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.

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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!

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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.

The Unique Pain of Being Adopted

The Unique Pain of Being Adopted

No birthmother is happy at the thought that she’s hurt her child by placing him or her for adoption. I can only speak for myself, but I imagine many must feel, as I did, that we were doing the best thing we could for our babies – or older children, as is sometimes the case. I definitely could have parented my son – I was old enough, with a steady job, and health insurance. In other words, I had the means. But I’m not sure, to this day, that doing so would have been the best thing for him. I’m not unmaternal, per se, but I never felt the overwhelming drive so many moms – and would-be moms – seem to have. I think kids are cute enough, but I’ve never gone out of my way to meet a baby or felt something in my life was missing because I did not live the parenting experience.

That’s a challenging admission to make, given that my son could certainly take it as abandonment. And strangely enough, it’s only through the self-inspection, recollections, and research I’ve begun doing for this blog that I realize how deep his pain might have been. Just because I adjusted fairly well to the separation doesn’t mean he did. It’s long been my belief – and experience – that the older person in the relationship (e.g., the parent, teacher, older sibling) sets the tone for the relationship. So in that regard, the tone I set in my relationship with Eric was that I wasn’t going to be his mother. Partly, if I’m honest, because I didn’t want to be anybody’s mother (it wasn’t about him, personally) – but mostly because I didn’t think I could do a very good job at it. My role models had been iffy, my biological clock non-existent. And the one thing I knew was that he deserved a great mom – great parents. So I went through a lot of effort to ensure he got them.

It took me a very long time to find a life partner in my husband, John. I was 42 when we met, and 43 when we married, a first marriage for both of us. He was the first man I dated seriously after Tony, my son’s birthfather. We met through the Craigslist personals. I’d been posting there on and off for five years when we met, yet mine was the first ad John ever responded to. The thing is, as I look back on it now, all of those first dates were a lot like the profiles I saw for prospective parents. I could have said yes to a second date with any of them – just as I could have agreed to a meeting with any of the prospective parents from the first 11 profiles. But I would have been settling for less than what I really wanted, and I wasn’t willing to do that.

I’m not comparing choosing adoptive parents for my son with choosing a mate; the former was far more important, because it affected a little person who was wholly dependent on me to make good decisions for him. If I dated and subsequently married badly, society would easily allow me to divorce and get a “re-do.” If I chose the wrong parents for my son, there would be no take-backs. So maybe holding out until I met the right people to become Eric’s family was practice for holding out to meet John. One thing is sure: I got it right on both counts.

I will say that as John and I were briefly considering the idea of parenting, it did niggle at the back of my mind to wonder how Eric would feel if I’d had another child I kept after having placed him with Kathy and Bruce. I’m not quite sure how much that thought affected my decision not to have a child with John – perhaps more than I realized.

And even though it seems my son has had a great life, I know he has struggled with the adoption, as virtually every adopted kid has. Fortunately for him, the adoption has been at least semi-open since the start, so he’s known who his family is and has been able to see photos, meet his aunts and maternal grandmother, and have his questions answered as they arose. He has a full medical history for my side of the family, and a few details about his birthfather’s. In short, he has a lot more access and information than many adoptees do, even in today’s era of “openness.”

I was banging around, looking for a photo idea for closed adoption when I came across the website, IAmAdopted.net. Grit your teeth and gird your loins if plan to do any reading there – because a lot of its information may hit you hard in the face, especially if you are an adoptive parent. The goal of the site, it seems, is to foster better, more open relationships between adoptive parents and the children they call theirs. There is helpful, eye-opening information for birthparents, too. For instance, one of the posts I read is titled “If Adoption Was About the Child.” It begins with these lines:

“Every day … I read about the experiences and narratives of adoptees, and the overall conclusion I have made is that adoption is about birth parents and adoptive parents. When will we be real about it and admit that?”

Her point is that it’s only in the rarest circumstance when adoption is solely done with the child’s well-being most central. Usually adoptive parents are adopting because they want a [bigger] family – not out of a desire to help a needy infant or toddler. And likewise, adoption is often a solution for the birthmother. I felt defensive reading those comments – and yet I must admit this blogger has a point.

She then goes on to delineate the ways adoption would work if it were truly centered around the child. I am paraphrasing, unless a direct quote is indicated. But please go read the original post!

