What Were You Reading/Watching/Listening to on 24 February 1995?

What Were You Reading/Watching/Listening to on 24 February 1995?

Turns out that, historically, nothing much of interest was happening on February 24, 1995. The date changed my world – and that of Kathy, Bruce, Jill, and many other people whose lives Eric has brightened – but it was a fairly ho-hum day, otherwise.

EW 5th anniversary

According to the website TakeMeBack.to, here’s a brief snapshot of that day in history:

  • It was a Friday.
  • Bill Clinton was President of the United States.
  • “Famous” people born that day include Brittany Raymond and Rachel Levin. (I do not know who either of them is. I googled both, and I still do not know who they are or understand why they are labeled “famous” by TakeMeBack.to.)
  • NY Times front page headlines that day: “CARTER RECEIVED COOLY IN HAITI,” “BALANCED BUDGET NEARS 67 VOTES NEEDED IN SENATE,” “Giuliani Seeks To Sell 3 Hospitals And Shrink Public Health System,” “Clinton, in Talk to Canadians, Opposes Quebec Separation,” “Announcing for President: Old News, but Still News,” “Dow Finally Breaks the 4,000 Barrier,” “Ex-Florio Aide Pleads Guilty in Kickback Scheme,” “The Hidden Question: Beyond the Northern Ireland Framework, What Do People in Ulster Want?” (Ah … the good old days.)
  • Popular movies showing at the time: Shallow Grave (not a horror fan, so missed this one); Billy Madison (not much of an Adam Sandler fan, so I probably didn’t see this one, either); The Quick and the Dead (caught it on cable many years later); In the Mouth of Madness (more horror, so no); Before Sunrise (the first and best in the trilogy – I loved this movie!)
  • Most popular TV show: ER. (According to tvaholics.blogspot.com, the U.S. received only four broadcast networks up until December 1994. Then, in January 1995, WB and UPN debuted with limited schedules, so Eric was literally born at the start of the expansion of TV beyond the three to four channels all of knew till that point. I didn’t realize how recent a phenomenon cable was until uncovering that nugget in my research for this post.)
  • #1 song on the U.S. pop music chart: Madonna’s “Take a Bow” (I don’t believe I have ever heard this song.)
  • Top magazines: Entertainment Weekly announced its 5th anniversary collectors’ issue; Fidel Castro was on the cover of Time; Czech model Daniela Pestova graced the cover of the 1995 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue
  • Top books: Sisters, by Sharon J. Wohlmuth; Accident, by Danielle Steel; Eyes of a Child, by Richard North Patterson; The Death of Common Sense, by Philip K. Howard (I’ve never read any of them.)

top books

Seriously, not a thrilling day. Kind of like when Tony and I saw a taping of the David Letterman Show (right after he made the move from NBC to CBS) and the guests were Mike Lupica and Adam Sandler. Really? No Rod Stewart, who’d appeared the day before, or Johnny Cash, who was on the following week?

A couple of events that occurred during my pregnancy do stand out, though. The first was the infamous OJ Simpson car chase. I had just found out I was pregnant and was holed up in my apartment, hiding from the world. I remember the room being very dark as I watched – inexplicably hypnotized – while the news covered this non-chase “chase.” I was talking to my husband just last night about how I believe that the OJ trial was the beginning of our descent into news as entertainment – and the lowering of the bar for journalists as truth tellers in lieu of them behaving as performers.

Another thing that happened, more personal to Tony and me because we were both big baseball fans, was that the unheard of occurred: the World Series was cancelled that year because of a protracted strike by the players. The strike began in August 1994 and went through to Opening Day of the 1995 season, making it the longest work stoppage in MLB history. We stayed fans – but many people did not. It was thanks only to the 1998 homerun record chase between known steroid users Mark Maguire and Sammy Sosa that baseball ever came back – and even today, it’s considered boring by people who are unaccustomed to a game at any slower a pace than the crazy cuts of a contemporary action movie.

Kathy asked me when I was pregnant with Eric if there was anything, specific, I wanted them to be sure to do with him or teach him. I told her that I wanted her to make sure he noticed the moon. It’s hard to put into words my lifelong fascination with the moon. When I was a little girl, my dad used to refer to the super-waxing or waning moon, when it appears as just a sliver, as the fingernail moon, as in the part you clip off when you trim your nails. I still think of that when I see a tiny crescent moon. And across the years, I would occasionally look up at the moon, wondering – perhaps hoping – whether Eric might be seeing the same exact moon from his corner of the world. We’ve never discussed it – but it would be interesting to ask him whether that was ever a thing for him.

The other thing I mentioned in answer to her question was that it would mean a lot to us if Eric played baseball. Not that we wanted them to force him into it, but that he just be given the opportunity to try it out. I remember being perplexed by Kathy’s response: “We’ll be sure he plays Little League Soccer.” Um … two different sports not remotely similar.

