Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Beforehand

Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Beforehand

As far as I’m aware, there’s no rule that a pregnant woman considering adoption must have counseling, although it is highly encouraged. I remember hearing once – again, research to support this piece of anecdotal information yielded nothing – that by law, counseling had to be offered to a woman considering adoption, even a private attorney adoption, but that’s pretty much the extent of things. As you might imagine – particularly if you’ve ever dealt with (or been) a pregnant woman – she has lots of bonus hormones looking for a place to land. Combine that with an ill-timed, out-of-wedlock, and/or crisis pregnancy and a woman considering adoption, and you’ve created the emotional perfect storm.

It’s not the time for remembering details – or hearing, let alone acting on, the information. Particularly when someone says, perhaps as a casual comment, “Oh, by the way, counseling is available if you want it.” That’s why an agency adoption is so important for the prospective birthmother. She is assigned a caseworker who makes sure to talk her through the most essential details – and offers an ear to listen, as well as (hopefully) wise counsel and answers to any questions the pregnant mom does think to ask in her flustered state. That’s the problem, though, with a first-time pregnancy. You don’t know what you don’t know.

On the other hand, I don’t envy the job of an adoption social worker – or any social worker, for that matter. At least a baby usually finds a (better) home at the end of an adoption, so I guess there are pluses. But I imagine there’s a lot to know and remember to explain along the way. Still, it would seem there should be a checklist of topics for the caseworker to discuss with the pregnant mother, whether or not she decides to keep the baby. If she’s going to carry the pregnancy to term, things will come up and decisions will need to be made.

Yes, there’s that ubiquitous book, What to Expect When You’ve Got Anything at All to Do With Having a Kid, EXCEPT Be a Birthmother. That book – and all the others like it – focus on the happy event, assuming the baby will go home from the hospital with the same people it went in with, which is exactly what does not happen in adoption. Not ideal reading for the prospective birthmom. As I’ve mentioned in the past, Patricia Roles’ book, Saying Goodbye to a Baby, came closest to answering and addressing my questions, but (a) I didn’t find it until after my son was born and living with his other family and (b) even it didn’t cover some of the more basic issues.

As a matter of fact, after scoping out the Amazon reviews for Roles’ book (two 5-star reviews; two 2-star reviews, and one 1-star review), I think I’m going to order another copy so I can re-read it, 22 years later, as it seems my perspective just may have shifted. I do get the sense that the writer of the 1-star review is one of those people I wrote about in a prior post who has no desire to release her grief or heal from the adoption wounds. Yes, her pain is real, and there is no timeline for getting over it. But forward movement after any trauma is probably a healthier option than choosing to live in that pain forever. Yes – for many people, birthmothers included, living in pain is a choice.

So here are the things I wish I’d known before they occurred:

My scoliosis would matter when it came to the epidural. Epidural is a drug commonly used during labor and delivery. It is inserted into the spine by an anesthesiologist, with the command, “Hold still or you might wind up paralyzed.” I had a single dose that helped for the first little while, but the second dose didn’t “take.” We later deduced that the curve in my spine meant the epidural hadn’t gone where it was supposed to go. The nurses told me the pain I experienced was the equivalent of natural childbirth. You’re welcome, kiddo!

Those little red dots all over your neck and chest are capillaries that broke during the “pushing.” Nothing earth-shattering here, but it would have been a good thing to know so I didn’t have to freak out about it.

The birthparents make the circumcision decision. It was a bit surprising to find out after the fact that my OB/GYN did not perform this procedure. So Eric had to go home a happy kid, and come back a week later to be mauled and – some might say – mangled. Although a huge debate churns on about the merits of circumcision, as I understand things, the child still generally does whatever the father did. Had I realized ahead of time that it would be important to know my doctor’s stance, I would have made other preparations.

