Running to Stand Still

Running to Stand Still

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

running to stand still
With props to U2.

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.

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.

“Give Them the Opportunity to Surprise You”

“Give Them the Opportunity to Surprise You”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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