As it turns out, he did play baseball AND soccer – and wasn’t really a fan of either. His sports turned out to be hockey, cross country, and golf. Guess not everything is inherited, eh?

It was kind of interesting to go back and look at the events of the day for February 24, 1995. Might even be interested to try it for my own birthdate. I’m willing to bet things were even more sedate in May 1967.

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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.

Someone Called a Cab?

Someone Called a Cab?

Being carless in Jersey City wasn’t that big of a deal most of the time. The entire time I was there, I either lived on a well-trafficked street which the buses and jitneys traversed (Palisade Avenue) or just a block away from a major street (Kennedy Boulevard).

I think back and laugh out loud, now, at the memory of our first night in Jersey City. I moved in July 1992, and Tony drove out with me from Phoenix, staying one night before he turned around and flew back. (He moved out to Jersey about a year later.) Rather than stay with my sister that night, we got a motel. We hadn’t yet moved up to hotels – and knowing nothing about the area, we went where we saw the signs, to Tonnelle Avenue. Imagine Tony’s surprise when he went in to get a room at one of these local establishments and the clerk asked, in response, “You want it for the whole night?” Yeah, we were in red-light district, flophouse squalor.

Interestingly enough, a couple years later, when I moved out of the apartment I’d shared with Tony and Mike, I wound up just two blocks away – up the literal hill – from those same by-the-hour joints. My street, Liberty Avenue, was right in between Tonnelle and Kennedy. That was where I was living when Eric was born; the whole timeline seemed like coming full circle.

So we could usually catch public transportation either at our front door, or just a block away. Unless it was super cold, snowing, sleeting, or the middle of the night. Those times, you had to call a cab – Uber was not even a gleam in Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp’s eyes. And sometimes the cab actually showed up. To be safe, like in the event you really needed to get somewhere on time, you usually called two different cab companies – slightly increasing your odds of one of them actually arriving to get you to your destination.

These were the things I was thinking about on the cold, snowy, sleety February days before the baby came. How would we get to the hospital? If we had to take a cab, would it actually arrive within the hour after we called it?

Eric was due on Monday, February 20. The day came … and went. No contractions. Just the feeling of my belly being swollen beyond where its skin could stretch – and having to sleep in a reclining position, as there was no other way to be comfortable. At my checkup that week, the doctor decided that if the baby didn’t come on his own, we’d induce the morning of Friday, February 24.

I’ve often wondered if there are any statistics about babies whose moms have made adoption plans being overdue. Would make sense that the mom wants to hang onto that kid for as long as possible – even if it’s just one extra day or two. And, perhaps, the kid wants to hang onto her, too. As it turned out, my son didn’t want anyone to tell him when he would make his entry. I went into labor that Thursday evening, so there was no need to induce.

You know how in every single movie or TV show they make such a big deal about the pregnant woman’s water breaking? I do not remember my water breaking. I’m sure it did – but there was no dramatic puddle on the floor. The contractions just began, became more insistent, and got closer together – so we called the doctor’s service and they said it was time to get to the hospital. The transportation gods were with us that night, the cab showing up within 10 minutes of our calling it.

Labor was longish – 13 or 14 hours, if I remember correctly. Again, Kathy probably has all of this much better recorded than I do. I mentioned in a previous post that the epidural didn’t really work, more than likely because of my scoliosis. So the labor was painful – plenty painful – I shrieked and wailed between every push, the nurses doing their best to calm me down to conserve my energy. But then he came – and he was beautiful. Tony was in the room – and he was a champ. He stayed with me, tended to me, made sure we were both OK.

I’d been in the room when my niece was born, three-and-a-half years earlier. Samantha was just hours old, my sister still in immense pain and slow moving when she needed to get up to go to the bathroom. Her husband was there, and she asked him to help her. He took his time getting out of his chair, and then on his way to the bed dropped the coins he was holding in his hand on the floor. As I write this, it occurs to me for the first time that he might actually have dropped them on purpose. So he stopped, picked up them up one at a time, and eventually made his way to Corina’s side – by which time she’d pretty much gotten to the toilet on her own. As much of a dick as Tony was at times, he never behaved that way in the hospital.

Some birthmoms choose to have one of the adoptive parents in the delivery room. It feels a bit selfish now, but I couldn’t do that. We needed something that was just ours, so we asked Kathy and Bruce to wait to come to the hospital until we called them. They arrived maybe four hours after Eric was born. The sight of Kathy picking him up and so expertly holding him warmed my heart and crushed me at the same time. That was the reason I’d chosen these people, this couple, to be his parents. They’d already been through it – they were good at parenting and I trusted them not to make the mistakes new parents would make. It would be a new experience for them, though, because this was a boy. They’d had girls first, so there would still be a learning curve. But the feeding and washing and tending and caregiving would be the same – and I knew they’d do a fine job.

