Adoption is very often a story of disappearance and erasure. To not hold this truth from the very beginning of the adopted child’s journey can contribute to a harmful fantasy that may impact that child’s identity formation.
In open adoption, a child may temporarily disappear from one family, and then reappear “magically” in another. But what happens when the child returns? How they are welcomed back and how space is created for them is something both families co-create.
What will happen when they steps into a space that belongs to them, but that their family, extended family and community of origin did not know existed?
The child could then experience invisibility in the very space they thought or fantasized that they would always belong. This could be an extremely painful realization. Integration of themselves at that moment is deeply layered and will take lots of time and facilitation.
I am reunited with both my sons. We stayed the night in a little Airbnb with a view of that mountain. We have all shifted and measurable ways. We are all going to leave a part of ourselves on the West Coast when we return home tonight.
I have so many thoughts to share here. But I wanted to get this out as perhaps a placeholder to return to. I am still Gathering a great deal of information about everything that’s happened in the last few days. It will probably take weeks and months if not years.
In my next post I will include a series of pictures that I receive permission to share here.
Thank you for all your love, prayers, consideration, messages, and support. Every moment of it has been felt.
Soon Sammy Sammy will be flying across the country on his own to spend a few days alone with his family in Tacoma, Washington.
I’m really curious and a little nervous about how this will shake out. He is closing in on 13, he is an old soul, the child has lived. But he is a child, still. He is a child moving between two mothers, two families, one love. He is journeying at a moment where the world feels volatile and unsafe. But his is the world he is entering into as a young adult. It is what he knows, what he must know. He is no longer that little in my arms. His will always be that little in my arms.
I’m also so thankful that all of this is possible in every way.
Marcel and I leave on our journey two days later to visit with his donor and family in California. (Knowing that I will be on the same coast as Sammy is going to bring us all ease I suspect.) I’m equally curious how this Marcel moment will unfold, and what new understanding Marcel will gain about who his radiant, beautiful poetic self is in this lifetime. He will hold his little brother, who just turned one. He will be with his donor and his donor’s family. He will be invited into a new layer of understanding about what the word “family” holds for him.
I’m also so thankful that everyone involved is all about the YES in this moment too. The everyone includes my husband who has been holding the YES in his own way. I can not begin to imagine what his experience will be having us all across the country navigating this extended family foray away from him. (Of course he was invited to come, and would very much like to join us another time.) And, yes, part of this story began long before he came into our lives. One day we all hope that those markers will fade into the background, allowing this to just be a shared breath at any one moment of who we just are.
A dear friend reminded me to reach out on the blog to readers encouraging them to contribute to the GoFundMe campaign.
Or, for those of you who prefer to use PayPal and make a donation to this epic adventure that way-you can do so here for a generous $10.00 donation:
or here to pay for the pre-travel line up for both boys, or the tank of gas for the rental car for $25.00: or a day of driving from the airport to Sammy’s family and back to the airport thirty-six hours later with $75.00 here: or several hundred miles on the airplane for one of us with an over-the-top hugely appreciated $100.00 donation you can do so here: Or finally because you just feel crazy moved by all us on this courageous, family-making, more-love is more-love adventure and want to support this being paid for outright with ease and love with a $500.00 donation here:
With your arrival, comes an incredible milestone: it has been a decade since I have had the honor, the blessing, and the test of a lifetime: parenthood. It was New Years Day 2005, when I arrived home to Maine from the Carolinas with Sammy. A few years later, by some miracle I still marvel at, I gave birth to my first born, but my second child, Marcel. Then just a few months ago, I welcomed Shrek’s commitment to me, to us, into our lives, and ours into his. In yet the most radical act of my tenure on this earth in some ways: to chose to marry.
This was a decade of remarkable change, transformation and surrender to all that you intended for me.
You have been BUSY with me!
Here is my ask of you now in 2015; bestow upon me the grace, the patience, the trust, and an ever increasing capacity for love, so that I may begin to detach a little from all of my attempts at controlling the outcome of all these remarkable lives.
Universe, let this be the decade that I may reap the benefit of arrival where I have earned the right to, and departure where I have determined it is time to.
Most importantly, guide me closer and closer to ways that I may use my experience, voice, and honesty to participate more fully in the disruption of oppression in every way that you deem I am able.
This recent self portrait represents who I have often wanted the world to see when they look at me: heroic, larger than life, capable, confident, and self reliant for starters. My convoluted sense of who I believed I needed everyone to think I was started to take shape almost exactly a decade ago as my journey to becoming a parent, on my own, began.
