Monday, March 30, 2009

From Birthmotherhood to Motherhood

At just two-and-a-half, my daughter Twila has developed a definite affinity for her biological half sister, my birthdaughter, Nicole. When we visit Nicole and her family Twila is happy to follow her around all afternoon; asking questions, telling stories and getting lessons in dancing and singing.

And though Nicole has had to adjust to the idea of her birthmother having her own baby and dividing her attention and time, I can tell that she is just as fond of Twila. But three years ago when I was pregnant with Twila, things weren’t so clearly copasetic.

Nicole was seven-years-old when I got pregnant. She had spent those seven years being the apple of her parent’s eye. I am still the only sibling in my family to have had a baby, so for her entire life, she was the center of attention not only in her own family, but in her birthmother’s family. So it was no wonder that she withdrew from me when I—the one who was supposed to be devoted only to her—became pregnant.
She wasn’t the only one feeling some reticence about the change. During my pregnancy with Twila, my husband and I prepared and planned, decorated and dreamed just like any first time parents would. But it was different for me.
Sure it would be the first time that I stayed up all night soothing my baby; it would be the first time I breastfed, and the first time I named a child. It would be the first time my husband and I looked into the eyes of our baby. But it would not be the first time I looked into the eyes of my child and fell instantly in love. Many things would be new and different but some things would be familiar, not the same I thought, but familiar. Perhaps some things would be more difficult, more complex.

When Nicole was first born, when I first looked into her eyes, I thought I could never love like that again. How could I experience that instantaneous love with more than one being? Less than a minute later, when I invited her parents in to meet their daughter, my heart was still filled with uncomplicated love. Love for my birthdaughter and love for the parents whom I had chosen for her. Less than twenty-four hours later when we held an entrustment ceremony to “officially” pass my birthdaughter to her parents, my heart was filled with many complicated feelings. Joy for Sandy and Tom’s dream of parenthood coming true, joy for my birthdaughter’s new life, excitement for my new life, for starting over, and bittersweet sorrow for the end of a life-changing pregnancy.

As the months turned into years, the residual sorrow turned into joy, peace, contentment and appreciation. I watched my birthdaughter grow into the young lady she is today under the gentle guidance and unwavering support of her mother and father.

Over the years, our open adoption relationship turned into genuine friendship. The tiny seed of a relationship—which started out as earnest kindness to each other and a mutual love for Nicole—thrived and grew strong on trust, honesty, flexibility and open-mindedness. Though we didn’t know where open adoption would lead us, we trusted the path and kept moving forward.

So as we’ve faced new challenges and adversity together the strength of our relationship has carried all of us through. When I became pregnant with my own daughter, our relationships once again faced complication; especially my relationship with Nicole. But our carefully tended relationship has proved resilient enough to weather all that life has thrown our way.

Friday, March 27, 2009

My Favorite Freezing Cold (When it Should be Warm) Spring Dinner:

Creamy Tomato Chicken
When pregnant (or any time) finding delicious sources of lean protein can be difficult. But with this amazing, pregnancy-friendly, heart-healthy dish, chalking up grams of protein is easy!

1. 1 lb of chicken breast, skinless/ boneless (I always recommend free range, local chicken if possible)
2. 1 can Muir Glen Organic stewed tomatoes
3. 1 cup of whole organic milk
4. Salt and pepper
5. 4 Tblsp olive oil
6. 5-7 cloves of garlic
7. Sprinkle of dried herbs de provence

1. Generously salt and pepper the chicken breast, sprinkle with herbs
2. Peel and coarsely chop the garlic cloves
3. Heat oil in large cast iron skillet over med/high heat until very hot
4. Throw chicken breast in and sear for 1-2 minutes per side
5. Reduce heat (add more oil if the pan looks dry) and add garlic
6. Sauté garlic 1 minute
7. Add milk, reduce heat, cover skillet and simmer for 2 minutes
8. Add stewed tomatoes, mush up with a wooden spoon
9. Cover and simmer for fifteen minutes (make sure liquid is actively simmering)
Serve with brown rice or whole wheat pasta.
*Always check that chicken is cooked white throughout before eating

