Is It Stalking or Sleuthing?

Is It Stalking or Sleuthing?

February is Eric’s birthday month – he’ll be 24 on the 24th. I shrieked a little to myself in the car the other day when I realized that he’ll be just three years younger than I was when I had him. Wow – no real sense of what I was doing when I was 24. Probably my last year living in Tucson – planning, as it were, for a move to the Big Apple (actually, Jersey City, NYC’s wormy little brother across the Hudson River). I had a job of sorts, but no real plans for the future. Definitely not planning to have a baby and place him for adoption. Calls to mind that great John Lennon quote:

life is what happens

So birthday gifts are always a bit of a challenge. I didn’t get anything for the first few years. Later, at my sister’s recommendation, I’d buy gifts as I saw them and just hold on to them. Even after we’d opened the adoption (I learned the Stanfields’ address before Eric’s 3rd birthday), I never wanted Kathy and Bruce to feel pressured or threatened. When Eric and I finally met in person for my wedding – he was 16 – I gave him all the gifts I’d been keeping for him. Most of them were Christmas ornaments – one per year – and small stuffed animals I’d collected from the various places I’d traveled through the years.

He’s a sensitive kid, so he seems to appreciate thoughtful gifts as much as fun ones. Usually I try to do a little of both. I remember Kathy telling me that when Eric was in maybe second or third grade, he came home with that typical childhood project: the family tree. Sensitive, brilliant kid that he was – even as an 8- or 9-year-old – he asked for two pages, so that he could do two family trees: one for the Stanfield family and one for his birthfamily.

family tree

As it turns out, I have rather detailed family trees for both sides of my family. A cousin on my dad’s side did some fairly sophisticated research, so that tree is bigger, with many more branches. My mom’s tree is kind of like her family – a bit scattershot, misspellings here, wrong dates there. But it’s a good start and contains a lot of info I wouldn’t have access to were it not for the fact that somebody thought to record even these convoluted details.

So this year for his birthday, I was thinking I might finally try to put a family tree together for Eric, since I do have most of the pieces from my side of the family. Felt a little silly to realize that both of my sides still equal only one side of Eric’s family tree. Which means I’d need to research Tony’s family tree in order to do both sides justice.

I lost touch with Tony a number of years ago. The last time we saw each other in person was February 2002. We had a failed attempt at a reconciliation, after he broke up with a woman he’d been living with and was feeling lonely, I think. Back when Eric graduated from high school, I took some time and finally tracked Tony down via Facebook and other online tools. It was a circuitous process, but I’m a good researcher. I couldn’t find Tony outright, so I started with his Aunt Judy, which led to his sister Wendy, which led to him – and his wife. That enabled me to find his address in Bedminster, NJ – which it turns out was just 10 minutes from the house where Eric grew up and where he once again lives with his family. No surprise, when I stopped to consider the vast number of coincidences that have occurred and helped shape this entire adoption relationship.

I wouldn’t call it stalking, necessarily, but every now and again I would try to check in on Tony and Wendy. She posts much more frequently – and it was on her page that I learned that their dad had passed away a few years ago. My most recent foray revealed that Tony and his wife have split up – so that address I found for Eric a few years ago won’t do him any good now.

hatchet cake

Ever since Eric’s college graduation last May, I’ve been thinking on and off about reaching out to Tony, just to let him know his kid is all grown up – a smart, good-looking, thoughtful man. Glad now that I didn’t send a copy of the graduation photo to that address I had for him. But my walk down Memory Lane via Wendy’s FB page was a reminder that Tony really did cut ties with both Eric and me rather completely. There were photos from the time we were dating – but none of Tony and me. It almost felt like I never existed in his life. Perhaps not so surprising, in that this was his sister’s feed – but as much time as I spent with his family, you’d think I might have shown up in one picture. There’s actually a photo of him and his dad in front of a Trump casino in Atlantic City, wearing identical leather jackets. I remember that trip – I’m standing frozen in time, out of frame, but just a few feet away from them. A very similar picture of Tony and me was taken – I actually gave that to Eric a few years ago.

dale & tony

I was also reminded about the Christmas when Tony and I went gift shopping together – for his family. Turns out, he didn’t get me anything, and then took all the gifts I’d helped him wrap and toddled off to Baltimore to spend the holidays with his family, leaving me on my own in Jersey City. Yeah – there were some real douchey moments, and I was an idiot for sticking around as long as I did. Live and learn, isn’t that what they say?

