

We went out to breakfast yesterday for my husband’s birthday, and as we were pulling into the driveway on our return, I heard the first few bars of one of my favorite ’80s songs, “Melt with You,” by Modern English. John turned the engine off and the music quickly died. “Awwww,” I whined, quietly.

“What?” he asked, concerned.

“It was ‘Melt with You.’ One of my favorites.”

“Well, I’m sure with the push of a button or two, you can hear it momentarily in the comfort of the house,” he chirped. “It’s not like you have to sit around with your cassette player ready, just waiting for it to come on. Kids Eric’s age would never believe what we used to do to get our music.”

tape recorder ready

I laughed so hard at that memory. If you’re older than, say, 45 and you grew up in an American city, you can probably relate. Fortunately, every radio station had DJs back then, and the good ones would announce the songs they planned to play next, so you’d have time to get your blank tape situated in the cassette deck, finger poised to press the RECORD button. Even so, every mix tape inevitably had a song that was missing the first bars or one with the idiot DJ talking over the music. Still, it was cheaper and more convenient that getting yourself to the record store and plunking down $7 or $8 for a cassette that held an album’s worth of music when all you wanted was the hit single.

I know nothing of my son’s taste in music. I feel like those old people we used to see in comic strips and sitcoms – the ones who complain about the music tastes of “those youngsters.” Here’s a screenshot of the MUSIC tab from Eric’s Facebook page.

eric's music

Seriously, I’ve never heard of any of them. I know his dad and I share a preference for the Coffeehouse acoustic station on Sirius – and Eric makes fun of it every time the two of them drive together. One thing is sure: music tastes and formats change. I’m still grateful every day for being married to an incredibly talented musician who constantly brings music and song into our house – especially since we’re pretty much on the same page in terms of what we like.

__________________________
Laura Orsini
 is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who recently graduated from college and began his engineering career. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about the first book from her brand new publishing company, Panoply Publishing.

I Declare This Season of Celebration Officially Open

I Declare This Season of Celebration Officially Open

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted. Haven’t forgotten you, little blog – and dear readers, whoever and wherever you may be. But I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately. Procrastination is its manifestation – the challenge is that it disguises itself as crocheting. What that means is that I can – and do – rationalize the procrastination by telling myself that I’m not wasting time because I’m creating something beautiful. In most cases, this is true. I’m actually a pretty talented crocheter. The problem is that I’m not creating the things I feel I’m really supposed to be creating. Crocheting – regardless of how beautiful the resulting item – is not the best use of my time right now.

Another thing I’ve been doing a lot of is playing a word game on my phone, even as I am aware of the ridiculously addictive nature of screens. Who knows what kinds of subliminal messaging I’m allowing my brain to receive as strive to make as many words as I can out of this?

wordscapes

Again, I tell myself I’m doing something useful by building my vocabulary and stimulating my brain – neither of which is untrue. But I’ve reached and surpassed Level 700. I won’t calculate how many minutes I spent getting there, as that would just depress me further and could actually result in my climbing under the covers and staying there for a day or two.

So I’m not sure it’s a holiday funk, because it feels like it’s been going on a lot longer than that. I am certain that some of it is grief – it’s going on three years, but Corina’s absence can still be such a difficult thing to reconcile. She was never much for the holidays, but it’s the famliest of family times, and our family has shrunk so much over these last four years. Now it’s just John, his stepmom, and I.

I still delight in the time I got to spend with Eric and his parents this past summer. We talked during that visit of his coming – with his best friend and Meaghan – to Phoenix in January for the big annual golf tournament. They were all so excited. Clock’s a ticking, though, and I haven’t heard anything further about those plans. The grown-up thing to do would be to call or text him and ask him directly if he’s still planning to come. But the hesitant, tippy-toe birthmom part of me fears the answer is no, and since I’d rather not know that just yet, I keep on waiting – ahem, procrastinating – to make that call or send that text message.

out of the dark

I was just re-reading a prior post where I mentioned The Grief Recovery Handbook. A friend gifted me another copy last week. It still sits in the canvas grocery bag in which I brought it home, on the dining room chair where I plopped it when I came in from that meeting. But I’m starting to feel that this funk – or grief – has stolen enough of my time and productivity and fitness and emotions. I probably need to crack the spine on that book and read it. It’s our first Christmas in our new house, and John and I have commented many times how blessed we are and how much we love our home. So as of right now, I publicly declare this season of celebration open. If grief again shows her head, I will welcome her, comfort her for the moment, and then politely ask her to take her leave. What we resist persists – but that doesn’t mean I need to coddle or wallow in the muck.

