March into My Heart

Today’s Drip: Does it make sense to get help with the search for a birthmother?

After making the decision to adopt an infant, searching for a birthmother is not always easy.  Some people get lucky and stumble into a great situation, but it doesn’t happen often. I know of one couple who found a birthmother when the nanny for their first child accidentally got pregnant.  I also know of another couple who knew a pregnant nurse at their doctor’s office who wanted to give her child up for adoption.  In these cases, it was an easy choice for the adoptive couple because they knew the birthmother and understood her lifestyle.  They were confident about the birthmother’s decision and were reasonably sure she wouldn’t change her mind.

The first step in the adoption process is finding the right birthmother. In most cases, including ours, people need to search hard to find a birthmother they feel comfortable with.   Choosing the right birthmother (or making sure she chose us) was critical to our family’s future happiness and was one of the biggest decisions we would ever make.  There are so many complicated legal, financial and emotional issues surrounding adoption that we reached out for help.

We started with a lawyer in California who knew all about adoption and claimed that potential birthmothers called him frequently looking for placement help. But our case was very specific (we wanted a girl) so instead of relying on his local newspaper ads, he suggested a facilitator who was listed under “Adoption” in every yellow pages across the country as “A Loving Alternative”. I loved the woman who owned the business, Cindy, from the first moment we spoke on the phone. She had adopted a daughter years before and started this business because she found it so difficult to find a birthmother. She knew how hard it was to wait and wait for someone to call. Instead, she successfully attracts birthmothers to her website and 800 number listed in the yellow pages and now birthmothers from all over the country are accessible to her waiting couples.

Cindy, who had vast experience with adoption cases, understood how much support both the adoptive couple and the birthmother need throughout the pregnancy and adoption process.  She has a comforting demeanor, but she’s also a realist about the potential disappointment involved in this type of transaction. Cindy doesn’t do adoptions; she merely supports everyone involved emotionally and sometimes logistically.  Couples fill out a detailed questionnaire about who they are and exactly what they are looking for in terms of a baby.  Then they submit a “Dear Birthmother” letter which describes their relationship, plans for their family, and parenting philosophies, as well as their desire to love and care for her child.  When a birthmother calls, Cindy sends her ten letters  to choose from, which usually include photos.

Our experience was wonderful and amazingly brief, although our lawyers told us it could be a two-year wait.  Instead it was only 45 days.  Cindy had our letter on January 15th and we got our call about a birthmother on March 1st.    Fortunately for us, the young birthmother was nine months pregnant and knew she was having a girl! Cindy was extremely helpful to both sides of this loving transaction (a detailed account of our experience is described in my soon-to-be-published memoir).  She supported our birthmother through the medical, legal, and logistical quagmire required by her state, as well as helping us at our end.  There were times when I didn’t know what to do or how to proceed with the woman who was willing to give me the greatest gift in my life.  Cindy was completely honest, supportive to both women involved, leading to one of the happiest moments of my life.

Today’s Drip: Worrying about how your family and friends will feel about your adopted child?

Everyone is different.  Every family is different.  Couples who spend months or years trying for a child take different approaches to sharing information about their progress with family and friends.  A couple that has been open about their infertility (and the consequential disappointments and frustrations) with the community that surrounds them will share their optimism when they announce that they have found a birthmother. The couple will then have the support of their community while they wait for the birth of their child and eventually share their delight when the adopted child joins the family.  On the other hand, many couples resist sharing any information about their often painful journey through infertility, maintaining their privacy and suffering in silence as friends announce pregnancies and celebrate babies.  For those couples, the adoption option may be explored in private, especially with the abundance of qualified facilitators, lawyers and agencies available on the internet.  This path has its advantages but may also create emotional anxiety and stress for the people who choose that option.

Before our daughter’s adoption, I had never discussed adoption with my friends or even my close family. I had known only a handful of people who had adopted children and none of them were close enough to me to share their intimate experiences.  I didn’t know what reactions to expect to our potential sudden addition to our family.  Most of my family members were naïve about the process and never thought that we would consider adoption, especially when I hadn’t even shared that we wanted a third child.  I worried whether my adopted child would be accepted and treated just like our naturally-born children.

I was a mother who kept quiet about my struggle with infertility.  To me, it seemed selfish to complain about not being able to have a third child when I knew so many people who were suffering with infertility and had no children at all.  In addition, I didn’t want our boys to become absorbed in our pursuit of a baby, so it was my goal to keep the possibility of a sibling a secret from them until we were sure it would come to pass.  Building up our boys’ expectations for a sibling and then disappointing them if it didn’t work out seemed cruel and unnecessary.

Fortunately, we found out about our birthmother only three weeks before the birth, so keeping quiet about the imminent event was fairly easy, but no less emotional.  When everything went as expected with our baby’s birthmother in the Midwest, we called our two boys right away, before we told anyone else. Our boys were simultaneously concerned about the potential noise-level in our home and whether they would have to share their toys with their new sibling, while also wondering about her name and when they could hold her. My younger son was especially excited about no longer being the youngest in the family.  From that moment on, our boys were in love with and completely protective of their little sister.

