Thursday, May 28, 2009

Making Time

Our creativity is the first to dry up during times of stress and busyness. Or as The Artist’s Way would say: we become blocked creatives when we don’t have time to relax and be artistic. Artistic—ha! Who has the time to be artistic? I have a job, I have a family, I have obligations, a social life, I’m getting ready to move, I have a project due for work. The excuses are endless.

But Julia Cameron believes and I agree that we are all artists. We were all created to be creative—the whole of creation is by definition, creative. So when we don’t make time to be creative, when we don’t have a creative outlet, we feel disconnected, disharmonious with the world around us.

How often do we rush past tulips in full bloom? How often do we honk our horns and tailgate in a maddening rush-hour instead of winding our windows downs and enjoying the afternoon sun and breeze?

We block ourselves in our busyness. We think we don’t have time but we’re just too scared to make time. I think that we’re scared that if we slowed down and began to see all the beauty that is around us, we would be overcome.

When I walk anywhere with my mother I am routinely annoyed by the way she looks up, not forward, as she walks. She cannot just look ahead and watch where she’s walking. She points at flowers, tress, clouds, birds, bugs. She is constantly crouching down, jerking her head this way and that, running into people and staggering off the road. She has a childlike appreciation of the beauty of nature that few adults maintain.

Maybe we’re afraid that we would cease to be productive if we slowed down enough to take in the sights, engaged in observation, if we relaxed and enjoyed life. We usually set aside those tasks for vacation, two weeks out of the year we assign to fun and relaxation, appreciating the beauty that life has to offer, instead of incorporating that kind of thing into our daily lives.

Each day that I sit down to write, I think: I have nothing to write about. And each day that I start writing, “things” miraculously come out of my mind and my fingers. I do have things to write about, more things than I can get out on paper, we all do. We all have something to say, through writing, painting, photographing, scrapbooking, landscaping, woodworking, music-playing, home-decorating. We all have a drive to create, to make sense of the vastness of creation by making our own creations on a microcosmic level.

I forget that I simply don’t have time in this life to not be creative.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Where's The Net?

During both my pregnancies, planned and unplanned, I was filled with a sense of foreboding. When I was seventeen and pregnant in high school, it’s not hard to imagine why I worried persistently about my future and the future of my baby. I processed the dilemma the way that I have always processed everything, by writing. Seven years later when I was pregnant with my own daughter, I was surprised by how much I still worried about my future as a mother.

What was there to be anxious about? I was married, happy, settled in Minneapolis, teaching. The situation should have been ideal and yet I worried about becoming a mother even more than I had worried about being a pregnant teen and placing my child for adoption.

Again, I processed my worries by writing. I wrote my memoir while I was pregnant with Twila and finished it right after she was born. It was during that season of my life that I thought about making writing a career.

If I had known then that nearly three years later, my memoir would still not be published, I may have simply set my pen back down. Perhaps that’s why we aren’t able to see to the finish line when we are in the midst of the journey. Maybe we are only allowed to see a flashlight’s beam ahead so that we will continue to move forward, one small step at a time.

Perhaps what I was to learn from the worry of an unplanned pregnancy was how to write my life; how to write my journey as I am on it. And maybe what I was meant to have learned from writing my memoir was simply how to write. The process of turning what was essentially a journal into a readable and interesting narrative was the longest hardest work of my life. But it opened up the way to writing effectively so that when I began my non-fiction manuscript about childbirth and adoption a year ago, I was able to convey my message more clearly.

Maybe the frustrating truth is we never know how each accomplishment in our lives advances the ball. Sometimes what we work so hard on, does not get us where we thought it would. Sometimes it helps indirectly with another journey. Sometimes it grants us a surreptitious reroute back on to a path we lost a long time ago but were still mean to be on.

I heard recently: “Jump and the net will appear.” This is a promise that has been kept time after time in my life. When I was eighteen, I made the sudden decision to place my baby to get her out of the mess that would have been my ex’s and my life together, and the net appeared in the form of her well-suited adoptive parents.

When I was expecting my own daughter and was filled with anxiety and worry about who she would be and what kind of mother I would be, the net appeared in the form of grace and patience and consistent unexpected help.