I was reminded earlier today that Christmas lights have cheered me since I was a tiny girl – so I guess it’s time to boil up some hot cocoa, load Pandora’s Rockin’ Holidays Radio on the car stereo, and hit the road. Time to do some holiday self-care.

holiday lights

__________________________
Laura Orsini
 is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who recently graduated from college and began his engineering career. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about the first book from her brand new publishing company, Panoply Publishing.

Waiting for the Phone to Ring

Waiting for the Phone to Ring

Went visiting with Eric and his family in May and then took a 2-month break from the blog. The way life goes, I suppose. The topics haven’t stopped coming, though, and it feels like the right time to get back to it. So here we continue the story…

My son is about to become an uncle. Which means his sister is about to become a mom, and his mom is about to become a grandma. All for the first time. I know Kathy won’t mind my sharing this FB post she put up yesterday…

impatient grandma

Got me to thinking that if she’s this impatient waiting for this baby, waiting for news about Eric’s birth must have been even more challenging. There are funny pictures from Jill’s baby shower of Kathy with her hand on “the bump,” and I personally witnessed Kathy tease her daughter about talking to her grandson during my visit in May. Even though I could tell it really bothered Jill, she’s probably somewhat used to the banter and her mother’s ways.

When Kathy and Bruce were waiting for Eric to come, I’m guessing the wait would have been much more serious, less playful. And how could it have been anything other, given how high the stakes were? I remember at some point hearing Kathy say that she had only washed half of the baby clothes they’d bought in preparation for Eric’s arrival. It was her version of crossing her fingers – trying not to jinx the adoption by being over-eager.

I scoured the web in search of statistics for the numbers of women who start off making an adoption plan and change their minds – at any point in the process – before the placement is complete. Those statistics are impossible to find. Here are some of the answers I uncovered, some from adoption “forums.” My comments are in bold/italic.

  • Everyone that I know who has successfully adopted experienced at least one failed match.1 [They evidently haven’t met the Stanfields.]
  • There’s always a risk. Most potential birthmothers make adoption plans because their circumstances seem less than ideal for a baby… but occasionally circumstances change, or potential birthmothers decide to keep their children despite their circumstances. You simply can’t consider a child yours until after the adoption is final, or at least until after the relinquishment is signed. I realize it’s difficult and unfair, that it is emotionally traumatic and can be devastating financially to have adoption after adoption fall through. I wish that adoptive parents didn’t have to pay agencies or facilitators any money until after they got the baby.2 [Could you make it even sound slightly more like you are buying the baby?!]
  • Believe me, we heard tons of stories and were quite frankly terrified of domestic open adoption when we first heard of it. Over time, we learned that the old advertising rule “if a customer is happy, they’ll tell 3 people, if they’re unhappy, they’ll tell 23” applies in adoption – we tend to share our unhappy stories much more often then our happy ones. We found that in only a very small percentage of cases, and in many of those there were huge red flags, did birth families change their adoption plan.3 [Thank you for your thoughtful comments!]
  • The number of expectant mothers that change their mind is low; it should not deter hopeful adoptive parents from desiring to adopt. … To decrease the likelihood that a Birth Mother changes her mind about adoption, expectant mothers should speak to mental health professionals that are not affiliated with the adoption agency to prevent her from feeling overwhelmed or pressured to place her child. It should be a well thought out decision rooted in understanding and peace and not based on emotions.4 [This is a good idea and should be mandatory – not just a nice idea for a blog post.]
  • There are certain warning signs that may indicate a birthmother (or birth parents) is more likely to change her mind and decide to parent. This is obviously an inexact science, so take them as red flags only. [There are twelve points. I’m listening only the “red flags” I would have set off.]
  1. Has not shared her adoption plans with her family or the birth father. [I’d have failed on this count, as I didn’t tell my folks about Eric until his first birthday. Kathy was the only prospective adoptive mom I met who understood that and didn’t try to make me feel guilty about it.]
  2. Seems too sure and confident of her decision. If she sounds rehearsed or scripted, she likely is.5 [I’d have failed on this count, too. I don’t think I sounded scripted, but I never really wavered in my decision – even though the agency thought I was wavering because I didn’t like any of the 11 families’ profiles I saw before Kathy and Bruce’s.]
  • Though they are rare, and most adoptions go through seamlessly, revocations by birth parents happen.6 [Vague details are all I can uncover – someone may have hard numbers, but I don’t know where they’re hiding.]