Although we hadn’t been honest with our family and friends about why we were suddenly traveling without our boys for two weeks, we came home to a family who lovingly welcomed our new daughter and a community of friends who greeted her with open arms (literally) and expressed their excitement in watching her grow up as part of our family.  I was beyond ecstatic about our new daughter, but what made it even better and so much more special was the outpouring of love and emotion from our friends who realized what we had been going through.  Even better was the enthusiastic attitude of our family who welcomed her graciously and whole-heartedly, as if I had given birth to her. The adoption wasn’t an issue at all for anyone and I frequently wondered early on how my mother, God rest her soul, would have reacted to her granddaughter.  As the years have gone by, I now know for sure she would have really loved her.  In fact, my daughter’s disposition is so much like my mother’s, I frequently wonder if my mother sent my daughter to me from Heaven.

Today’s drip: Should your child’s reaction to being adopted worry you?

Deciding when and how to tell your child about being adopted can be a source of great anxiety for adoptive and potential adoptive parents.  In addition to worrying about the optimal age a child should be told this fact, parents often worry about how to tell their child and what the reaction might be.  Will their child be upset, confused, or (Heaven forbid!) resentful when they find out the parents they’ve known all their life aren’t their biological family?  These highly volatile issues may intimidate some parents from considering adoption at all, but parents who educate themselves about taking the right steps, at the right time, for their particular child can insure a positive and healthy outcome.

I am certainly not a doctor or a psychologist, but I hope that my experience can ease some of the apprehension of the potential issues down the road.  My daughter was adopted at birth, seven and a half years after our second son was born.  Before she was born, we didn’t consider when we would tell her about being adopted.  Our two biological sons reacted very positively to their new baby sister and life moved on, the same as if she had also been brought home from the local hospital.  It was only after our friends started asking us when we would tell her that we began thinking about it.  We agreed to wait to worry about it until we felt she was mature enough to understand the concept of adoption.

As it turned out, it was a long time before she was ready to hear anything.  We read some books to her that were written specifically for children about adoption just to see if there was any reaction and to see if she understood the difference between adopted and biological children.  She was just happy the babies in the book found happy homes.  I also read some articles, books and searched online for information on the subject.  Most of them gave the same advice: understanding your child is the best indicator of how and when to talk to your child.

Our daughter learned she was adopted on her fifth birthday.  Wanting a baby sister, just like her good friend whose mother was pregnant, she asked if I could make her one in my belly too.  It caught me by surprise but I felt she was ready to understand how much she was loved by her adopted family, regardless of why her biological family was no longer a part of her life.  I explained it simply to her by saying “Your brothers grew in my tummy, but you grew in my heart.”  She asked whose tummy she grew in and after getting the honest answer from me, she said “Well, I would still like a baby sister so can you grow another baby in your heart?”  I was relieved she had no hurt or rejected feelings whatsoever.  A few days later I wondered if she really understood what she had been told because she didn’t ask any other questions or mention it.  About a week later, we knew she understood completely when our babysitter at the time said our daughter told her about being adopted.  Thankfully, it didn’t seem to affect her life or attitude at all.  She was actually pleased at the news and five years later, she is proud of where she was born, the fact that she is the only one in the family with green eyes, and that she grew in my heart, instead of my belly.

Admittedly, my daughter is an easy-going child who rarely makes an issue about anything (unless her brothers cheat in a game or hide her favorite loud toy) so perhaps we had it easier than most adoptive parents.  The key was to understand who she was at the time and how to make it a positive experience for her.  I’m sure there are many excellent strategies for this important conversation with your child and the key is to find what works for your family.  More importantly, don’t let this fear hinder your decision to adopt a child because it is a lifelong joy to become parents.  This is just one of the minor speed bumps along the parenting journey and can lead to a deeper, more thoughtful love.

Today’s Drip: Need your age be a factor in considering adoption?

Parenting has changed dramatically over the last two decades and I am one big fan of the change.  Parents used to be predominantly in their 20’s, or early 30’s, when they had all of their kids.  Today, there are first-time mothers in their 40’s who don’t have to worry about the occasional eye-roll from the neighborhood book group or the jaw-drops from the younger mothers in the mommy-and-me class at the community center.  Better yet, mothers with young children are embracing the older moms with toddlers, as well as teenagers, who have proven tips and track-records for getting through potty-training and sleep issues.  I know because I was one of them and I felt good about giving requested advice to my fellow “Mommies”.

Many women hesitate to consider adoption after spending the better part of a decade struggling through infertility.  By the time they come to full realization that it’s just not going to happen biologically, they feel “too old” to start the adoption process. I have heard this many times from the very women I have coached through an adoption and they couldn’t be happier that they ignored the ticking clock.  I was the same age as the birthmother’s mother when I adopted my daughter, my third child, at the age of 41.  I have been nothing but grateful ever since.

