adoption, family

The Lion’s Den

The sound of her voice sets my teeth on edge. The children’s older biological sister, M, is difficult for me to stomach. I am caught between my instinct to get her away from my children and the idea that I should try to maintain their original sibling bonds. It’s hard for me to do.

Contact with her is something the children are entitled to. She isn’t a danger to them. She’s just…herself. I know that if I keep them from her they will only seek her out all the more as they get older. Forbidden fruit is always sweeter.

Still, it’s hard for me to see the upside of this contact. She’s always pushing the limits just enough to set off my internal warning system. Her compliments are backhanded. Her questions are all masking hidden intentions. I know she is poking around the edges of our relationship, looking for a soft spot.

When M comes to the house it’s usually to pick up Marcus. Without fail she immediately requests to use the bathroom and then proceeds to the younger children’s rooms. She goes through their things rapidly asking questions about what clothes or shoes might fit her and what her children would like. If I could describe her in one word it would be “hungry.”

Then she tears through picture albums and other personal effects. All the while she’s asking a million questions about what we think is “wrong” with Mary and why. I never answer these. It’s Mary’s business to share if and when she wants to.

The last contact with M came just as I was bringing Mary home for the weekend. Marcus handed Mary the phone the second Mary and I walk in. It’s a FaceTime call from M. She wanted to grill Mary about the private boarding school where we “sent her away.” M does not believe that Mary has any problems that need addressing.  I suppose living with Mary for the first 3 years of her life has made M an expert.

She puts on a pouty face and comments, “I bet you don’t want to go back there. I bet you wished you could stay at your mom’s house. Right? Right, Mary???”

A confused Mary shrugs and says, “Sure.”

Her “mom’s house” really?? This is obviously Mary’s home, too! Also, this is a two parent household. For whatever reason, M has always treated Luke as an afterthought. She sees me as the parent and Luke as some sort of family-adjacent variable. It’s insulting, really. He’s an excellent father and as it just so happens: homeowner!

I glance at the screen and notice that M is surrounded by scattered trash and maybe 6 black trash bags littering the floor. She’s changing her youngest child directly on the carpet next to some old McDonald’s wrappers and what looks like a banana peel. Her face appears drawn and tired. She’s gained about 20 pounds since I saw her at Christmas time.

Mary becomes quiet and awkward. She asks after the baby. M begins to rapid fire questions one after the other while my daughter tries to keep up. Mary answers either “yes” or “no” as M demands to know what clothes she has, what is in her room and if she misses “having friends.” Mary doesn’t even know how to respond to the last question. She scrunches up her brow in confusion and glances at me.

Rather than answer M what size her Nike shoes are, I wish Mary would describe her riding lessons, gymnastics or on-campus therapeutic rope course. I wish she’d fill M in about her dorm room in the elite wing with TV, DVD player an iPod. She’s doing quite well at her amazing school but it doesn’t come up.

Instead M ends the call with, “Wow you look chubby! You’re getting chubby just like me!” Then she says she has to go and cuts off the call.

No matter how I feel, M is a part of my children’s lives. I’ve just got to suck it up and smile unless she were to do something obviously inappropriate. Until then I feign happiness that she’s in touch and swallow my own hurt pride.

As of this moment Marcus is staying with her in the city. I can’t help but feel that my oldest child has just walked into the Lion’s den.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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family

The Call

Our oldest, Marcus, once told me he was certain that his biological mom had overdosed. After he had moved out of our home, and in with his girlfriend, he reached out to her. He tried again and again through several channels to try and get in touch. He was convinced that she had died this time and that he had simply missed it. All of his panic turned out to be unfounded. She was still alive in Puerto Rico but was keeping her contact information relatively secret. She didn’t want to hear from or be reminded about her children after losing parental rights. Marcus was mad, but I remember so clearly his panic. He was worried she was dead. He was worried he had missed it.

I got the call while driving back from vacation. Luke and I and the kids were driving home from Virginia. I had just reconnected with my brother after 15 years. Luke and I were about halfway home to Connecticut when I got the call that my father was drastically ill and in Intensive Care at the hospital. This was an urgent situation. I needed to go to him right away before it was too late.