There was no need for Kathy and Bruce to worry. I made my adoption plan the second I peed on that strip and saw the little pink + sign, and the two blue lines, and whatever other methods the six additional pregnancy tests I took used to indicate POSITIVE. I knew my son would grow up with other people, call another woman Mommy – and I never wavered in that knowledge.

Speaking of the kiddo – he’s not talking to me again right now. Not really sure why. Maybe the week we spent together was too much. Maybe he still has questions, but it’s just easier not to ask them. Maybe he’s hurting. I think about him every day – and daily say a prayer of thanks and wish him well. It’s all I can do from here. We’ll circle back again soon, and I’m OK with that knowledge.

All eyes will be on the new baby soon, anyway. And that’s always a good thing.

___________________

  1. https://adoption.com/forums/thread/104012/how-often-do-birthparents-change-their-minds/
  2. Same as above
  3. Same as above
  4. https://adoptionnetwork.com/do-birth-mothers-change-their-mind-about-adoption
  5. https://creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/top-placement-risks-for-birth-mother-changing-mind-in-domestic-adoption
  6. https://www.bcadoption.com/resources/articles/when-birth-parents-change-their-minds

__________________________
Laura Orsini
 is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Being at Peace with My Adoption Decision Does NOT Equal Denial

Being at Peace with My Adoption Decision Does NOT Equal Denial

I seriously considered not posting today. It is the last full day of my 2-week trip to NY/NJ, and it’s gonna be a doozy. For one thing, this is my only full day at Book Expo America, perhaps the biggest publishing industry event in the country. And then I get on a plane at 8 a.m. tomorrow (5 a.m. Phoenix time) and fly home. While I’ve treasured every moment I’ve spent out here – I REALLY want to find a way to live out here part-time again, because this is the next best thing to Ireland – I can’t wait to get home to my husband, my dogs, my cat, my bed, and my regular life. Kathy and Bruce have been incredible hosts. Again, I shake my head in surprise and gratitude every time I think about how far we’ve all come from that first meeting at Spence-Chapin all those years ago. But I’m sure they’ll be glad to have their house back to themselves so they can get back to their routine, too.

gillette NJ

So I was thinking of skipping today’s post, mostly because I’m tired, but also because I didn’t have a topic at the ready. Would have loved to have put up one image – but I since I couldn’t find the right one instantly, I scrapped that idea. Then I put “birthmothers” into the google, and found a link to a post titled, “Birthmother Wars; When the Positive Fight the Negative.” This incited me to write…

For one thing, I would never have used those words to describe it. I mean, when used other than literally, the word “war” is almost always hyperbolic. I certainly fall on the side of the positive, however, and I’ve been troubled by so much of the self-loathing that seems encouraged in this closed Facebook group for birthmothers that I belong to. So I was interested in what this birthmom blogger might have to say.

In a very long post that seems to repeat itself, she asks the following questions (in italics):