Breasts are milk producers. Duh, right? But not when you’re not expecting it. No one prepared me for my milk to come in, or informed me of the need for nursing pads even though I wouldn’t be nursing. Not to mention that nursing the baby you will place for adoption is an option. It would seem immeasurably more difficult to surrender a baby with whom you’ve shared that kind of bond, but I have known birthmothers who’ve done it.

I could have had Eric baptized in the hospital and been there for the ceremony. This is, of course, specific to Christian religious belief – in our case, Catholic. It wasn’t until I read in a chatroom about a birthmom who did this that I was even aware it could have been a possibility. Again, this is less important to me now, but it would have been a very special moment to share and is one of my very few regrets.

Grief can show up as anger. Though I discussed this in a prior post, it’s worth noting again here. I spent the entire first year of Eric’s life extremely pissed off at the world, and it wasn’t until someone I didn’t even like very much pointed it out to me that I recognized that anger as grief. I’m not sure there would have been anything to do differently, but it feels like it would have been useful information at the time.

It seems unlikely that Patricia Roles will update her book – so maybe it is time for a new book. And maybe my job is to write two of them: one, a handbook like Roles’ for birthparents, and the other my own adoption story.

The Cure, Cathartic Writing, and a Berkeley Parking Ticket

The Cure, Cathartic Writing, and a Berkeley Parking Ticket

I’ve begun a habit of occasionally dancing for exercise. Was at it fairly regularly for the middle part of 2017; then the holidays hit, we moved, and I’ve been having trouble reestablishing any sort of routine. Recently, I was re-inspired by this article about how beneficial dance is for staving off the aging process. Today, I finally picked it up again, and all was well. Then I heard a song by one of my favorite bands, “In Between Days,” by the Cure.

In Between Days lyrics

Immediately upon hearing the chorus, I was transported back to exactly two weeks, to the day, after my son was born. That was the day Tony, my son’s birthfather, moved out. A man of few words, he didn’t disappoint that day. The one comment I still remember as if it were yesterday was, “I know this is the biggest mistake I’ll ever make in my life, but I’m committed to it, so I’m going to see it through.” And with that, he was gone, back the apartment we had shared with his best friend, Mike. I know Mike wanted to throw him out on his ass when he showed back up – but that’s not what best friends do.

It wasn’t the end of our relationship – we managed to string things along in the same push-pull pattern we’d perfected before Eric was born for another five years. But his leaving was devastating, nonetheless.

I was still recuperating from the birth – waiting for the last of my milk to stop trickling. That night, I sat alone in my apartment, watching a movie called The Client, about a little boy who witnesses a mob attorney commit suicide. Susan Sarandon plays a character called Reggie Love, the attorney who defends and shelters the little boy. More than anything, I wanted a Reggie Love in my life at that moment, someone whose shoulder I could cry on, who would help me make sense of all the grief and loss and leaving.

My mom really wasn’t a candidate. My sister who lived in New Jersey would have been no help. My younger sister had her own life to deal with. So I turned to the only other person I knew would be there for me, my friend Jane. I called her up, weeping, and she immediately invited me out to visit with her in San Francisco. I booked a flight the next day, and made my (thus far) only visit to The City by the Bay.

Jane was working during my visit, but she went out of her way to make me feel at home. She lent me her car, so I had a crash course in hilly driving, something I revisited on my recent stay in Yonkers, NY. She was a coffee drinker (to this day, I prefer tea), so she told me where the cool indie coffeehouses were. She warned me about the parking police on the Berkeley campus – and I still managed to get a ticket because I forgot to feed the meter. I remember going to a Wells Fargo bank and asking for a money order so I could pay the ticket before Jane even found out about it. I blanched when they told me it would cost $14 – but I paid the fee and took care of the ticket. I also spent an afternoon wandering around Golden Gate Park. These are the details I remember about that trip.

The respite lasted only seven days, and then I had to return to my life in New Jersey, such as it was. Going back to work helped. Knowing Tony was there, even if he wasn’t really, also helped. And somehow I muddled through.