And now I am at another leaping off point. I am at the edge of the cliff of writing and pacing like a cornered lion looking for a favorable spot to jump. I am trying to put aside my fear and worry. I keep trying to peer into the future to see where the finish line is or figure out where the net may materialize.

But deep down inside I know that as at every other major juncture in my life, I cannot know all the facts before I leap. It just doesn’t work that way. In faith I have to just jump.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Deviled Eggs for Summer

During both my pregnancies, it seemed the hardest thing to maintain was an adequate amount of protein in my diet each day.

I just rediscovered the simple delight of the deviled egg. This is a great treat for summer, a fantastically easy way to get quick and satisfying protein—and you can eat it one handed which is especially handy if you are a breast-feeding mother or just really busy.

12 eggs
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
2 teaspoons sweet relish
Paprika, for dusting

1. Place eggs in a large wide saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil for 12 minutes.
2. Remove eggs and cool in refrigerator. Remove shells from eggs and slice in half lengthwise.
3. Separate egg yolks and place into a bowl. Place whites on a separate plate.
4. Add mayo, mustard, relish and salt and pepper, to taste, to yolks and mash together with a fork until creamy and smooth.
5. Using a large star tip and pastry bag or cut reseal-able plastic bag, pipe the yolk mixture back into each egg, enough to fill yolk holes completely.
6. Dust tops with paprika. Refrigerate. Serve cold.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mission Impossible

It occurred to me the other day that being a writer might be too hard for a mother of a two-and –a-half-year-old girl.

It seems when my daughter was first born, the offers to babysit were more than I could handle. Each and every day there was a line of people around the block desperate to kick me out of my home and get their hands on my baby. Now it’s difficult to pin down two hours a week that I can leave my daughter with a family member and write without feeling guilty and like I’m taking advantage or using up someone else’s free time to create free time for myself. I’m sensitive to this kind of thing anyway. I have a hard time asking people to help me.

I managed to get out for a couple hours yesterday during a time that was supposed to be designated as my “artist’s date.” I think I’ve mentioned that I’m reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s an excellent book for recovering your inner artist but I can’t help but feel ashamed as I read it that I can only make about two percent of the suggested exercises actually happen.

The artist date is supposed to be two-hours-a-week that you spend all alone doing absolutely fun and frivolous stuff like painting at a park, reading a play, or walking through an art supplies store. I think I executed two actual artist dates, that was about two months ago. Yesterday, I took the two hours to sit at a coffee shop and work on my poor neglected non-fiction manuscript. I haven’t worked on it in ages.

The truly startling thing I realized when I opened up my document was that I am really close to being done! I became motivated to finish it up when I talked to the owner of Tapestry Books recently and he told me that they may start publishing this summer and if they do, they may be interested in publishing my book…provided it’s finished of course. So I carved out some time and got into it. It is amazing what I can accomplish with two uninterrupted hours. I can finish about a forty-hour-week’s worth of work.

Usually posting one blog post takes me half a day, working in two-minute-increments between making snacks, pushing Twila around in her baby-doll stroller, answering the phone, accompanying Twila to the restroom, eating play-dough cookies and perfecting just the right reaction to the cookies to please her majesty, and answering endless repetitive questions.

But two hours all alone; that’s another story. I could practically write a whole novel. Needless to say, I am very excited for preschool this fall.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Can Open Adoption Really Work? Part III: Is Open Adoption Best For Your Children?

"I like open-adoption because we can all talk about what's going on in our lives. I like knowing who my birthmother is and what she likes. And I like meeting the people she's related to—who I'm related to."

-Nicole, adopted-daughter and birth-daughter of nine years

We all ask questions about who we are. You might say, we are each on a lifelong quest to discover what makes us unique and individual, what we are supposed to do with our uniqueness, and where, in life, we are going.

So we have established that open-adoption is generally the clear choice for birthmothers and often adoptive parents too. A few years back I spoke on a panel at an adoption agency alongside five adoptive couples. Several of the adoptive mothers commented that when their children’s birthmothers hadn’t called for a while they actually began to miss them. One adoptive mother said, “after our daughter was born and we brought her home, I really craved being around her birthmother.” But what about the children?