I got what information I could from his girlfriend and her children. At 90-years-old he had sepsis, gall stones, problems regulating sugar, bed sores that wouldn’t heal, and possibly dementia. Up until about a week ago he had been staying in a rehab facility for a broken leg. He had been functioning fairly well. I didn’t realize he had quit eating weeks ago. I thought he was healing his leg and getting ready to leave the rehabilitation facility. Then one of his girlfriend’s daughter’s sent me a picture. I gasped to see my once strong, tall, and commanding father. He was now a frail 85 pounds, no longer 6 feet tall. He lay limp in a hospital bed.

How ironic is it that I just had this conversation with my brother, Ed? Now Dad was in crisis and I had to act. Only this time, I was not alone. Luke and I scrambled to try and make plans to get me out to California. We weren’t even back in Connecticut yet. Should he drop me off at JFK so that I could get a standby flight to CA? Would I make it in time?

As we were frantically trying to find flights, hotels, and get information from the hospital, Ed came through. He bought me a round trip ticket for the next day from CT to CA. That was half the battle. Booking.com took care of my hotel, and my mom made plans to come. Luke had work but managed to figure out childcare while I was gone between my step-dad and some friends. I was going to make it to see my Dad. I worried that I wouldn’t make it in time but I knew that I was going.

I remembered Marcus. I could feel the same panic in myself, only I was able to take steps to see my dad. I was able to get information. I wasn’t shut out. What would happen with Mary and Carl someday? Would they know when their biological mom was close to the end? Would they be able to be there? Would they want to?

All I can say is that there is comfort in family. In times of crisis it is comforting not to be alone. My brother came through on our recent conversation. He bought me the ticket. My mom didn’t hesitate to go with me even though she had been divorced from my father for over 30 years. Will I do the same for my kids? Will I want to? I hope so.

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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adoption, family

Finding Our Biology: Adventures in Origins

Family is such a tangled web we weave. I am always trying to maintain some connection between our adopted children and their biological siblings. Even if they do not remember each other well, someday they will want to know. I believe that all humans are like homing pigeons. Eventually we seek the very source of our own origins. In this case, biological family is key.

I know this is so because I struggle with my own biological connections. My father has always been an ambitious man. He was 56-years-old when I was born. My mother was 18 years younger. It was a second marriage for both of them. I have half-siblings on both sides. I am very close to my older brother on my mother’s side. I have 4 half-siblings on my father’s side.They are all 20+ years older than I am.

My father is not an easy man. I know that the older siblings had very bad experiences being his children. He could be brutal, angry and inebriated. He could also be charming, gregarious and entertaining. I don’t think his interests ever aligned with having a family. Roger had delusions of grandeur about himself and what he would achieve. He had strong beliefs in the supernatural and the afterlife. He was a larger-than-life character in public. In private he struggled to maintain personal relationships. My parents divorced when I was 4. 

Roger was much older by the time they had me. The first set of siblings suffered through his mistakes and physical abuses. I can’t even imagine but I have heard from many people that this is so. I do not doubt it and I understand why their relationships with him were minimal and fragile at their best.

When I was small, and my parents were still married, I remember spending time with my father’s oldest son, Ron. He and his girlfriend would take me places. They took me to an amusement park one day, just the 3 of us. At the end of the trip they bought me a clear plastic ruler filled with water and sparkles. I treasured it and though about my “biggest” brother whenever I looked at it.

My father’s youngest son, Ed, and his family were a part of my childhood right up through high school. We would drive from Connecticut to Virginia each summer and stay with them. I held each of their 3 children as babies. I played in their yard and swung in their hammock. My sister-in-law was impossibly sweet and I wanted to be just like her.

Over time, the visits stopped.  As my father got older, what little relationship he had with these 2 became more and more strained. I do not recall his relationship with his daughter, Carol. We may have visited once or twice with her but I was too young to remember. His son Rich had long since changed his last name and completely  distanced himself from the family. I never met him. As Roger got older his relationship, and by association, mine, became more strained with the siblings. We stopped visiting. They stopped talking. I was the only child who still spoke with Roger.