  • IF you have had a “good” experience and feel “at peace” with your decision, then why does another birthmother with a not as happy story or outlook so greatly threaten your place of comfort? Like why can’t you even listen to her? First, I wouldn’t – couldn’t – have placed my son with his family if I’d felt guilty about it. So I have been at peace since the very beginning. That said, we still had to grow into our lovely outcome. Much of it wasn’t easy, and I had no idea at the start we’d be where we are today. It also troubles me to know that Eric went through some difficult times, emotionally, because of the adoption. But he would have gone through hard times had I raised him, too, albeit probably around different issues. That’s just life – sometimes things get challenging. I really wish he’d talk with me about it, but he hasn’t opted to do that yet. And yet all of us got through it. I do have the benefit of having lived this path for more than 20 years, so I know that things can change for the better. And though I am 100 percent at peace with my decision, I can and will listen to and empathize with another mom who hasn’t had the blessing of a good outcome for her adoption – but only so far. I believe that no matter what happens in our lives, we have to dust ourselves off and make progress, move forward, keep living. My little sister died two years ago, and that was so much more difficult for me to go through than the adoption, probably because my son didn’t die. I knew he was OK and, in a general sense, where he was. I shed a boatload of tears about my sister. I spent a whole year being pretty much angry at the world. And then I stopped crying and stopped being angry. Birthmoms need to heal, too. But they can’t do that when they are encouraged by “support” groups to remain in victim thinking.
  • If you need support then WHY can the support not come from a mom who had a bad experience? Surely a mother who can openly speak of her sadness and loss can provide a well worn shoulder to cry on. I think every birthmother, no matter how positive her adoption experience has been, probably gets down every once in a while. The levels of support “needed” by those birthmoms likely vary from person to person. And I think it makes sense to get support from the people who can best do that for you. In the early days of my adoption, it was other birthmoms – because no one else on earth understands the experience of a giving up a child like another birthmother. Today, 23 years later, I’m in an open adoption and regular contact with my son with the full blessings of his adoptive parents, so I need a lot less support. And when I do need it, I still have birthmom friends from all those years ago to whom I can turn. Joining the Facebook group was a spontaneous decision this year for Birthmothers Day. I’ve thought about leaving the group, but some of the moms are so sincere – whether in “good” or “bad” adoption situations, and I genuinely like them. I also very much appreciate the willingness to tackle some of the hard questions, and the forthrightness of the answers from many of the group members.
  • And if you are so sure and confident, how come it distresses you so much to hear about the realities faced by others?  How can their life or, even their opinion, really alter your reality? I don’t even understand this question. The implication is that a confident person’s self-esteem will be shattered by hearing that others are suffering. WTF? I think this may be projection – because it’s definitely not my reality. I KNOW there are birthmoms who’ve undergone unimaginable heartbreak and loss, and I will gladly listen, hear them out, and offer comfort if I can. Yes, it’s massively distressing to know that we had such a positive experience when so many others have not – but from the posts in this Facebook group, it seems that so many of those who didn’t have good experiences actively choose those outcomes (either consciously or unconsciously), through their beliefs or their actions (believing the shitty message that they weren’t/still aren’t worthy or that God was judging them, or allowing even the idea of Birthmothers Day to trigger them, etc.). That’s what gets exhausting – hearing the same people make the same complaints like broken records, while they appear to make no move toward even trying to get out of that victim thinking and the resulting behavior. Shaming, blaming, and complaining are sure signs that a person is not taking responsibility for their feelings and status in life. These three low-vibration emotions are rampaging all over this group at least occasionally, but sometimes (ahem, Mothers Day weekend) nearly constantly.

I will say that I can’t get near the idea of morally superior birthmothers – another tangent in this gal’s blog post – because I will readily admit that mine was, in part, a selfish decision. I was 27 and had a full-time job and health insurance. I could have parented, but I didn’t want to be a single mom. I’d seen the toll it took on my own mother and my sister, and I wanted no part of it. Yes, I wanted more for my son than what I’d have been able to provide for him on my own, but I also wanted more for myself. I do not apologize for that. I also had full volition in my adoption decision. I deliberately did not tell my parents, so I didn’t have their voices in my head telling me what to do. So who am I to judge any woman who chooses abortion or who decides to keep and parent her baby?

The thing is, I hear where this gal is coming from. No, not everyone had a great experience. And yes, the adoption industry can and does take advantage of unsuspecting birthmothers the world over. Maybe it’s like the #MeToo movement, and birthmothers need to raise their voices in a loud chorus to demand a paradigm shift when it comes to adoption practice. Maybe we need to get over our collective shame so we can start being visible, and take a vocal stand against these abhorrent behaviors – done in the name of “creating families.”