Why do I still think about getting in touch? I guess because I really do want Eric to have all the information he can – before people die and there’s no way to retrieve it. This is his birthfather’s family – people who are his blood relations. Tony told me he’d told Molly (the live-in girlfriend from 2002) about Eric and still planned to tell his family, but I have no idea whether that ever happened. How could he NOT? ricochets through my head – but pretty easily, I’m guessing, if he still compartmentalizes the way he used to.

I remember a while back seeing that Wendy was pretty invested in the whole genealogy fascination, so the thought occurred to me that I might reach out to her, instead of Tony, and just take my chances that she’d get back to me, regardless of whether or not she’d ever learned she has a nephew (or that her daughters have a cousin). If anyone would have their family tree info, it would be Wendy. Reading through her FB posts, I believe we’d get along a lot better today than we did 29 years ago – but considering further, I recognized that her loyalty will always be to her brother first, so I think I’ve pretty much talked myself out of that idea.

Instead, I decided to take a 2-week trial at Ancestry.com and see what I could dig up there. Learned the date their dad passed away – July 6, 2015 – and that he was a college graduate. I would not have guessed that. Tracked down the family’s old address in Cedar Rapids, and confirmed the birth years for both Tony’s mom, Diane, and dad, Dale. But not much more than that. If Wendy’s been working on a family tree of any sort, it’s not public.

One night back in the late ’90s, when we were out playing pool at a bar near work, Tony was a little drunker than usual for a worknight and he (accidentally?) let it slip that there was adoption on both sides of his family. Apparently his Aunt Judy, on his mom’s side, was a birthmother who’d relinquished a baby in her teens. He had no idea whether his cousin had been a boy or a girl – or whether Judy had ever had any sort of reunion. Then, there was his dad’s side – where things get really complicated. The way I remember Tony telling the story was that his dad was one of seven kids, all of whom were adopted out of the family due to what he assumed were financial complications. It was the late 1940s/early 1950s – not sure what other reason there could have been. A few decades later, his dad finally located the last of his brothers – and it was such a big deal it was written up in the local paper. That was the only time Tony ever brought any of this up – so my vague memories of that conversation were all I had to go on.

When I was looking through Wendy’s FB page to try to figure out how long ago their dad had died, I came across an image of that story from the Cedar Rapids newspaper. I didn’t read it at the time, but now that I’m looking for every clue I can find about their family, I went back and pored over it with a microscope. Either I remembered the story incorrectly, or misinterpreted the information, because according to the newspaper article, Dale was one of 15 kids – seven of whom were adopted out. The story doesn’t fill in too many more blanks. But between it, my memory of meeting an aunt and uncle who lived in Tucson, and a few photos I perused on Wendy’s page, I’ve been able to put names to 10 of the 15 siblings. Still no names, dates, or locations for great-grandparents, although I did find separate photos of Diane’s mom and dad.

finding lost brother

And that’s where this story ends, for now. I’ll probably take as stab at the family tree, though I’m not sure I’ll get it all compiled in time to send as a birthday gift. If by some miracle Eric were to decide he’d like more information, I might one day try to contact either Wendy or Tony. Should that happen, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’m gonna hang up my sleuthing ways and let bygones by bygones.

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

Reflecting on Roe v. Wade

Reflecting on Roe v. Wade

Today is January 22, the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the United States. I was just 5 years old on that monumental day, and much has happened over the course of my life to shift my thinking on the whole question of legal abortion. Having grown up in a strict Catholic family, my indoctrination was to be in full support of the pro-life movement. My father was a single-issue (abortion) voter until his death. Regardless of all the other harm any given candidate might impose, if he (probably never she) opposed abortion, he was likely to garner my father’s vote.