I remember standing on the end of that very same dock asking the “Lady of the Lake” as I call her, if I was ready to become a parent on my own? I had come to this little cabin for a solo weekend in June 2004, with gobs of paperwork to complete to submit to the adoption agency the following week. I knew that this was the one place that I could listen truthfully to my own fears, and leave my doubts at the bottom of the lake if I decided to say yes. I had been coming here since I was seven. It is my spiritual home.
I showed up at the lake with a little more than a change of clothes, a jar of instant coffee, and my favorite pen. In the plastic bag that I had bawled up in the bottom of my backpack was my secret: a full length fleece bear costume for an infant-size six to twelve months. By the end of the night, I would be dancing around the cabin in front of the fireplace rocking my imaginary child back and forth. I had placed a towel inside the onesie to give it some heft. I wanted to know what that little body would feel like in my arms. I was intoxicated with the possibility.
Like Athena popping out of her father Zeus’s head in full armor and ready to go, my single mother persona emerged from the dock certain that I could prove to the world, I had what it took to be a stellar parent all by myself. I probably fell in love with my potential and my image of my single motherhood that night. I knew I was crazy to do this on my own. I just didn’t know how crazy. I imagined that it would be hard, and expensive, and lonely, and confusing too. But I also believed that I had mothering and loving to give to a child in a fierce way. My determination and commitment to make the transformation from single woman to single mother was in motion, and there was no turning back.
Each time a friend or parent seemed the least bit questioning of my decision to adopt, I would get bigger, not smaller. I would smile wide, and offer them a chance to come help out when the baby arrived. I put together the crib by myself, and bought a big freezer for all the food I had asked my friends to make for me when the time came. I interviewed day care centers, and pediatricians. I read books, prayed, and sought out others who came before me. I had purpose. I was reinventing myself for a higher calling. I was ready.
Becoming a mother was not something I did in partnership, like most do. Becoming a single mother meant that I didn’t need a partner. I convinced everyone, and especially me, that I was so capable, and so gigantic that I didn’t need a partner to do this. I had many close friends who made up our chosen family. At least three times a week friends arrived with meals, encouragement and open arms to hold Sammy while I got a shower, or a much needed run around the boulevard. As he grew, and our family grew to include Marcel my network grew too. I was parenting, blogging, teaching full time, working out, accepting interviews, and speaking engagements. I was all that.
Once, I had a friend tell me in secret from the other side of the playground; “my husband is worried that if I spend too much time with you, I’ll start to think I’d be better off on my own…” I had to keep myself from agreeing, because I really did think her husband was probably right, and I liked the guy a lot. Daycare providers, teachers, doctors, parents, and coaches knew that I was flying solo, and that was just fine. With each successful milestone passed, I grew more and more into my role. So much so, that to an extent I was not Sam’s mom, or Marcel’s mom, I was “Catherine the single mother who makes it look easy…” I had a lot at stake at keeping up that image, but little to no understanding of what I was letting go of in the process: the chance to open my heart to a loving romantic partnership.
Sure, I dated a few times in the last few years. I drew wonderful people towards me and the boys. But I had no business doing so. To say I wasn’t ready would be false. I was to busy celebrating my own daily accomplishments, and those of my kids. Every letter from the tooth fairy, or successful parent teacher conference and I deserved a gold star. I was amazing. Who could possibly add up.
Then I met Shrek.
Becoming an almost married person, I am discovering, is not something one can do alone. In the next few weeks, leading up to the wedding I am hoping to shed a little more light on just how complex and powerful, and yes radical an act it is for me to agree and want to be married. When we were at the lake a few weeks ago, Shrek called out from the grill where he was creating yet another magnificent feast for the boys and I; “Maybe you can be a married single mother?” To be continued…
A week ago, Shrek and I went on an international adventure, alone, for three and half days. We dropped the boys off with Uncle and my father and his wife on a Thursday in Massachusetts and drove across the Canadian border the next morning.
We spent three days and two nights in Quebec City. We had not spent more then one night together alone, without any of our seven kids in the entire two and half years we have been together.
If you are trying to navigate the richly rewarding and intensely complex world of a blended family follow our lead and plan a get away trip as soon as you are able. If you have been with your honey since before the littles came onto the scene, I bet the same logic applies.
Ten reasons to leave the kids behind and get away together now:
1. Being alone in your own house (for even one night) without the kids in the next room allows you to feel like a grown up in your own home. How you spend that time is up to you. We chose the station on the radio, and didn’t have to worry if the music was too loud after 8:30pm. A cuddle on the couch was not at risk of being interrupted.