Personally, I feel that in most cases, adoption is preferable to abortion – but I don’t even judge that anymore. Who am I to say, from over here in my cozy corner, what any woman is going through? Is abortion a heart-breaking option? Of course. Is it immoral? I don’t know. What I do know is that the human condition is flawed and complicated and amazing, all at the same time. As a result, our relationships are simultaneously challenging and rewarding. And as long as people continue to have sex, unexpected or ill-timed pregnancies will continue to occur. Should more women be encouraged to keep and parent their babies? Maybe – if they’ve got the financial and people resources to do so. But what if they don’t? What if they’ve given it all the thought they can, and they know – for whatever reason – that they can’t choose the parenting option? Do we force abortion on them? Force them to parent anyway? Or are we glad for that Third Choice? I think you know where I stand.

__________________________
Laura Orsini
 is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

She Knits – I Crochet

She Knits – I Crochet

My husband is the TV watcher in our family. He gets up, and first thing, the TV goes on. I lived without a TV for the six years prior to meeting him. But having a TV in the house without watching it is like having a bag of M&M’s on your desk without eating them – it’s not likely to happen. So I started watching TV, just a little at first. After seven years of marriage, it became something I wasn’t thinking about anymore. Until I got together with a few of my very smart girlfriends a few times and started to notice that we never had a conversation in which our favorite TV shows didn’t come up. Really?

read instead

This year, however, after attending the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in January, I committed to reading more – which means turning the TV off. I’m halfway through my seventh novel since making that commitment, and I’ve been delighted to rediscover the joy of reading. We didn’t get rid of our TV, though, so I still watch occasionally. But I’ve never been able to watch television without having something to occupy my hands. For a while it was adult coloring books – but you miss a lot of details if you’re not actually watching the screen with some regularity. Same problem with video games on my iPad.

When we cleaned out my husband’s grandmother’s house after she passed away a year ago, one of the things I came across was a bag of knitting materials: balls of yarn, needles, scissors, and a pattern book. It was strange because Mary had always said she had no skill whatsoever at handcrafts – so we’re not really sure who the knitting bag belonged to. Made me think for a minute, though, that I might like to learn how to knit – or at least resurrect my middling crochet skills from my high school days. I even looked into classes in my area, but the next one was starting the following day, and I wasn’t quite that ready to jump in. My friend Katie, who’s an avid knitter, told me to hold onto the bag, because I might get into it someday.

20180529_193203

Well, lo and behold, someday has arrived. As it turns out, Kathy – Eric’s mom – is a knitter. She’s busy these days making a bunting for her grandson before he makes his appearance sometime in mid-August. Like Katie, she belongs to a knitting group, which she enjoys for the company and the relaxation knitting provides.

I guess I mentioned to Kathy that I’d like to get back to needlecrafting – but I wasn’t sure knitting was for me. My older sister taught me basic crochet once upon a time, so I thought that would be a better place to start. Then Eric went home to Boston last Friday, even though I’m still hanging out with Kathy and Bruce so I can attend Book Expo America in NYC this week. Since we had a couple down days early this week, Kathy offered to arrange a private lesson for me with a teacher from her yarn shop. What a thoughtful gift!

20180529_193233

My beginner project is a scarf, so I chose some worsted yarn. Fortunately, crochet is like riding a bike. I never got too far with it all those years ago, but apparently the muscle memory is still there, because it was pretty easy to pick up the two “new” stitches I needed for this project: single and double crochet. For advanced crocheters, this project will seem simple. I’m pretty proud of the start on my variegated colored scarf, even if it is a bit uneven. Not sure yet whether it will be a gift, or if I will just keep it. Bruce asked me today if there was need for a scarf in Arizona. “For me, yes,” I told him. “For you, probably not.”

crocheted scarf

So there we sat on the couch watching the first game of the Stanley Cup finals last night, Kathy knitting, Bruce on his iPad, and me crocheting. Kathy texted Eric about the cheesy start for the Las Vegas Knights and they went back and forth for a bit. It was so normal and comfortable. If you’d told any of us 23 years ago that this would be the outcome, I doubt we’d have believed it. And yet, here we are. For all those birthmoms who can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, I can only suggest that you keep the faith and hang in there. It can get better – but sometimes it takes a while. And in the meantime, you have to get out of your own way and choose to allow the miracles to come.

__________________________
Laura Orsini
 is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

You’re Not the Daughter I Thought You’d Be

You’re Not the Daughter I Thought You’d Be

I spent some time yesterday with my dear friend Karen and her daughter, Kelly, the one she placed for adoption 36 years ago. Theirs was a tumultuous adoption experience, yet things between them are good now. Karen was 18 when she learned she was pregnant, a senior at a suburban Delaware high school. It wasn’t uncommon for girls her age in her town to find themselves pregnant – but they all made one of the two other choices: they got married and parented their babies, or they had abortions. No one chose adoption, and Karen was ostracized for her decision.