They were always sort of a mystery to me. A special club that I was not a part of. I dearly loved the two brothers that I knew. I had no idea what Rich looked like. I tried to friend him on facebook once. He immediately blocked me. His response was swift and baffling. I was only curious. Did we have any of the same features? Enjoy the same foods? Was our eye-color the same? It was sort of a gaping hole of knowledge and I just wanted to know.

About 9 years ago, Roger had his second heart attack. His first had happened while I was in high school. His second was when I was only 26-years-old. He was divorced and alone. Suddenly I had legal medical proxy in case anything should happen to him. I was making arrangements at his apartment and trying to make sense of the mess of medical and insurance information. Needless to say, I was a wreck. I was way over my head in terms of responsibility.

By this time my own relationship with Roger was getting complicated. He didn’t really approve of Luke and wasn’t keen on the idea of our marrying. He believed he was going to become rich developing a holistic healing center and I should come and live with him on this compound. He made many job offers to me but his center never appeared. It was one of the many dreams he had that never made it to reality. In addition, I had no interest in a psychic healing center. I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to marry Luke and start a family. Roger did not approve.

When I reached out to my siblings, none of them came. Luke and I dealt with the heart attack by ourselves. They had work, families, other commitments. I was alone. At the time I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t be there to support me. Now I understand that it had more to do with out father.

I have decided to seek my biology in the same way I encourage my children to seek their own. I reached out to my oldest brother, Ron. We both live in Connecticut. I was ready to drive across the state to meet him for lunch or whatever he preferred. He seemed happy and willing at first, but when the day came to meet he stopped contacting me. My texts and phone calls went unanswered.

I contacted my brother, Ed, in Virginia. He was very enthusiastic and loved the idea of a summer visit, just like old times. We are driving to his house so that he can meet my husband and my kids. It’s been 15 years since I last saw him. Our contact has been mostly Facebook “likes” and comments. I’m scared but I am sure. If I am telling my kids that it’s ok to have mixed feelings about relatives, then I should be able to handle my own. If I tell them that maintaining family connections is important, then I should practice what I preach.

If adoption has taught me nothing else it has taught me this. Family is important. Hopefully I will continue to learn and grow. I am reaching out to my siblings because family is what you make of it. My kids deserve this from their own biology and from mine. Wish me luck…

 

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption, family

The Difference Between Their Birthmom and Me: An Honest Conversation About Addiction

As many of you know I recently herniated a disc in my spine. Since then I’ve gone to PT, had cortisone injections, and took pain medication after pain medication in order to perform the most basic movements.

Today I couldn’t make it any more. My surgical consult isn’t until the end of the month. I landed in the ER at the hospital where my neurosurgeon practices. They consulted with him and put me on some heavy duty meds normally given by IV in the hospital. I am now going back tomorrow for an emergency appointment with the surgeon.

I have learned something huge through all of this. The medication today is only thing that helps to somewhat dull this pain. It isn’t gone, it still feels like I live with searing hot daggers lodged in my spine. I have shooting, squeezing, blood-curdling muscle spasms all down my right leg. The pain is like fire and acid and nightmares too terrible to remember. I need this medication they gave me. I cannot make it without the medication I got today. I am living in pervasive, festering, agony. I feel that my life and my sanity are forfeit if I do not have the tools to survive until the appointment tomorrow. But I will have the appointment.

The good news for me is that soon this will be over. There are medical interventions available to me in order to help. As unbearable as this is, I know it will get better for me. Here’s the thing. What if it didn’t? Re-read the last paragraph. Re-read it and replace the pain in my spine with the pain of depression. The pain of mental illness. The pain of addiction. For some people that pain is real. There is no emergency appointment with a surgeon tomorrow that will make things all better right away for an addict, a person with a mental illness, a person with a deep and unyielding depression. These people? These addicts? They aren’t so different than me. That second paragraph is probably the closest I will ever come to walking a mile in their shoes.

Today I am humbled. Today is the day that I can honestly empathize with the birthmother of my children. I may wish her well and pray for her and hope she finds healing. Yes, I do all of those things. But do I understand the things she did? Can I fathom the things she left undone? Do I, in my heart of hearts, believe that I am somehow better? It’s an ugly thing to admit about myself but, yes, sometimes I do. Tomorrow I will have answers. Tomorrow I will have my way out.