2. Planning a trip without one whit of consideration about what we do with the kids once we got there, meant we didn’t really have to plan a thing! I checked out a book about Canada from the library the day before we left, because I could. I haven’t allowed myself that kind of “ease” or lack of planning in a decade.
3. A six hour road trip can be leisurely. You can have NPR on, lingering uninterrupted adult conversation and no prepared snacks. It does not include fear of dead gadget batteries, DVD players malfunctioning, or sudden panic struck forays into unknown strip malls for a public bathroom because I HAVE TO PEE RIGHT NOW MOMMY!!!
4. The car stays clean.
5. When you pass through customs, there is not confusion about if the kids are your kids, or his kids, or someone else’s kids. There are no letters or birth certificates to provide on demand, or explanations of what a donor is or isn’t, or why there is no father named on the birth certificate of the one you adopted or birthed.
6. At the hotel, you actually get to choose to sleep in the same bed as your husband, fiance, or partner. You do not have to promise to sleep next to one kid on one day, hold hands with the other the next, or give them all your pillows, and leave all the lights on to make sure they can go to sleep.
7. You can eat whatever, and whenever you want. You can be the quiet table. You can wander slowly in the streets afterwords, and be the sweet couple in the window of the bar where the local blues musician is playing some deep and slow wrap your heart around these notes rift that is wafting onto the cobble stone street. You can look into your honey’s eyes for an extended period of time, and realize you had no idea they were that green.
8. When it is raining out, you can still hold hands and walk along the river for several hours in a frightfully American looking parka that could be mistaken for a tent, and compose an entire poem in your head because you have space remember it.
9. A museum does not have to have the word children in it anywhere to be on your list of possible destinations. You can stroll through a gallery in a museum and actively loathe the painting you see, and not need to explain that while the artist may have been trying their best, you do not actually have to agree that it is worthy of an entire wall. You can sit in the cafe and eat all of the cookie you bought for yourself, or share some with your honey. You can linger in front of one image for twenty minutes, and even come back to it, and not have to thank the guard for helping you find your missing child, or be horrified when she asks you to leave because playing tag in front of the Degas is forbidden. You can put your head on your sweetheart’s shoulder while he talks about why they like a print, and notice that they are kind of sharp in a way you hadn’t noticed before.
10. After almost four days of uninterrupted time with your partner, you remember the sixty-two original reasons you fell in love with them, and add at least seventy-three more. In a way it feels like I finally met the man I have been waiting to fall in love with for the last two and half years. Or, I finally recognized in myself, a woman who was ready to deepen and deeply trust in this relationship. But, for me, this had to happen independent of parenting.I didn’t realize just how much more to us there could be when we finally created the chance to find out. Or maybe I was afraid that I wasn’t ready to show up as a partner, and a woman independent of my super woman single mom identity? That identity was formed long before Shrek came into the picture, so it was critical for me to get outside of that me, in order to lay down a solid foundation for loving Shrek as Shrek first, and then as Shrek the bonus dad, and father.
What you might be thinking: Take away the necessity of caring for the kids and what will we discover? What if we don’t enjoy each others company when we are alone? What if we don’t know how? Is it a skill we could learn? I now in my case, it wasn’t until we were on the road, with passports in hand that I knew we were about to find out. Bottom line? I couldn’t be more happy that we did.
Recently an editor at AARP magazine contacted me to see if we would be willing to be part of a photo shoot about the “Modern American Family”. After several emails back and forth, and lots of clarifying questions we agreed. The huge bonus here was the travel allowance to get four out of five of Shrek’s available children in town for the shoot. They came from as far as San Francisco, and as near as up the street for hair, make up, and click, click, snap, snap for a good part of last Sunday.
But why us? Well apparently we evened out an upcoming story for the boomers on family today-both regionally and in terms of the composition of our blended family in the making. Here’s a few stanzas from a poem I wrote to honor the occasion that might further answer the question:
Remember we want to capture
the nine of you at ease
so the rest of the world
sees the “modern family”
wait, wait that’s it-
Adoption, blended family
transracial, known donor insemination,
divorce, first marriage at 46, second
marriage at 61, run of the mill,
kind of thing
Everyone look this way
On 3, 2, 1:
See-family is click click
with eating an ice cream cone
as long as it complements the color of your shirt.
The experience was a complete hoot really. (Leading up to it there was definitely some free floating anxiety about just how one is supposed to present as a modern family in the making…) But once we were all here there was some very sweet family bonding around the edges of it all. The photographers Gregg, and Tom, and Caitlin the glamorous make up artist or “groomer” were part of the blend by the time the shoot was complete. Five thousand tons of delicious food were delivered for our lunch and in six weeks or so the issue will appear.