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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.

Running to Stand Still

Running to Stand Still

No post yesterday. My goal was to write 50 posts in a row – for you, my readers (and, full disclosure, for the search engines). I got to 49. I knew I wouldn’t have the time, thoughts, or discipline to write them every day, so I wrote about 3 weeks ahead. Then we moved, we lost one of our dogs, my husband’s been going through some personal challenges, and I just hit a wall. I used up all but one of my pre-written posts, and the remaining one is not finished. I have a list of at least 20 more topics, to which I keep adding, but I’ve not had the time or inclination to write ahead these last few weeks or days.

John and I have had some huge losses over these last three years, as I mentioned in a prior post, punctuated by the loss of some beloved pets. While different than losing a person, to be sure, the grief over pet good-byes is sometimes inexplicably heavier than the grief over losing a human. If you’re not a pet person, this may not make any sense at all to you. If you are, you probably understand.

As I’ve gotten older – matured, I like to think – I find myself more and more attached to my pets. We were always a dog family when I was a kid, but cats entered my life right around the time I met Eric’s birthfather and have had a place ever since. When I was pregnant with Eric, I had a cat, Quincie, and Koko, a beautiful merle-colored Australian shepherd. They’d made the move from Phoenix to New Jersey with me, and while Quincie was a typical cat, friendly on her terms, Koko was my pal and companion. She got sick quite suddenly, about six weeks before I was due, and I was concerned about how to manage getting her to the vet without a car.

I lived on the second floor of a four-family apartment and was trying to coax Koko to come down the stairs so she could go out to pee, when I lost my footing and fell down the stairs. At 34 weeks pregnant. Now I not only had a sick dog, but I had to worry about the baby. I immediately called the doctor’s answering service. They asked if there was bleeding – there wasn’t – and told me just to take a Tylenol and watch to see if any complications developed. I remember being alarmed by how calm they were. No complications – other than some really lovely black and blue marks.

Timing was everything, though, as Koko slipped away that night.

I don’t remember, specifically, telling Mary, my social worker, about Koko’s death – but I missed a couple days of work due to my fall, so perhaps I missed a meeting with her, too. At any rate, the agency freaked out. I got a call a few days later from Judy Greene, the birthparent coordinator, evidently in an effort to assess my grief about Koko. What it came down to was they were worried that because my dog had died, I wasn’t going to go through with the adoption. To this day, the idea of it just grates on me, because I can’t fathom how you could draw a causal relationship between the two. Nothing else in my life was different. Tony still wasn’t promising to stick around or marry me. My family still lived 2,700 miles away. And if I were to parent, I would still be trying to juggle all the costs, responsibilities, and emotions as a single mom. All the same fears and concerns I’d had the day before were still there, even though my dog was gone.

As I think on it now, Quincie was probably the one who got me through the adoption. If it hadn’t been for her, I’m not sure how I’d have handled losing Koko and then Tony’s leaving right on the heels of letting go of the baby. She didn’t make the move with me back to Phoenix, when that finally came 5 years later, passing away suddenly about a week before I left. It was as though she knew exactly when she needed to be there, and she was.

I watch, these days, as my husband hugs the two remaining dogs and loves on Isis, our cat. They help us cope with all kinds of things, don’t they?

People I know – my sister in particular was rabid about this – get upset when folks don’t call them back. I can almost always relate to the non-caller, though, because I know I’ve been that person more than once. When I get into this stuck place where I’ve found myself lately, I’m like a turtle, pulling my head inside my shell to hide from the world for a while. It doesn’t help the people who want or need to hear from me, but it’s been my way for a long time, and it will take more work, yet, to change that pattern. If you’re reading this and I owe you a call or email or blog posting, please accept my sincere apology and know that communication is forthcoming.

I was beating myself up about my stuckness when my husband reminded me that this time last year, I was still on the couch, pretty much 24/7, getting over pneumonia. Yeah, the first three months of 2017 went by with a whimper – so I suppose I’m ahead of the game if I’m comparing my now to my then. Point is, it’s time to get unstuck.

running to stand still
With props to U2.

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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.

The Book I Always Wanted to Write

The Book I Always Wanted to Write
Another letter I never sent…

7 June 2013

Dear Eric –

Writing that graduation letter has opened the door for me to start a series of letters I’ve been wanting to write to you for a long time. I realize as I write this that I may or may not ever send them to you. They may just one day become a book that I dedicate to you. The idea of a book has been hovering over me, since long before I moved to Arizona and began my business working with authors. It was actually an adoptive mom in the small basement of a church somewhere near Nyack who gave me the idea.