Maybe a year or so later, when I was speaking to one of my first groups of adoptive parents, one of the women told me I should write a book about my experiences. “Maybe,” I told her. But it had already been done, and I didn’t see how adding my story to the others I’d come across would help anyone. While writing my story would probably be cathartic for me, I wasn’t sure it would be of any use to another birthmother or prospective birthmom. I didn’t realize at the time that the few birthmother stories I’d seen were pretty much the only books by and for birthmothers available anywhere.

As it turns out, I did try to write it. I got out a couple of yellow legal pads and began writing my story – our story. I was moving along fairly smoothly, until I hit the part I described in today’s post: Tony’s leaving. That – even two years after the fact – was just too difficult to write. It was like crashing into an emotional wall going 150 miles per hour. So I slammed on the breaks, put those notepads away, and didn’t look at them again until several weeks ago when I was packing to move our house.

Turns out, 21 years makes a big difference, in terms of the triggering of emotions. I got a bit teary today when researching the name of the movie I was watching that night – but the writing flowed easily. And I’ve already written close to 20,000 words for this blog, which is well past the 80 pages of longhand I drafted back in 1997.

As for the book – it remains a maybe. There’s still a gaping hole in the adoption literature when it comes to birthparents. And yet, I’m still not sure how my story would help anyone. I chose to blog, rather than start with a book, because blogging would allow me to be random – describing episodes or discussing topics on a whim and at my own discretion, as opposed to the somewhat neat trajectory the contained vehicle of a book would require.

February 24 will be Eric’s 23rd birthday – and that will be day 53 in a row of blog posts, assuming I write the next dozen or so after this one. At that point, I believe I’ll take the same tack we did when deciding whether and how to continue contact after he turned 10. I’ll reevaluate things at that time and decide whether and how often to keep writing. Maybe, one day, a book. For now, I can only promise to keep dancing.

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“You’re Not Going to Become a Stalker, Are You?”

“You’re Not Going to Become a Stalker, Are You?”

Learning the identify of my son’s family was a big deal for me, and it took a while for the significance to sink in. Bruce may not have been happy about it, but the adoption was now on the verge of being fully open. I sat with that for quite some time before I did anything about it, other than tell the Stanfields about my discovery.

In a short time, the adoption was already becoming more open, and while it seemed Eric and I would eventually have a direct relationship, I knew that would probably take some time. In the meantime, I was quite curious about where he lived with his family. So, after about three months, I made the decision to put my investigative skills to use. It took me about a half-hour and cost me $2 to find Kathy and Bruce’s address through a property ownership website. Things are even easier now, as I was able to use social media and pay nothing to locate Eric’s birthfather’s address when I recently went looking for it.

Now that I had the Stanfields’ address, what to do with it, what to do with it…? Go take a peek, of course!

Again, it took a few months to work up my nerve. Then, one Friday night, I got in my Volkswagen Passat with Moondanz, my Jack Russell terrier, and we set off. I went late – about midnight – figuring I’d be less likely to run into the family at that time as I prowled through their neighborhood. This was way before GPS, so I had to rely on printed directions from Mapquest.

As I write this, I can’t imagine how I screwed up the nerve to make that drive – it felt like crossing a line and something very taboo, but it was also something I needed to do. “What are we going to do if they come outside just at the moment we pull up to their house?” I asked Moondanz. “We’ll say hello!” I answered my own question.

So we went, Moondanz and I. It was a short trip, relative to all the pre-planning. Before long, we turned the corner onto their street, and there it sat. A big, squarish house on a long, beautiful block of homes that dwarfed the house where I’d grown up – not to mention how lovely the area was compared to the Jersey City neighborhood where I was living at the time. The lots seemed vast, with long driveways and mailboxes at the street. Even that was something new to me – the mailbox at my childhood home was at the front door, and the ones in my New Jersey apartments were in the vestibules.