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Our Six Week Anniversary

Well it’s been six weeks since I launched The Birthmother’s Journey.
The response has been overwhelming. I am getting new followers every day, and more and more feedback about how helpful the blog has been.
Here is what people are saying:
“I love this! It's beautiful, touching, sweet and comical.”
“The Birthmother’s Journey has been invaluable to me as I consider adoption.”
“I’ve been reading your blog, it’s important to me as a birthmother to hear the stories from a birthmother who has been there before and made it through.”
“As someone who’s never even been pregnant, I've related to your blog in a rather unexpected way.”
“I get lost in your words and can almost feel your feelings smell the smells that you describe. I can't wait to read your book!”
“Thank you for doing this work, it is so needed!”
Thank you for following my blog. Please continue to pass my link along to those who might be interested and, as always, I welcome your thoughts and comments!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I Didn’t Want to Leave.

I was in Phoenix this past weekend, at The Royal Palms. I couldn’t believe how relaxed I was in the midst of this desert oasis. And in the relaxation, my artist pot was slowly and thoroughly filled. I began reading The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. I am on week one, learning how to recover "my artist" (as Cameron would say)who has been repressed for a lifetime. I am doing my morning pages, and dreaming of where I will take my inner artist for our artist dates; wishing I could come every week to the Royal Palms in Phoenix.
This is perhaps the most peaceful and inspiring place I’ve been. It is full of history. The winding paths and hidden trails give way to secret gardens, expansive courtyards, intricate fountains, or tiny nooks and crannies with squishy chairs under orange trees where one can hide, write, think, and be alone. I spent time thinking about who I am as a writer, where I want to go and how I first began writing.


When I first started writing about my adoption (aside from the occasional weepy poem) I was pregnant with my daughter and dealing with some serious processing. It had been six years since my adoption but much of the deep emotions had been set aside unprocessed. The writing at first was jagged, journal-like and, to anyone but me, utterly dull.

It is said that you should not write about a traumatic event until the injury is healed. But I don’t think the adage applies quite appropriately to adoption. I can’t call the mark I have from adoption an injury. An injury implies that I was a victim of some kind of attack and not a willing volunteer.

I think adoption is more like a voluntary amputation or like donating a kidney to a loved one. There is healing that must happen. I have to heal physically and emotionally from the loss that is adoption. There is loss. But unlike an injury from a traumatic event, in adoption there is also great gain; unexpected beauty in the midst of the dust. The motivation to heal and move on is in the joy that the offering has brought.

So part of the adoption recovery for me was writing, even before the incision was healed. Even though the writing itself was wounded, sloppy, ugly, hurting, and worst of all, boring.
Out in unlikely, beautiful Arizona, my artist started to wake up. I began seeing possibility, seeing beauty. My artist began recovering from a lifetime of her own injuries and attacks. Her wounds are not fully healed either; so we are working together to recover, grow, open up to the truth of why we are here, and what we are supposed to say.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Craving Health: Melissa’s Soon to be World Famous Spicy Aioli

From grilled to steamed to sautéed, if you’re making vegetables…and you want people to eat them, you’ve got to serve them with my famous spicy aioli.
It’s so easy it’s ridiculous; so delicious you’ll cry.
If you feel really ambitious, you can make your own mayonnaise
Or you can use Hellman’s Real (full fat) mayonnaise.
You will need:

1 cup of mayonnaise
2 tsp of hot sauce, srirachi or comparable (or more if you are brave)
3 tsp lemon juice
Mix all ingredients until blended and serve with your favorite vegetable side dish.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Adoption and Individualism Part II

Why do we end up doing life alone when we are designed to live in community? My father and his sister were raised by a hard-working single mother. Single mothers know about doing life alone. As my grandmother and many other single-mothers would attest, adoption cannot be the answer for all women facing the challenge of single parenthood. But adoption should be considered as a possible answer, because it holds the key to community.