Interestingly, this was also the same group where another woman was shocked – mouth hanging open surprised – that I referred to you as my son. “What … what … what do you mean, your son?” she sputtered at me.

“Well, he’s my first-born male child. What else would you have me call him?”

“It’s just that I … I … I never expected that somewhere out there, another woman would be referring to my son as her son, too.”

“Well, she probably is. You might want to get used to the idea.”

I was frustrated with this woman – perhaps even a little angry – but I was also empathetic. No matter how thorough the case workers at Spence (or any adoption agency) tried to be, they couldn’t cover everything. And I think they actually dodged some of what I always felt needed to be said – so I said it. I hope I wasn’t bitchy, but just forthcoming as I told them that no amount of wishing and praying and hoping it could be otherwise would ever make the adopted baby their blood child. And the sooner they came to terms with that, the sooner they could move on from the grief and any resentment they might not even realize they felt toward the birthmom or birthparents.

I told you before I never liked the word “lucky” to describe my situation – but I was fortunate in one significant way. Your mom and dad had already had Meaghan, and now they had Jill. They were already parents who had experienced pregnancy and given birth to their own children. Most adoptive parents never experience that, so understandably, they might feel some resentment toward the birthparents, even wondering how these people who can do the very thing they want so desperately but cannot do themselves could just toss away a baby. Of course, it’s usually not as simple as tossing away a baby. I’m not saying abortion is an easy decision – but it takes less effort than carrying a child to term and then saying goodbye to him or her. A birthmom is committed to the life of her child – whether the adoption is her choice or not.

Anyway – I was speaking to this group of adoptive and prospective adoptive parents, as I did a handful of times while I lived in New Jersey. While the one woman had this shocked, seemingly unenlightened response, another came up to me after the end of the discussion and asked if I had thought about writing a book. I kind of shrugged at the moment, because I had considered it and pretty much dismissed it. I didn’t see what I could possibly add to the conversation that wasn’t already out there. Birthmoms writing their stories just seemed boring to me. This woman was insistent, though. She told me I was a really good speaker, and that I could probably translate my story very well into writing. She had no way of knowing I was actually a pretty good writer, that I’d majored in nonfiction in college – all she knew was what she heard as I told my story to the group. I shrugged again, thinking it wasn’t really for me. Then she suggested I might write it as fiction. Looking back all these years later, I told your mom I could never write our story as fiction, because it would be so boring. All things considered, I think we’ve had a storybook adoption experience, and people would either hate the book because nothing happened in it, or they’d feel certain I was whitewashing the story.

The woman’s insistence stayed with me for a while, though. I thought maybe I was different enough from most birthmoms that I could write a story that wouldn’t be just another birthmom memoir. So I started writing. But it was too soon and I was still too raw.

You see, Tony came to live with me after he found out I was pregnant. I think at some point he told me that he wanted to make sure I went through with the adoption – that I didn’t change my mind and decide to keep you. So he was there for the first six or seven appointments at Spence Chapin. He was there on New Year’s Eve 1994 – our five-year anniversary and the day I told him I would not still be there, five years later, unless I was married to him. And he was in the delivery room. He even went with me to the nursery once to look in at you.

But once the papers were signed and you were gone, so was he. He moved out exactly two weeks to the day after you were born, and I was lonelier than I ever could have imagined. He said as he was going that he knew he was making a mistake, but he was already committed to his mistake, so there was no going backwards. I held onto that stupid comment for a lot of years, hoping one day he’d change his mind. Thank God he never did. But, wow – I sometimes want to kick myself now for hanging in there so long. I think, ultimately, three good things came from the experience: you, my computer skills, and my immeasurable patience.

So I wrote the first 80 pages of my story – longhand, on yellow legal pads. And then I got to the part where Tony left, and it was just too hard to keep writing. So I stopped. I know those legal pads are here somewhere – I never threw them away and they moved with me to Phoenix. But I’ve never sat down to reread them, either. I imagine they might bring up some challenging feelings, but if I can write this to you now, I could certainly read what I wrote back then. I’ll look for them – and the photos of Tony I promised you. Maybe it all will come out in these letters anyway.

So here you have not the book I originally imagined. Not the fictional depiction, either. Just a series of letters about things I think you should hear from me. Some of them are about the adoption. Some are about my family. Some are about my beliefs and philosophies and thoughts about the bigger world that surrounds us. Some are about my hopes for you. Some are about my own plans for the future. Maybe you’ll read them, and maybe you won’t. But once I get them down, I won’t have them rattling around in my head anymore. And I will no longer have to “wait to share them with Eric someday.”

I love you, kiddo.

Laura

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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.

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.

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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.

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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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 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.

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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.