So we parked and sat just looking at the house for a while. Then we took a little drive around the neighborhood, before circling back to see #80 one more time. All was still – most houses were dark and there wasn’t another car on the street anywhere. I needn’t have worried about being spotted. Satisfied at having seen Eric’s home, I took a deep breath, and we drove off. And I did not return until October 2012 – at which time I was invited by Eric’s family.

I was in a Spence-Chapin support group at for birthmoms at the time of my field trip, and I remember telling the other members about my grand adventure. As I told the story, Judy Link, the group moderator and a birthmother caseworker, was dismayed by my confession. “You’re not going to turn into a stalker, are you?” she demanded to know, with utter seriousness. All the other birthmothers and I laughed at her. They understood something she did not – my goal was never to stalk Eric or harm him in any way. I just wanted to see where – and to whatever degree possible, how – he was growing up.

Now, Hollywood and the mainstream media have made a cottage industry of telling adoption horror stories about birthmothers coming out of the woodwork to steal their children back from loving, doting adoptive parents. You may remember the famous Baby Jessica and Baby Richard stories from the early and mid-90s. I think it was those cases that prompted my friend Lynn Franklin to write her book, May the Circle Be Unbroken. I have my own opinions about those cases, which I may share in a future post.

I had no thought of doing anything disruptive – not even checking out his church or his school. I just wanted to know where he lived. And once I did, that curiosity was sated and I could move on with my life. At some point over the next year or two, Kathy very casually asked me if I had been by to see the house yet. “Yes – probably about six months after the incident with Barry,” I told her.

“I figured as much,” she said. No worry. No death grip on the kid. No terrified packing up to move out of the country. Just confirming what she already knew. I’m pretty sure that’s how a healthy adoption relationship is supposed to work.

Opening an Adoption

Opening an Adoption

There are coincidences and then there are COINCIDENCES. My friend Beth Kozan has written a book about the many coincidences – or synchronicities – she has seen in adoptions over her long career in the field. For one of my birthmom friends, it was snowshoes. For one couple in Beth’s book, ADOPTION – More Than by Chance, it was three trout.

The synchronicities in Eric’s adoption are almost too many to enumerate. I discussed the birthday-themed coincidences in yesterday’s post – and will write more about the others in future posts. The biggest one, though – the coincidence that really takes the cake – is the one that led to our adoption becoming open.

I had quit my job at Lehman Brothers (though I would later return in a different capacity) and was temping in New York City. In a short time, I had proven to the temp agency that I was pretty capable – resourceful, even – and therefore trustworthy to work on my own, as in not needing to be overseen by any sort of middle manager. I’m thinking that’s how I got the gig working for Barry. Now Barry was a curmudgeon of the highest order. He made the Grinch look like a nice fellow you’d want to have over for brunch on Sundays. I asked the assistant I was replacing why he was leaving. He mumbled something about going back to school, but I suspect he just needed to reclaim his life and was in a hurry to bail on a bad situation. I’d been there only a day or two before I understood completely.

Barry was writing a book – convenient for me, as I had a writing degree and an interest in the publishing industry. His book was an encyclopedia of military insignia – the patches and medals worn by American soldiers, dating back to World War I. The reason for his interest in creating such a book was that he owned a company that fabricated these patches and medals and sold them to the U.S. military branches. Only problem was that he’d been placed on leave from his company. It seems Barry’s company, along with its two major competitors, had conspired to rig the prices on said military insignia. The wheels came off the cart when an employee from Barry’s company became a whistle-blower about the price fixing.

At that point, Barry was relieved of his post – a forced sabbatical, if you will – which gave him plenty of time to work on his book. (A quick Amazon search reveals he’s written a handful of others since then.) Technically, he was not allowed any decision-making or influence when it came to the running of his company – a fact he literally cursed daily while I worked for him. However, he was still drawing a monthly 5-digit salary, even as he was sidelined from helming the company. I know this because, as his office manager, I deposited his checks.