As young people do, however, I grew up and my thinking changed. Not radically, but enough that I can no longer fully embrace the anti-abortion stance I once held. Because so many other aspects of women’s health have been placed by conservative white male politicians side-by-side with abortion – meaning they’ve been defunded or made nearly impossible to access – I can no longer passively accept pro-life politics. Not to mention that making abortion illegal again won’t solve anything for anyone. What we need to do is make it less necessary, but that’s a conversation too few people are willing to have.

That said, a friend of mine mentioned on Saturday that we should be marching – she meant in defense of Roe. I told her that was a march I’d never take part in. I don’t feel I’m ambivalent – just unwilling to pick up another picket sign for any side on this issue.

When I found myself pregnant at 27, no closer to marrying my son’s father than I’d been when I met him five years prior, I knew almost immediately that I’d place the baby for adoption. My son’s father was not so supportive about the adoption decision. No – he did not want to get married. He wanted me to have an abortion. Remember, I grew up Catholic and pro-life – but I agreed to consider the abortion option. And I did – for two days.

I came to the realization during those two days that women place their babies for adoption for many of the same reasons they have abortions. The pregnancy is unplanned. They have no parental/familial support. They feel they can’t afford to raise a child. With an abortion, you must live with the decision, but no one else need ever even know you were pregnant. Carry a baby to term and then place him with an adoptive family, and you’re likely to receive questions and/or inquisitive looks … from co-workers, neighbors, acquaintances who know nothing of your adoption plan. I decided I was willing to live with the looks and answer the questions, if and when the circumstances warranted it.

Going through the process of weighing the option of abortion gave me a perspective many people cannot share. Most especially, men. No man will ever know what it’s like to get pregnant unexpectedly and need to make a decision about what to do next. As a pro-life teen, I spent my share of Tuesday afternoons picketing local abortion clinics. I still remember hearing a guy holler out his car window as he passed us, “Abortion saved my life.” I didn’t get it at the time, but a friend explained it to me, and of course I understand now. I believe every birthfather should have input into the decision, provided the couple’s relationship is not so damaged as to prevent that. And I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I were a man who wanted to keep the baby when he knew his partner was leaning toward abortion. But until biology takes a dramatic turn, the woman carries the fetus within her body, so ultimately it’s her decision to make.

While I’ve broadened my perspective about abortion, one thing has remained mostly unchanged for me. Until they can get pregnant and have to face this most crucial life decision, men’s comments on the topic are generally superfluous. It was with this attitude that I watched a commentary piece by Tim Pool, a 30-something YouTuber my husband and I generally happen to like quite a bit. On his channel, TimCast, Pool WEB_INRIKESfrequently describes his politics as center-left, and he makes more sense than almost anyone I’ve heard in the last few years on almost every topic. A couple days ago during a livestream, he got to talking about the subject of capital punishment, which led to a comment about abortion, given the annual March for Life had recently taken place at the U.S. Capitol. “Oh, no. Here we go again,” I mumbled, rolling my eyes and expecting an inane comment. Yes – from a guy whose politics and commentary I tend mostly to agree with. I guess I’ve become that jaded.

But what came next stopped me in my tracks. Tim Pool said he thought abortion was a difficult choice, that most women don’t make it lightly. He also added that having sex is a responsibility, and that abortion should not be used as birth control. “I just don’t think it’s fair to make someone else (the unborn child) pay for your recklessness.”

That was it, in a nutshell. The reason I couldn’t, wouldn’t, didn’t have the abortion when Tony wanted me to. I’d never heard it put quite that way before, but it summarized everything I felt and why I made the choice I made. Had I opted to have that abortion more than 24 years ago, our brilliant, beautiful son would not be here today. We would have deprived him of his existence simply because we were reckless. I am so grateful for the choice I made, knowing it was based largely on emotion. Yet sometimes when you’re making a potentially life-altering decision, you need to take a step back and view things through your Spock goggles. You have to strip away the emotion and let reason be your guide. I guess that’s why I support a woman’s right to abortion, but doubt I’d ever counsel someone to make that choice.