For me the larger concern was the age gap between my two sons and my daughter at the time she was born, but I now consider it a blessing.  My younger son was delighted to suddenly be the “big brother” at the ripe old age of 7. The idea of babysitting someday soon was music to both my boys’ ears.  The built-in babysitter benefit improved my quality of life dramatically when I left far behind the days of begging teenage girls to give up their Saturday night to babysit for us.  When my son coached my daughter’s little league softball team one spring, I was in heaven, especially when he could drive her to all those practices!  Despite the age difference, the kids have a great relationship, and I believe my boys have learned about compassion for others through their little sister.

I will concede that the sleep deprivation and exhaustion factors were easier to tolerate at age 31 than at 41, and it was infinitely easier to run after an escaping toddler as a younger mom.  However, the benefits of being older clearly balance out the everyday challenges because of the ability to deal with the bigger issues easier.  The experiences in life through relatives’ or friends’ children, or our own older children, make some of the big decisions about schools, testing, medical/dental issues and the like much less daunting.  The ability to rationale your own screaming child on the airplane with “I’ll never see these people again so why worry?” comes much easier as an older parent.  The advantage of having to keep fit and thinking young is also a big plus for the older mom.  As with almost everything else, there are positives and negatives for both cases.  As a parent who has had experience parenting infants in two different decades, I highly recommend leaving your age out of it when considering more children.

Looking at experience in life and love as the benefit to being an older mom is critical to making the right choice about adoption.  The third time around, I have much more patience and understanding on my side making me a better mom to all three of my children.  I am also finally feeling complete, knowing that before my daughter came along, I was completely ChildDrenched and aching for the child that was missing in my life.  Attaining that dream made me a happier person and subsequently, a better parent.  Whether it’s your first child or the fourth, adopting a child is a blessing for all concerned.  A mother has an ever-lasting impression on that child, regardless of her age, which in the long run will make no difference to anyone.

Today’s Drip: Wanting another child should not dampen the relationship with your family

I was 33 years old when I lost my mother to breast cancer.  She was only 60 years old and fought the disease for ten years.  My relationship with my mother was incredible.  She was my best friend and confidante.  It was a huge loss to me when she died and I still haven’t recovered 17 years later.  I often thought that my life would have been “perfect” if I had my mother by my side.  I moved on even though losing that relationship made my life difficult and I knew it was going to be hard, if not impossible, to replace it.  That became my “one thing”; I wanted that kind of close relationship in my life again.  I knew only a daughter could fill the void. I wanted a daughter someday.

Years after graduating from college, before I had kids, I remember a former sorority sister who, like me, had lost her mother at a fairly young age.  She lamented about how difficult it was for her to go on living without a daughter of her own.  This came as a shock to me since she had a beautiful son and an incredibly nice husband.  Her life had appeared perfect to me, aside from being motherless (a lifelong curse).   She struggled with infertility a few years after the birth of her first child and was inconsolable.  I had many other friends who had no children at all and faced the same disappointments that she did.  However, in some way she seemed more desperate for another child than they were for their first.  I felt sorry for her inability to recognize all the good things she had in her life and felt even sorrier for her husband and son, who she tortured on a daily basis with her moodiness and impatience.

I didn’t understand it until I fell into the same situation years later.  When you have had successful pregnancies, the shock of losing your fertility is upsetting and perplexing.  Most of us ‘plan’ our families so we can organize schools, bedrooms, vacations and more.  Optimistically, we set our expectations of how long the pregnancy will take so we can fit it in before the big holiday or family reunion.  I have always been a planner and I expected certain things to happen in order in my life.  When reality doesn’t follow the plan, it’s frustrating at first and as time goes on, it’s downright upsetting.  My first son was born 10 months after my wedding and my second son was born 27 months later.  They were, and still are, the delight in my life.  In their early years they had no clue that I was suffering over the death of my mother and the need for a daughter.  But I was indeed grieving from the loss of that relationship.  I was focused on the third child I wanted so deeply for years.

When I was ChildDrenched – desperate for another child, the age difference between my older children and a new baby grew with every failed attempt at pregnancy, which for me added pressure to the situation.  I wanted my children close enough in age to have a relationship.  Fertility issues can go on for years. The clock keeps ticking while waiting for test results, cycles to complete, scars to heal, and doctors’ schedules to open up.  The desperation grows as the birthdays come and go—both yours and your children’s.

Being a ChildDrenched mother makes it harder to get through the day with a smile on your face ignoring the anguish of disappointment that may be excruciating that day.  I’m not saying having a child already makes it more difficult to face infertility.  Infertility might affect mothers just as much as mothers-to-be, but just living life gets more demanding with a little one (or two) tugging at you constantly.  If I only had a crystal ball to see that the future held a perfect baby girl for me, I would have appreciated those awesome toddlers and spent more focused time enjoying them.  Unfortunately, crystal balls only exist in fairy tales so take the time and enjoy your family, especially through the ChildDrenched years.