Her mom didn’t help, insisting that her daughter give up her future plans for college and a career to stay home and raise this baby! Karen selected a new set of parents for her baby girl and placed her daughter with them in spite of her family’s protests.

Here’s the thing: adoptions sometimes go sideways, in spite of the birthmom’s best intentions. In Kelly’s case, her adoptive mom, Patricia, never quite came to terms with the fact that her daughter was not her biological child, so she didn’t take after her in looks OR personality. She was her own person, with different traits and skills and interests. Kelly said she understood very early on exactly what it took to please her mother – and that was pretending to go along with all of her mother’s choices, from clothing to food to hobbies and playmates. Eventually, though, Kelly tired of pretending. She realized the payoff of her mom’s happiness wasn’t enough reward to warrant faking it anymore. So she started to express herself – her real self. That didn’t go over so well. And as she hit her teens and it became apparent that she wasn’t going to look anything like her mother, Patricia lost all interest in parenting her.

Though Kelly didn’t say this, it was almost as though her mother treated her as a doll or a plaything: as soon as she could no longer make the doll do what she wanted it to, she tossed it aside.

Skip forward some years to Karen’s reunion with Kelly. Lo and behold, Kelly is a mini-Karen. She strongly resembles her birthmother in appearance, speaks like her birthmother, has similar interests to her birthmother. Meeting Karen was like coming home. And the mere thought of it devastated Kelly’s adoptive mom. Even though she was never close to her daughter the way she’d envisioned their relationship in her dreams, Patricia would be damned if she’d let this interloper (aka the person who GAVE BIRTH to her child) be the mother she could never be to her daughter. So even though Kelly was a legal adult before she and Karen had their reunion, she’s had to run the gauntlet of guilt trips and psychological terrorism to pursue a relationship with her birthmom.

As she’s gotten older, Kelly’s begun to learn better self-care – and that means fewer interactions with Patricia, regardless of the guilt her mom still tries to heap on her. It means conveniently forgetting to tell her mom when she’s been to visit Karen, or how much she and her half-brother resemble each other. Karen married 17 years ago and has a 13-year-old son with her husband, Henry.

Kelly is involved in politics, working as a grass-roots organizer and campaigner for several local candidates in New Jersey and other Eastern states. During her work on a recent campaign, she met a man a few years younger than she – a man she thinks she might like to marry one day. How to hold a wedding, though, when you have two mothers, one of whom refuses to acknowledge the existence of the other? It sounds like the drama straight out of a Lifetime movie of the week, but these are real people who are dealing with these emotions today, in 2018.

I’ll admit that given my place in the adoption triad, I generally have a natural bias toward the birthmother. But I cannot help but think that even if I had no stake in the adoption arena, I might see this one from Kelly’s and Karen’s perspective. And, if given the opportunity, I might tell Patricia that just because her daughter wasn’t her clone, didn’t fall in line or measure up to her standards, just because their relationship wasn’t what she’d imagined it would be in her pre-adoption fantasies, doesn’t mean her daughter doesn’t love her. It doesn’t mean she failed as a mother. And it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with her. But I would also tell her that it’s not her daughter’s job to make her happy. It’s not her daughter’s job to live up to the fantasy standards she dreamed up before she knew the real person her daughter would become. And it’s not fair to hold any of her shattered dreams against her daughter.

As I’ve written before and will, no doubt, write again, I firmly believe that because of their place in the relationship – older, more experienced, and hopefully more emotionally mature – the parent sets the tone and builds the framework for the relationship with their child. All the child can do is react and respond to whatever raw materials their parent gives them. If the parent gives them love and support, the child will likely give that back, in kind. But if the parent gives her child grief and guilt and emotional blackmail, it’s unlikely – perhaps impossible – for a healthy relationship to develop under those circumstances. The onus for that is on the parent every time.

Only time will tell whether Kelly and Patricia will ever find a bridge to a less combustible relationship. Stranger things have happened, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

__________________________
Laura Orsini
 is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.