That money didn’t roll downhill, though. I was struggling on my 19-hour-a-week temp gig for Barry, which was barely covering my rent and food. Yet it paid better hourly than my prior job at Lehman Brothers – and I had a lot more freedom. So I tried, for a while, to make it work.

Besides still getting paid very well for a job he wasn’t doing, Barry also had a beautiful young French wife and a baby daughter, maybe a year-and-a-half old. His wife would bring the little girl to the office in her carriage almost every afternoon, and the couple would bicker and argue something fierce – I knew this from the tone and body language, as they always fought in French.

One day, I’d just had enough. I was still dealing with the aftermath of the adoption, and Barry’s nasty attitude toward the world wasn’t helping at all, though he never really directed his venom at me. It suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t have to work for him – there were many other temp jobs to be had in New York City. So I decided to quit. In fact, my plan was just to go home and not come back. But as I sat in my apartment that night, I thought that maybe I should try to explain to Barry why he wasn’t the most put-upon guy in the world. So the next morning, I gathered up the most recent photos Kathy had sent and I want to work as usual.

I don’t really recall how I brought it up – I imagine I just waited for Barry to complain about something, which probably took all of five minutes. That’s when I said to him, “I want to show you something. This is the son I gave birth to about two years ago – he’s pretty close to your daughter’s age. But I chose to place him for adoption. This is his family, and…”

“Son of a bitch,” Barry said. I thought he was responding to the news about the adoption. The look on his face said otherwise.

“What?”

“I know him,” he said, pointing at Bruce’s picture. “That’s Bruce Stanfield. He’s my personal banker.”

Holy shit. In a city of 30 million people, I was office assistant to a guy who knew my son’s adoptive father. And though I had come thisclose to walking out and not coming back – I had instead decided to go in to work and show Barry these photos. I’d been a good girl and resisted looking at that file on Mary’s desk. But some things are just meant to be. I was supposed to know who my son’s parents were.

Things got a little complicated when I decided we needed to let Kathy and Bruce – the Stanfields – know about my discovery, as our agreement was a semi-open adoption: they knew our identities, but we didn’t know theirs.

Difficulty #1: Tony. “We don’t owe them anything.”

Difficulty #2: Bruce. “You weren’t supposed to show those photos to anyone – they’re private!”

Eventually I convinced Tony that we did, indeed, owe it to Kathy and Bruce to let them know we now knew who they were. So I called Mary. She was surprised – and not so surprised, it seemed – at my news, and immediately contacted Anna, their caseworker. I wanted to meet with them in person to share this information. For reasons I still don’t understand, Bruce did not want to meet in person, but grudgingly agreed to a phone call. Remember, he didn’t yet know about the name disclosure – and still, he didn’t want a face-to-face meeting.

I honestly don’t remember the specifics of the phone call – whether Mary broke the news or I did. I do remember Bruce’s reaction. He was really angry at me for sharing the pictures with Barry. He felt that the photos of his family were private, and I was in some sort of breach for sharing them. There was no confidentiality agreement of any sort regarding the pictures – and, as I will write about in tomorrow’s post, I believe that in the Information Age, the promise of a closed (or semi-closed) domestic adoption is a pie-in-the-sky fantasy dangled by agencies and attorneys to lure prospective adoptive parents. In reality, it’s pretty easy to discover someone’s identity, even if they think they’re doing a good job at masking it.

I actually understand Bruce’s upset – because I imagine he felt responsible for the disclosure, as it was he Barry identified. Kathy, of course, seemed OK with the information. I’m sure she did what she could to calm Bruce down and smooth things over.

Little by little, the adoption became more and more open. One of the nicest immediate results was that we no longer needed to communicate through the agency. Kathy would send photos and letters directly to my house and, on occasion, I would write back to her. Eventually, we swapped email addresses and stayed in pretty regular contact via email. Then Facebook entered the picture. It was Kathy who encouraged Eric to friend me on Facebook. That was really special, because to this day, Eric still hasn’t friended his mom, which I totally understand. What an amazing adoptive mom – no competition or jealousy that her son was in contact with his birthmom in a way she was not. Just blessings and gratitude for the progress in our relationship.