  • All adoptions would be open. Check.
  • Adoptees would be allowed consistent contact with their birthfamilies – providing safety wasn’t an issue – without the adoptive parents fearing their child would like their birthparents better. It didn’t start like that, but we got there in a way that unfolded at Eric’s pace, not mine or his parents’.
  • Adoptees would have access to their original birth certificates. I wanted this – but even the birth certificate I have does not name Tony as the birthfather. I must have been angrier with him than I remember. And the one Eric’s family has was redacted and changed to indicate their last name, not ours.
  • Birthmothers would not deny contact with the children they placed for adoption. While I cannot imagine doing this, from what I’ve been reading, the guilt and shame some birthmoms experience is overwhelming and they feel they don’t deserve access to their children. What they fail to realize is that in doing so, they’re creating a second rejection that might be even more painful than the original one. The writer calls the behavior selfish, and I’d have a hard time arguing with her.
  • Adoptive parents would allow their children to search without getting overly emotional and making it about themselves instead of about their children’s need to claim their identity. This was not relevant in our adoption, but given how open Kathy was from the beginning, I doubt it ever would have been an issue.
  • The experiences and narratives of adoptees would be validated – not questioned. Adoptees wouldn’t be labeled as angry or bitter. Adoptive parents and birthparents need to admit that everything won’t always be rosy for their kid, no matter how much he or she is loved. The separation of adoption is a form of trauma, requiring attention and recuperation. Rather than scolding them for experiencing their emotions, it would be far more helpful for the parents to help them express their emotions – even the uncomfortable ones. Check, on Kathy’s end. I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t always realized the depth of this pain.
  • There would be no lies told or secrets hidden from the adopted child. Check.
  • Adoptees wouldn’t be expected to always feel grateful for being adopted. Wow – this one caught me off guard. I don’t think I overtly did this – but perhaps I expected Eric to be OK with things just because he had all the information. Well, I’m his first mom and I chose to let another person come in and take what would have been my role. How could any of us expect him never to feel even a little resentment for that?
  • There wouldn’t be an exorbitant amount of money exchanged for facilitating the adoption. Her direct quote is: “(When will birth mothers and prospective adoptive parents learn that they are being duped by the multi-billion dollar adoption industry?) You can change that by demanding lower to no-cost adoption. Adoptive parents hold the power in adoption land.” Yep – I agree with this one, even though I wasn’t on the paying side of the equation. Actually, because I had health insurance, I covered most of the costs for doctor visits and my hospital delivery, which makes fees an even stranger consideration in our case. I did, however, receive a stipend of a few hundred dollars for maternity clothes.
  • We would admit that race matters. This, again, was nonmaterial to our adoption, but I love this thought. Especially this part: “If you are going to adopt transracially, be prepared and don’t make excuses for not being able to move or how far you must travel to the nearest city that is more diverse after choosing to spend thousands of dollars on your adoption. Put it in the budget.”
  • Adoptive parents would help adoptees locate their birthfamilies and demand legislation to open all adoptions and provide adopted persons with their original birth certificates. Yep – 100 percent agreement on that one, too.

So if I were keeping score, I’d say we did pretty well with the items on this list. But I’m not really the one to ask – I wonder how Eric would feel we did. A few are beyond our personal reach, but even though we’re not directly affected, we can still get involved in changing things. If we want whole, healthy adopted persons to come out of the strange relationships created by adoption, openness in every area needs to be the standard.

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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.

Adopted Kids Long to Know Where They Came From

Adopted Kids Long to Know Where They Came From

Back in college, long before I got pregnant and placed my son for adoption, I met a couple through the St. Thomas More Newman Center (the Catholic church on the University of Arizona campus). They’d had a child who passed away in infancy, and I recall them referring to him as their little angel who was looking out for them. I remember thinking that was weird, but touching.

At the time I met them, they had recently adopted a little boy at the age of about 2. He was darling – the mom not so much. Remember, this was back years before I became a birthmother myself. And yet I froze upon hearing this mother say that she and her husband were praying (literally praying to God) that their son would have no memory at all of his first family, his birthfamily. Now, I don’t know the rest of their story. It’s entirely possible that they had adopted through the foster system and this little boy had come from a troubled home. Perhaps he’d even experienced abuse. But just the thought that his new parents should hope to make of him a blank slate with no recollection of – or ties to – his birthfamily was appalling to me. He had a first family. He had a mother who’d carried him and given birth to him. He had a place of origin that was different from his adoptive parents. Wishing that were not the case would never make it so.

As I’ve mentioned, I worked very hard to find the best parents for my son – but I am nevertheless grateful for their openness and transparency with him about the adoption. They never shied away from the topic, and Kathy always encouraged Eric to express his feelings, ask as many questions as he had, and even put him back in touch with their social worker when, as a teen, he seemed to be struggling. Unfortunately, many adoptive parents are not so willing to be that vulnerable, preferring instead to try to pretend the adoption away.

I have posted previously about talking to adoptive and prospective adoptive parents on this very topic:

One thing I was able to do when I would speak to groups of prospective parents was cut through the bullshit. I remember explaining, on more than one occasion, what seemed so obvious to me, but always startled the hell out of these would-be parents: “This baby is never going to be your biological child. He or she will bear no blood relationship to you. He or she was conceived and carried by another couple – and they will always have a tie to your child that you don’t. That doesn’t make you bad or deformed as a parent – it just means that your relationship to your kid is different. And the sooner you come to terms with that – the sooner you stop resenting the birthparents for doing something you couldn’t – the better off everyone will be.”

I recently came across this post, written by an adult adoptee, that contains a list of 10 things adoptees want you to know. Guess what they want people to understand:

  • They want to know where they came from.
  • They want their adoptive parents to be their advocates.
  • They want their parents’ help to make sense of their stories.
  • Their desire to search for their birthparents is important to their identity – it’s not a rejection of the adoptive parents.
  • Even those in open adoptions struggle with feelings of self-worth, shame, control, and identity – particularly when their adoptive families (and pretty much everyone else they know) are so hesitant to talk about the adoption. Talk about the elephant in the room.

What was not on that list was a desire to sweep the adoption under the rug, or the desire to forget their first families and erase all recollection – or knowledge – about their places and people of origin.

I realize that as a birthmother, my perspective is quite different than that of most adoptive parents. If one were so inclined, the two roles could even be seen as adversarial. And although the birthparent chooses not to parent – one could view it as a rejection – the adopted person and the birthparent actually have more in common, in terms of emotions and the aftermath of the adoption, than you might think. Particularly in instances where secrecy/lack of transparency is [still] a factor in the adoption.

As with everything, I think that each adoption is different because the people involved in each adoption are different. However, there are emotional norms and psycho-sociological trends. That data is still coming in, but I’m pretty sure that almost anyone with any stake in adoption would agree that openness is a much better approach to this very peculiar institution.

Like many of the people I met earlier in my life, I have no idea what became of that couple or their child. Nevertheless, I hope for all of them that they came to terms with the way their family was made – and that their child was eventually allowed to be his own person, even if that meant searching for, finding, and meeting the people who gave him life and also made his adoptive parents so uncomfortable.

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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.

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.