Isn’t the greatest priority in any adoption to raise secure and well-adjusted children? And isn’t an adoptive parent’s first and most important responsibility to protect their adopted children? So what if your child’s birthmom is unstable? Disrespectful of you or your family? Unwilling to honor you as the real parent?

If any of these factors are present in an open-adoption, it is the responsibility of the adoptive parents to create separation from the birth-family. If the birth-family creates tension in the adoptive family, depending on the degree of inappropriateness, the adoptive parents may need to insist that all contact is prearranged, decrease the contact to letters and/ or phone calls, or perhaps cut all ties. Yes, it is the primary responsibility of adoptive parents to make sure their children are physically and emotionally safe.

But assuming that your child’s birthmother is emotionally stable, balanced, respectful of your family, and generally feels positively about her choice to place, it seems to be the best option for your child to allow him or her contact with his or her birthmother.

According to The Minnesota Texas Adoption Research Project (MTARP) the first longitudinal study to be done about open adoption, an adopted child will have a stronger sense of identity if he has a sense that his adoptive family is connected to his biological family. This finding sharpens as adopted children age. It is a lifelong struggle to make sense of our beginnings, to realize who we are and where we came from. A child’s biological family is an important piece of their identity puzzle.

I have seen in my birth-daughter’s adoption how important it is to her to be able to call me and ask questions as they arise. The older she has gotten, the more questions she has had. Sometimes she calls when she is working on a school project about family history, genetics, or pregnancy. Certainly over the years there have been hundreds more projects that she and her mother could work on alone. But when those questions popup that she and her mother would both like to know, we are all glad that they have access to the answers.

I think we owe it to adopted children to give them access to answers about their heritage whenever possible. After all, if we don’t know where we came from, we can’t figure out where we are going.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Cilantro Lime Chicken Soup

I had this fantastically fresh summer soup for the first time in Costa Rica. Last night the fresh spring breeze of Minnesota reminded me that I hadn’t made this favorite chicken soup recipe in years. I made it for my two-year-old daughter, my husband and my aunt, visiting from California—everyone was happy.

When I first had this soup, a beautiful Costa Rican woman made it for our whole traveling group one night and it was so delicious I knew I had to procure the recipe. That night after dinner, I sat down with our chef, my journal open and pen ready. With a combination of sign language and my very limited Spanish skills, we set to work writing down her old family recipe.

1. 2-3 lbs of chicken on the bone
2. Some olive oil
3. 2 medium onions
4. 4 cloves garlic
5. 1 bunch of cilantro
6. ½ lb White cheese like queso fresco or fresh mozzarella
7. 1 lime cut into wedges
8. Salt and pepper to taste
9. Water or chicken broth (I use 4 cups of chicken broth to speed the flavor)

1. Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil over med/high heat.
2. Add chicken, brown.
3. Add chicken broth, water, or a combination of the two until chicken is covered.
4. Simmer for an hour minimum or up to 4 hours stirring constantly (if you use water, the longer you simmer, the more flavorful the broth will be).
5. When the chicken is fully cooked and falling off the bones, remove all bones (you can also do this at the end).
6. For the last 20-30 minutes of simmering, add cilantro tops, minced, and white cheese, cubed.
7. Stir together thoroughly with salt and pepper.
8. Serve in bowls with a wedge of lime on each.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Can Open Adoption Really Work? Part II

I recently went away for the weekend with a girlfriend and we called home to talk to our children as much as we talked to each other. I miss my daughter when I’m not with her and I watch her like a hawk when we’re together. If you’re a mother or are close to a mother, you know this routine. It’s hard to be away from your baby, especially a brand new infant.

As we established on Monday, open-adoption seems the clear choice for birthparents. When a birthchild is first born, he feels very much like the birthparent’s real child. How can a birthmother be expected to sever all ties and walk away? But birthparents are not the only people to consider in the adoption triad.

Many adoptive parents worry, and rightly so, about the practicality of open adoption. They wonder: What if I don’t like my baby’s birthmom? What if the birthmom doesn’t like us? What if she doesn’t like the way we parent? What if she changes her mind? What if she violates our boundaries?