Humans lived in groups for some two-and-a-half million years watching each other’s children and feeding and caring-for the clan. If you were sick, you didn’t need a husband; your sixteen closest female friends were by your side watching your kids and making you soup…or wooly mammoth porridge.

You could have a kid at fourteen back in the prehistoric day because you weren’t doing it alone. If you were on the verge of mother burnout in two million BCE there was an aunt or a grandmother to give your baby a piggy back ride around the cave while you went to the watering hole to wash spit-up out of your hair.

Today in America our bodies are still capable of birthing babies at thirteen or fourteen years of age but our society is not conducive to mothering at that age. Frankly American society isn’t conducive to mothering, period.

No wonder we feel so often that we’re not doing a good enough job—maybe it’s because we’re not. How can we, when we’re doing alone a job that was meant to be done in a clan? No wonder children fall victim to abuse and neglect. Haven’t you ever looked into the face of a sleeping baby girl and thought, how can anyone hurt a child? Well if you’ve ever looked into the eyes of a four-year-old boy screaming “NOOOOOOOOO!” at the top of his lungs, as he throws your blackberry across the tile floor, after keeping you up half the night, you start to see how maybe it’s possible to hurt a child.

The majority of isolated, individualized, burnt-out, frustrated mothers don’t place their children for adoption, we stick it out and hope tomorrow will be better. Many moms—single or married—struggle in parenthood but still want to be mothers. Obviously adoption isn’t a solution for every family or even most families.

And of course adoption comes with its own host of pain, grief, struggle, frustration and isolation. But there is beauty in it. I’ve seen the beauty. I’ve felt the cracking-open of my heart as I am forced to depend on someone else. I have felt what it is to lean completely on someone else—to put all my trust in their arms in a way that we Americans are taught never to do.

I have felt the frightening vulnerability of trusting that my child will be cared for; loved. And I’ve had reason to believe that I will be taken care of too; that as my child is taken-in and loved, perhaps her parents will be big enough, be generous enough to, in some small way, take me in too; that they will let me be a part of my birthdaughter’s life.

And in our tiny microcosm, our attempts to do life on our own are quashed; if even just for today. We won’t be allowed to struggle alone today. Not this part. Unplanned pregnancy, infertility, placement, adoption: it is all too big for any of us to carry on our own. So we offer everything we have and we receive it freely, and we hold each other up. And this is the adoption triad.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Adoption and Individualism

We live in an individualistic society. American culture teaches us that we should be able to thrive by our own grit, our own merit. But are we meant to be so individualistic? We are pack people by nature; genetically designed to depend on a clan.

My birthdaughter’s mother helped me to glimpse the struggle that adoptive parents endure as they accept their inability to start a family on their own. There was a lot of anger and pain surrounding Sandy’s infertility. After three failed In Vitro Fertilization attempts, she and her husband commiserated over margaritas. I think her exact words were, “Great, now I’m going to have some teenage girl deciding if I’m a fit parent.”

Now we can laugh about how much she dreaded the person who turned out to be me. But in the months that she and Tom worked toward adoption, there was a lot of pain and anger stemming from her own feelings of inadequacy. Sandy felt that she should be able to produce children. She didn’t want to have to depend on me, a high school girl accidentally pregnant, to make her life feel complete.

Isn’t there terrible imbalance in the world when teenagers struggle to find solutions for their future—homes for children they cannot care for—while established, loving adults spend thousands of dollars, years of time, and endless amounts of emotional energy just to have one child?

But within this imbalance, is there perhaps a lesson also? We don’t travel in packs anymore. Somewhere along the evolutionary line, our clan-nature was fragmented. Perhaps in infertility there is hidden beauty among the ashes of tragedy. A reminder that sometimes we cannot do life alone.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Change of Plans

So I was going to post yesterday and reveal my world-famous, top-secret recipe for spicy aioli. But my plans changed. We decided to have my birthdaughter Nicole sleepover. Instead of blogging, house-tidying and reading monosyllabic-word-books, we played wild games, had an early afternoon “happy-hour” and laughed as we watched Nicole carry around her seven-years-younger birthsister.