I was also interviewed over the phone for the story, and am super hopeful that a link to Mama C and the Boys might be included in the copy. Since the magazine boasts the largest readership in the world, it might mean a little boost in readership? For our “trouble” we will also receive a few prints from the day to mark this surprising and magical moment in time beautifully.
Often a driving impetus for a blog post comes from the outside. The most recent query came in the form of an email from a reader who was seeking the experience of one who came before her, on the issue of having a biological child with the help of a donor, specifically chosen with the consideration that the biological offspring would then share certain traits with her first child, who happens to be adopted.
Translation: we are white, our kid is not. If we enlist the help of a donor who looks a lot more like our kid, what are the implications later on for the kid? More specifically how did I teach Marcel to celebrate his story, and how does he understand it? Does he or did he resent in anyway his being outside the normal understanding of how we get here?
I decided I would start by asking Marcel. His answers were really revealing, and not in ways I necessarily was prepared for:
Me: Marcel a woman is writing to me asking if having a child with the help of a donor is something that will make sense to her kid one day. Can you tell me what you think?
Marcel: Well, it was very hard. It takes a long time to get used to it.
Me: Can you tell me, what is the hard part?
Marcel: What is a donor? It’s hard to figure out. A donor is like a parent. But he doesn’t want to be a parent- he just loves you enough to bring you into the world.
Me: That sounds like you have put a lot of thought into it. Is it hard to understand why Mommy chose to bring you into the world that way?
Marcel: A donor gives you all these good things, and you still get to have a dad. But if friends asked me to explain it? I’d be scared I wouldn’t get it all yet. Well, maybe I would. Would I?
Me: If you need help with it, we could talk it about some more.
Marcel: Sometimes it makes sense. But people don’t always ask when it makes sense.
Me: Hmmm. Maybe we should work on a script for when it isn’t as obvious?
Marcel: That helps if I remember the script.
Me: Do you feel like your donor loves you?
Marcel: More than anything. And I love him more than anything. When I see him we have to figure it out all over again. And we do. And so does my dad.
Me: Why do you think I decided to have a donor help me make a baby?
Marcel: Because you and Sammy wanted Sammy to have a brother that looked like him, and understood him, and loved him. So it worked out that way.
Me: Sammy, why do you think I used a donor to bring your brother into the world?
Sammy: Because you weren’t ready to be in a relationship.
Me: Did it have anything to do with you?
Me: What about the part where Marcel’s donor is brown skinned like you. Did that matter?
Sammy: It mattered to you. But I don’t care.
Me: You think if I had a white kid, and not a brown kid, it would be the same to you?
Sammy: Well, maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know yet. I want a sister. Probably a brown one. Then you can worry about her hair and not mine.
So clearly there is more work to do in the big picture part? Or maybe there isn’t. What we intend, and what they take from it, are so wildly unrelated despite all of our intentions. What I learned most from all of this? Clearly there are questions, and unknowns, and ways of constructing the world, that the boys are holding onto that I had no idea about, because I hadn’t asked. This is often the case. My best intentions, play out so differently than their experience as a result of my best intentions.
In terms of celebrating adoption and donor assisted conception equally? Differently? These are good questions. Marcel seems super confident that his coming into being was intentional and the result of a lot of love. What more is there? If anything I think I err on the side of making a bigger deal of the adoption story, because I want to make sure Sam always feels that his arrival into the family has the same core value as a biological entrance into the family. Marcel, is often trying to establish that he “knew Mama longer than Sam because I started in her belly..” We talk about how Sam was growing in my heart while growing in Tea’s belly (his birth mother). To that Sam usually just says; “Dude. I have been with mom for three more years than you.”
Additional resources: I found the following article of interest while considering my approach to this post.
When I was little, in my teens and through most of my early twenties, I heard from all over that my “sensitivity” was not often a desirable trait. I was “too” sensitive. I was “very” emotional. I was not the person you wanted at your side at a loud party. I preferred one on one conversations to large groups. I needed to spend a lot of time talking about the situation when a tragedy struck. I was too intense, and too serious. There was no hanging loose over here.
Now, I have that son. Only I see what he has going on as an asset, and not a curse. This may have something to do with all the parenting articles I’ve read online, or the surveys I’ve secretly taken on Buzzfeed. Bottom line: being hyper aware of the world around you is not something that I want my kid to ever feel lousy about. Unless of course my ego is involved?