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

Grieving at the Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

no more pain

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

Being at Peace with My Adoption Decision Does NOT Equal Denial

Being at Peace with My Adoption Decision Does NOT Equal Denial

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

gillette NJ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She Knits – I Crochet

She Knits – I Crochet

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

read instead

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

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

20180529_193203

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

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

20180529_193233

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

crocheted scarf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 Magic of Parker and Friar Tuck

The Magic of Parker and Friar Tuck

Adoption is, perhaps, the strangest of all relationships. Though ours was not open from the beginning, I am blessed to now have a fully open adoption, an adult son who is smart and funny and kind, and adoptive parents who have welcomed me with open arms into their home for this visit to celebrate our kid’s graduation from college. It’s lovely and odd and complicated to have this other family – they’re kind of like in-laws, but different because it’s our son who is the bridge. I’ve had the most contact with Kathy through the years, but have been getting to know all of them for some time now. This trip, in particular, I had the delight of spending quite a lot of time with Eric and his lovely girlfriend, Meaghan.

Last night, Eric and Meaghan when out instead of dining with the family – so my bridge and conduit was missing as I had dinner with Kathy, Bruce, Kathy’s nephew Parker, and her brother Todd. Parker is an astonishing kid. Good-looking, charming as all get out, funny, and sharp as hell. Mary Anne, Todd’s wife and Parker’s mother, passed away from breast cancer nearly five years ago. It was a year before we lost my husband’s dad and a couple years before my sister was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Mary Anne and Corina were close in age at the times of their deaths – and when Kathy and I talk about Mary Anne’s passing, it’s sometimes still an emotional trigger for me. The big difference between them was that Corina’s daughter was grown when she left us. Parker – just 8 now – was barely 4 when his mom passed away. He seems to be doing OK. Spends a lot of time with Kathy and Bruce – but he worships Eric and wants to hang out with him every chance he gets. Though Eric left to head back up to Boston this morning, he’ll be home in New Jersey again next weekend and has promised to take Parker to the driving range during that visit. You-Know-Who will be beside himself when he finds out.

Many years ago, I became involved with an amazing nonprofit organization called Gabriel’s Angels, which offers healing pet therapy to abused, neglected, and abandoned children throughout Arizona. The philosophy is this: because these children have known nothing but disappointment from the adults in their lives, they have a very difficult time trusting grown-ups, or anyone, for that matter. Through the love of an animal (mostly dogs, but also the occasional pot-bellied pig, cat, or miniature horse), though, these kids learn what it means to bond, to love, to have empathy, and to develop compassion. The goal is to disrupt and permanently break the cycle of violence so that these children can grow up to experience healthy adult relationships. While it’s been amazing to be involved with this organization, it wasn’t until yesterday – watching Parker with Kathy and Bruce’s border terrier, Tuck – that I actually witnessed first-hand the miracles pets can work with otherwise troubled kids.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Parker to lose his mom at such an early age. She was not only his pal, but his confidant. Kathy manages to fill in a lot of the gaps created by Mary Anne’s absence – but it’s Tuck in whom Parker confides. One of the amazing things about younger kids (and sometimes older ones, too) is that they quite often forget adults are in the room, and they just talk. Parker is mature for his age – sassy, confident, and quite a jokester. But the minute he sees Tuck, his voice changes. He gets soft, and he sits down on the floor to pet and play with Tuck. He tells Tuck what a good boy he is, how special he is, and how much he loves him. The change in demeanor is incredible to witness – and listen to from around the corner.

Parker’s dad, Todd, is a nice guy, but a bit of a curmudgeon by nature. He doesn’t share his son’s enthusiasm for the dog. While we were out visiting with Eric’s family over the holidays, Parker convinced Kathy and Todd to allow Tuck to come spend the night with him and his dad. Parker was over the moon – until the first potty accident in the house. The other thing about Tuck is that he’s a whiner/yelper. He’s also an early riser. I don’t think Todd could have gotten that poor dog back to Kathy fast enough. But the drama of that overnight visit did nothing to dampen Parker’s enthusiasm and love for Tuck.

In spite of suffering an unimaginable loss, Parker is fortunate to have the Stanfields as his family. Kathy and Bruce adore him – and he has a lifelong friend in a little brown pup whose full name is Friar Tuck.

__________________________
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.