It really went well. It was the first time since Twila’s birth that Nicole has slept over and I wasn’t sure how it would go. I’m easily overwhelmed and both of my girls have sizeable personalities. But it went smoothly. We made manicotti, danced and sang, and around nine o’clock, my husband retired to the bed upstairs and the three of us girls hopped in the big bed to watch a movie.

Twila crashed in my right arm and Nicole curled under my left, her soft blond hair brushing my check. I sat in the quiet, breathing in the scent of my birthdaughter’s skin, considering how different life could have been had I not changed my plans to parent.

I’ll never know if I would have my Twila had I not relinquished my rights to parent Nicole. Would I have met Ryan? Would I be a writer? I can’t answer these questions. But as I lay in bed last night cuddling both my girls and thinking about the joy and fun of the day, I thought: I don’t know where I could have ended up. But now that I am here, I am glad I changed my plans.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Who Are You Not to Be?

It occurs to me as I talk to more and more birthmothers (and others touched by adoption) that a victim mentality often invades the hero’s journey that is birthmotherhood. Sometimes it is an assumption about birthmothers applied by society, other times a mentality that birthmothers themselves don.

This quote keeps popping up in my life the way things do when the universe wants to really prove a point. And I think it applies:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciouslygive other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear,our presence automatically liberates others."

I think many birthmothers would agree with me that after one goes through the trials of adoption—the emotionally exhausting choices about picking parents, giving birth, planning an entrustment ceremony and surviving the goodbyes, thank-yous and I-love-yous—she doesn’t want to be left with bitterness and victimization.

I know that after all of that, I want to have a sense of pride, courage…even joy. I want to feel more fabulous because of my choice to place not less. I want my light to shine as it was meant to.

Monday, March 9, 2009

How Open Happens

Last Friday we had dinner with the Bensons. Time has been flying by and our lives are busy and getting busier. But we grabbed a free night and made it happen.
We are a diverse bunch with four kids between two-years-old and ten-years-old; adults between twenty-seven and fifty-seven. We are each very different in opinion, career, goals, interests and hobbies. But we have a unifying bond that surmounts all our differences.
Our families came together in the summer of 1999 for the common interest of the baby I carried. We knew little about each other and yet we needed each other to overcome our respective life struggles.
I needed someone I trusted to raise my baby so that I could have my youth back. Sandy and Tom needed someone willing to make them parents. How humbled we both were by the greatness of our needs. Truly, our lives could not proceed without each other.
All we knew at the beginning was that we connected, we liked each other. That was enough to get us started. But that alone would not have been enough to make our open adoption relationship successful in the long-term.

American Author Isaac Asimov said, “The only constant is change.” This sentiment can easily be applied to the open adoption triad. It is our willingness and ability to adapt that has made our open adoption successful for nearly a decade.
Nothing is certain in open adoption; you cannot plan for every contingency. Once you have gotten in a comfortable routine, your birthchild will have a new host of questions. Or your child’s birthmother will get married or have a baby of her own and elements of the relationship will have to be redefined. Your child will need to be reassured of her place in the family, or in her birthmother’s heart.
We have been open in our open adoption. We have been open to change, to challenges, to questions, to new needs and new issues. Most of all we have been open to each other’s various kinds of love. In our many dangles of this beautiful new conglomeration of family, this is how we have made “open” happen.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Have Your Health and Crave it Too!