I may have kicked myself for not reading that profile on Mary’s desk – but sometimes a divine plan has multiple methods of delivery. If this coincidence isn’t one for the record books, I don’t know what is.

Checking the Calendar

Checking the Calendar

If you’ve been reading or following this blog, you may have seen a comment or two from me about the seemingly innumerable coincidences – or synchronicities – that punctuate our adoption.

Today is Kathy’s birthday – HAPPY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Eric’s other mother! It’s only the first February birthday, though. Eric’s birthday is also this month. HAPPY ALMOST BIRTHDAY to our amazing kiddo. Come May, we’ll celebrate my birthday, which always falls near or on Mother’s Day. That is the first May birthday, as Jill, Eric’s sister, also has a birthday in May.

Now here’s where it starts to get strange. I’m not sure why, but up till now, I’ve never known Bruce’s birthday – Eric’s dad. Thanks to Facebook, I just discovered that it’s July 15. Here are 22 years’ worth of belated Happy Birthdays, Bruce! But guess who else has a July birthday? Tony, Eric’s birthfather.

So that’s three birthday coincidences so far – you might even call them smallish. But wait – there’s more! Eric shares his February 24 birthday with the late Steve Jobs, who also happened to be adopted. It’s also the day before Tony’s sister, Wendee’s birthday. Oh, and I just found out that Jill’s husband’s birthday is February 28 – but maybe we should stop counting.

For those who are keeping score, that’s four close family birthdays in February, two in May, and two in July. In other words a lot, as well as the pretty cool shared birthday with a famous smart guy. Here’s one last synchronicity related to birthdays in Eric’s family: Kathy is 10 years older than her brother, Tommy (Eric calls him UT), and Jill happens to be 10 years older than Eric. Hmmm…

There are 365 days in a year. What are the chances of that much overlap between just eight people? You know, Eric could probably calculate those odds in his head.

But we’re just getting warmed up. Keep reading to learn about the whoppers of coincidences in our story that go way beyond shared birthdays.

Prospective Adoptive Parent Profile #12 – The Final Profile

Prospective Adoptive Parent Profile #12 – The Final Profile

After the debacle with Joe and Patricia, I think the birthparent department at Spence-Chapin may have lost faith that they would ever come through and find a family for me. It wasn’t their fault – but that kind of thing should not have happened. If adoption is going to work, all sides need to be forthcoming about all the details. Evasiveness only delays the problem – because the secrets will be revealed, and if they’re your secrets and you’re not the one to reveal them, they will bite you on the ass.

So you can imagine Mary’s upbeat nature at our next scheduled meeting. She was bouncing on her heels with excitement. “I have it,” she said. “This is the one – I just know it.” A new family had just received approval to enter the adoption process – they were so new that the agency hadn’t even had a chance to redact their profile of identifying information so I could see it. Mary sat at her desk and read it to me.

Their names were Kathy and Bruce, and they’d been married 15 years. They had a biological daughter – hmmm… It turns out, they’d had a baby girl who was born with a heart defect and lived less than a week. Understandably distraught, they decided to try to get pregnant again as soon as possible, or they feared they’d never try again. So they got pregnant – and their second daughter was born, also with a heart issue, but she was strong enough to pull through. However, she was the only bio child they would have.

So they already had a little girl, 10 years old at the time they were wading into adoption. That had been one of my four criteria: a family who already had a child. Sure, I would have preferred if their existing child had been closer in age to my son, but it was way more important to me that they already were parents. And I loved that they’d taken their time deciding about the adoption. I could also see immediately – after having waded through the 11 previous profiles – the fact that infertility was not a factor would be quite significant.

They were Catholic, and active in their church – things that wouldn’t impress me all that much now, but at the time, these were exactly the characteristics I was looking for in a family for my son, because they were familiar to me. They felt like home to me. That was what my childhood experience had been, so it felt right. Although I wasn’t able to read through their profile, I was able to look at the photos they’d included. One still stands out – a picture of Bruce taking their daughter, Jill, trick-or-treating. That single photo made me so happy.