Let me take today to be humbled. Let me take today to understand, at least a little bit. Let me take this horrible day to realize that we are not so far from those we may judge. We are not so far from those addicts, those hurting, or those in need. We are all human. If only we all had the promise of help tomorrow. For this experience I am truly grateful.

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adoption, family

Adventures in an Open and Shut Adoption

door

Just like that, our open adoption was shut. She refused to see their school pictures. She wouldn’t look at the pictures I texted to the oldest biological sibling. There were no more visits. She would no longer acknowledge the children she gave birth to. The pain was too great for her.

To do this story justice is have to start from the beginning. I’d have to start with her trauma, her losses, her past. I can’t because I don’t know it. I do know that she had several diagnosed mental health disorders. She had struggles with substance abuse. I know that she reported being abused and traumatized in some way, but I’m not sure how or where. That is her story and she has a right to it. It may not excuse some of the acts she’s committed or the choices she’s made, but it makes sense to me. After all, trauma begets trauma.

She had 7 children in total, by 4 different fathers. The Department of Children and Families ended up with custody of 6 of them. The oldest daughter has children of her own after spending years raising our little chickens. I’ve tried to reach out to her, but we’ve only spoken twice. She has financially and physically supported her mother on and off through the years. It may be too much of a loyalty conflict for her to make contact with us.

We save pictures. We keep school pictures and sports photos of the kids. We always order extra for the biological family. Most of the pictures ended up sitting in the DCF office, probably collecting dust. We used to provide them to the social worker for the biological mother, hoping she would ask for them. Now, we know differently.

We had an open adoption agreement. We agreed to 3 visits a year plus letters and photos. Soon after that, she violated the agreement. And then she did it again. And again. Therefore, she forfeited her legal right to the agreement.

So is it over? Are we relieved? Are we “done” with this birth mom? No. Of course not.

I believe in open adoption to the extent that is best for the child. Our children have both good and bad memories of this woman. It is our job, as parents, to honor their “first mom.”

We acknowledge their painful memories, hurts, and trauma. Yes, these things happened. Their anger is OK. We also acknowledge their happy memories, their grief, and their love. These things are also true. Their love is OK.

There are times when our Littles want to remember more than they do. I have reached out to their older bio sister in order to provide pictures and little anecdotes from their childhood. What songs did Birth Mom like to sing? She was creative with art projects, just like our Littles. She had the most beautiful eyelashes, just like our Littles. She ate carrots with salt while pregnant with Mary, so, of course, we all tried it to see if we would like it.

I scoured Facebook to find pictures of biological relatives the Littles don’t see in person anymore. I sent away to Shutterfly to get Lifebooks filled with whatever pictures I could find of their “first-family” members. My kids deserve this. They deserve to know.

I save their class pictures and sports pictures in a memory box. It’s for her. Someday, when she is ready, it’s there. Our therapists are working with the Littles to write letters to her, if they choose. We will keep it in a memory box. It will be there for her. Someday, when she’s ready, it’s there. If she is a never ready? The Littles will know we tried.

I don’t believe she is a bad person. She made some very bad choices. Yes, she did things that hurt my children. But that doesn’t negate her love for them or her role in our family. She may be in such pain and turmoil that she cannot attempt to see or hear about her birth children. It’s OK. Luke and I will love them and take care of them. She needs to take care of herself right now.

We will be their last parents. We will do what’s best for them. Respecting their past is best for them.

Adoption isn’t about us. It’s about them. Isn’t all parenting the same in this way? We sacrifice, we do the best we can, we love and love and love.

We wanted a family. We didn’t want the “perfect baby” to be an accessory to our story, like a handbag or shoes. We wanted these children to grow and change our family. They came with birth parents. They came with history. It is our job to shift this family dynamic in order to accommodate them.

We opened our adoption. She shut the the door. Right now, she can’t face it. That’s OK. From our side? This door is still open. If visits aren’t healthy, we still have the memory box. For when she’s ready. On our side, the door is open.
** Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

* If you’ve ever considered fostering or adoption go encourage you to start your own adventure!

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