Here’s a delicious way to sneak in extra vegetable servings: Eggplant Parmesana, an Italian classic. I made this version just last night. It’s tender and delicious.
1 medium eggplant, peeled and sliced
1 cup Ian’s panko breadcrumbs
1 cup whole wheat stuffing, crushed
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ cup milk
3 eggs beaten
Dash of Italian seasoning
Dash of salt and pepper
Four tablespoons of olive oil
1. About an hour before you want to eat, salt your eggplant slices and place them in a strainer. This will render the extra water and make them tenderer.
2. Mix all dry ingredients in a shallow bowl
3. Beat the eggs together with the milk
4. Heat the oil in a large, heavy pan.
5. Dip slices in egg mixture
6. Dredge in bread crumbs
7. Fry slices, several at a time in hot oil about four minutes per side or until golden brown
Serve with your favorite marinara sauce and 100% whole wheat pasta.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Poetic Justice

So my daughter likes to pretend she’s pregnant. That’s right, my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. She has been playing this game since she was about nine-months-old. She puts anything and everything inside her shirt and strokes her faux baby insisting he’s kicking and that I should come and feel. She gets this very contemplative look on her face and strokes her stomach saying, “He’s such a big baby; feel those kicks; I think he’s getting hungry!”

When she has nothing nearby to stuff in her shirt, she cradles her arm, cooing softly in its “face.” She nurses stuffed bears, wooden blocks, napkins…forks. As a mother who has a ten-year-old birthdaughter, this behavior is, to say the least, alarming.

When, as a six-month-old Twila would lie on the couch staring at the ceiling as her two dolls tandem nursed, we used to joke that she was a wet nurse in her past life. When the “phase” stretched on month after month, we began to accept that this is simply who she is: the physical embodiment of the maternal instinct.

I think the universe is trying to teach me something by giving me the world’s most maternal two-year-old. But I am a bit too dense to grasp exactly what the lesson is. Maybe it is simple poetic justice.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Nutrition Then and Now

What I knew about nutrition when I was pregnant at eighteen could fit on one index card; or could be summed up in these five points:
1. Protein is good. I could finish a McDonald’s #8 (grilled chicken sandwich with fries and a large coke) in the time it took me to drive the four blocks to my house.
2. Pregnant women should eat whatever they want. I used to make little sandwiches out of thick slabs of cheddar cheese and chocolate chip cookies.
3. Calcium is important. Ice cream was a nightly ritual, a religion, a way of life. I ate it constantly and felt very righteous about how much calcium I was getting.
4. Cravings are instructions from your baby. I craved sugar constantly and felt it was my duty (as a pregnant woman) to succumb to absolutely every craving that crossed my mind.
5. I was eating for two and should, therefore, be packing on weight from day 1 to day 280.
Nine, months, fifty-five pounds and countless useless calories and mounds of sugar-rich ice-cream later, I did deliver a beautiful healthy baby girl. So I guess my nutrition knowledge was sufficient. But I was also left with extra weight, stretch marks and strong sugar-cravings to cope with.
Thankfully, seven years later when I got pregnant with my daughter, I had debunked at least some of these pregnancy nutrition fallacies.
What I did differently:
1. Protein is good. But fast food is not. I indulged in lean meats, fish, protein-rich whole-grains; nuts and beans.
2. While pregnancy is a time to indulge in what your body craves, common sense must still prevail. No one (pregnant or otherwise) need make full meals out of cookies, candy or other junk foods.
3. Calcium is vital to all women but sugar is the white devil. I got calcium from plain yogurt, leafy green vegetables, cheese and prenatal supplements.
4. Cravings are hints from your baby as to what she needs, but often your body will misinterpret cravings. This time, when I craved salt, I drank more water; when I craved sugar (my body hinting that I needed an energy boost) I ate protein first.
5. I learned (too late to save my eighteen-year-old body) that pregnant women do not actually eat for two. The second person you are feeding is no bigger than a pea at the beginning and doesn’t need an adult size portion of pasta to thrive. A pregnant woman need only increase her caloric intake by about twelve percent (consult your doctor). Those extra calories should be focused first and foremost on lean protein, dark green vegetables and whole grains.

For more on eating healthy during pregnancy, see my recommended book list at the right.