When Corina and I were growing up, our parents were OLD. It was like a double-generation gap, because they were almost 20 years older than the parents of most of our peers. Kathy and Bruce were about the same age my parents had been when they’d had Corina and me, but they seemed years younger.

Kathy and Jill were horsewomen. They routinely visited a stable close to where they lived and each had a horse they rode regularly. They also volunteered there, mucking the stalls and feeding and brushing the horses. If I’m not mistaken, there was mention that they did not have any household pets – but they were open to getting a dog later, when their new child was older. Still, to this day, I’ve never ridden a horse in my life. Yes, I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona – what was once the Wild West – and I live here again now. Still, I didn’t relate much to the horses. The promise of a dog, though – that was another plus. Mine had always been a dog family.

I was in. I wanted to meet these people.

Suddenly, Mary got up and walked out of her office – I don’t remember the reason. And she left Kathy and Bruce’s unredacted profile sitting right there on her desk. I could have so easily gone over and read it – learned their last name and where they lived. But, remember: I was a good girl, always behaving myself. I’m not sure why I didn’t – but I did not look at those pages. I let that most amazing opportunity slip past me. I’ve never known whether Mary did it on purpose, but I’ve always suspected that, even if it was unconscious, she did. (Some things are just meant to be, though. More on that in an upcoming post.)

I arranged a phone call with Kathy – and she was every bit as delightful as I’d hoped she would be. The question about my parents – inevitable, it seems – came up again. This time, though, instead of telling me that I had to tell them, Kathy said something to the effect of, “Well, you know your parents better than anyone. If you don’t think they’ll take the news well, not telling them is your decision. Maybe someday you’ll want to tell them, but if that day never comes, that’s OK, too.” Wow, respect for my decisions – that was new, and welcome.

Yeah – these were good people. Tony and I decided to meet them, and things moved forward from there.

You know, Kathy follows this blog and reads these posts. I’ll have to check with her to see if I remembered the details of hers and Bruce’s profile correctly – or if the lens of memory has colored it in any way. Regardless of the accuracy of my memory, I’ll be forever grateful for the folks on the other end of Profile #12.

As an aside, I didn’t realize until recently how fortunate Kathy and Bruce were: a recent review of the Spence-Chapin website indicates that there’s typically a one- to two-year wait for a couple to adopt a child, and the majority of their babies are placed by black and Hispanic women. I don’t know if those statistics were the same 23 years ago. But Kathy and Bruce entered the process, and within six months were able to adopt a healthy – no drug or alcohol issues – white infant at birth. The likelihood of that occurring today is unbelievably rare.

“Give Them the Opportunity to Surprise You”

“Give Them the Opportunity to Surprise You”

If you have a same-sex sibling, you probably know quite well the experience of comparisons, particularly when it comes to your parents. Every child seems to get a label – I was the smart one while my sister, Corina, was the athlete. I was my dad’s oldest daughter – although we do have a half-sister who’s quite a bit older. Besides being the smart one, I was also the good one. The one who never stepped out of line, misbehaved, or gave my parents any worry.

No wonder my father believed me when I lied and told him Mr. Stokely must have been mistaken – it couldn’t possibly have been me our neighbor saw sneaking out of my bedroom window with my best friend when we were 14. Damn, were we lucky! Nothing terrible ever happened to us – even though we got into cars with boys we didn’t know, went cruising on Central Avenue, smoked pot and drank beer. I actually only smoked pot twice – it made me sleepy both times, and I figured I could do that on my own.

As for beer, who could stand the taste? I have never been drunk in my entire life. I went to a college prep high school and watched as some of the smartest people I’d ever met turned into blithering idiots when they drank, so I had no desire to do that. It only cemented my folks’ belief that I was their good girl when, during my junior year, I came home from a New Year’s Eve party early because by 11 p.m. I was the only sober person there.

Getting pregnant at 27 was a whole new world for me – it was not the thing a good girl did. So even though I lived in New Jersey and my parents were 2,400 miles away in Phoenix, I was petrified at the idea of them finding out about my pregnancy. In part, I think I was afraid they might try to talk me into trying harder to marry Tony or keeping the baby. Thankfully, I had a sketchy record of going home for Christmas, so it wasn’t that unusual for me to decide to stay in New Jersey for the holidays that year.

My sisters both knew, Corina because I trusted her with my life and Ann, our older sister, because she lived in New Jersey and I saw her with some regularity. In fact, Ann was the only member of my family who got to meet Eric when he was just hours old. Corina met him at my wedding; my mom met him a day or two later (she was unable to attend our wedding due to illness); and my dad passed away before he and Eric had the chance to meet.

Now, for as far back as I can remember, things with Ann were always strained. She was my mother’s first daughter, and our half-sister. From the stories I’ve heard, she went through some really difficult episodes growing up alone with my mom. However bad that may have been, suddenly my dad came along and stole Ann’s mother away.

Understandably, Ann envied the relationship Corina and I had, and the fact that we grew up with two parents. What she only came to understand fairly recently, though, was that it wasn’t really a picnic. Our mom had vascular dementia for most of my life, the result of many strokes we didn’t learn about until her death – making her behavior so odd that she wasn’t really able to be a parent to us. What with my dad’s weird obsession with all things Catholic, to say we were overprotected and underexposed to the world would be putting it mildly. Nevertheless, Ann was jealous and it showed in obvious and sometimes terrifying ways.

The point is that I didn’t trust her – especially when it came to keeping my secrets. As much as I feared telling my parents about their grandson, I was more afraid that Ann wouldn’t give me the chance. I was certain that sooner or later, she would “accidentally” let it slip – and all would be revealed.

I remember the exact moment the epiphany struck me: life as I knew it would go on if my parents knew about Eric. I was on the up escalator on my way back from a rare lunch with Tony in the World Financial Center. For reasons of his own, he also was determined never to tell his parents about our son. We were actually talking about it – another rarity – and he was digging in. “Nope – never gonna tell ’em.” And that’s when it hit me. Nothing in my life would really change if they knew. I’d already lived through the hardest part. My parents would have whatever reactions they would have – and the sun would still come up the next day.

So that was the day I made plane reservations to go home to Phoenix for Eric’s first birthday. Even as I write this now, I can feel the anxiety again. The hesitation to go through with it. The worry about what I would say and how they would react. It was my wonderful friend Ken Bolden who gave me the best advice I’ve ever received in my life. We were on the treadmills at the gym in the World Financial Center a few days before my trip. Ken could tell something was bothering me and asked about it. I told him about my plans to finally lift the veil and let my folks know about their grandson, and that I was quite worried about how they’d react.

Ken looked at me with a smile and said, “Give them the opportunity to surprise you.” My mouth gaped open at the thought.

“What do you mean?” I needed some clarification – in case it wasn’t as simple as all that.

“Don’t assume the worst before you get there. Just tell them, and let them react whichever way they’re going to react. But give them the chance to surprise you – maybe it won’t be as bad as you think it will be.”

Damn, if Ken wasn’t right. I chose to tell them separately – first my mom and then my dad. And neither of them flipped out. Neither of them lectured me or scolded me or accused me. They were surprised – and my mom expressed disappointment that I hadn’t trusted her enough to tell her. I get that now, especially when I think back on all she went through to raise my sister alone. My dad had a tear in his eye, but he studied every photo in each of the small photo albums I showed him, among the regular updates I’d been receiving from Kathy. Then he hugged me and told me he loved me.

We had cake that night to celebrate Eric’s first birthday. Then the sun came up the next morning, just as I knew it would, and I got on a plane to return to my life in New Jersey.