As a mother of two years, it is hard for me to imagine looking at my beautiful child as she sleeps, feeling all that overwhelming love that a parent feels for her child, and imagining someone else out there who feels the same way about her. How, I’ve often asked myself, would I handle a woman coming to see my daughter with the same kind of love and anticipation with which I seek out my own child?

Would I be able to “share?”

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees in open-adoption. An open-adoption is dependent on the personalities of each person involved and is, therefore, subject to a million different possible influences. In other words: some go better than others. Even though my open-adoption was a tremendous success, I cannot promise that any other open-adoption will be successful.

But my birthdaughter’s mother Sandy and I have come up with these few rules, guidelines and factors that are consistent with successful open-adoption.

1. Open-adoption is not co-parenting. The adoptive parents are the parents. No part of the open-adoption relationship should undermine the adoptive parents’ roles as parents.
2. There must be mutual trust in the open-adoption relationship. Before entering into an open-adoption, the birthmother and the adoptive parents need to feel enough trust for each other. The birthmother must be able to trust that the adoptive parents will honor their promises to involve her; and the adoptive parents must be able to trust that the birthmother will not change her mind.
3. If there is not full trust, adoptive parents cannot bond appropriately with their new child. If a birthmother is unreliable and is wavering in her decision to place her baby, adoptive parent end-up in constant fear that their adoption might fall through and as a result, they hold back emotionally, afraid to fall in love with a baby they may lose.
4. You must trust your gut. Sandy and I have rehashed the details of the past many times over the last ten years. There were times when she followed her intuition and was rewarded for that. But sometimes the desperation of wanting to adopt leads hopeful parents into leaping into a situation against their better judgment. As many adoptive parents will tell you: this doesn’t pay. Trust your gut, if a situation doesn’t feel quite right, walk away and trust that the right situation will come along.
5. As a birthmother, you must honor the parents you have selected as THE parents. Do not undermine their parenting by putting yourself in the role of parent. You would not only do them a disservice but you would do your birthchild a disservice. Every child has the right to be clear about who his parents are, there should be no ambiguity.
6. Be the birthmother. So what should you be? Your role as a birthmother is a very important and special one. You are there to love and support the whole family (siblings included). You can keep in touch, come to visit, answer questions, talk. Not only will your birthchild have questions as he grows, likely his parents will too.
7. The adoptive parents must do what is best for their children. If any aspect of the open adoption relationship isn’t working for the birthchild, her siblings or the family dynamic, it must be changed. While open-adoption is important for the whole family, the most important consideration for adoptive families is their children’s well-being. If birthparents are overstepping their boundaries, referring to themselves as “mom” or “dad” or making inappropriate comments about their birthchild’s parents or family, their access to the family can and should be limited. The bottom line: open-adoption should be a positive and healthy choice for the whole family.

And then you just have to try it. It is a leap of faith to agree to open-adoption. But then again it is a leap of faith to place a baby for adoption too.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Can Open Adoption Really Work? Part I

As a birthmom, I know why I chose open adoption for my birthdaughter. I wanted to know that her parents were loving, supportive people, I wanted to see that my birthdaughter felt at home in her new home and that she was bonded to her parents. I wanted to know that she didn’t feel a loss because she was placed for adoption.

As a birthmother I know that my reasons for choosing an open adoption were largely altruistic. Of course I wanted the joy of seeing my birthdaughter grow and change, sure I held on to that beautiful dream that I may one day see her start walking, hear her say my name, have a conversation with her, in short: watch her grow, but to a large degree I chose open adoption because I simply wanted what was best for my birthdaughter. I just wanted to know what any mother would want to know about her child: that she was okay.

As a mother of nearly three years, I experience a duality of sympathy. On the one hand I can see that my desire, my need to see that my off-spring is safe, healthy and loved is not only valid but hard-wired into my very being. It’s hard for me to let my two-year-old out of my sight for mere moments, imagine placing a child and agreeing to let her out of your sight for years. “Certainly open-adoption is the right decision,” my brain says on the one hand.

But then on the other hand, as a mother I cannot imagine sharing my child with another woman, or couple, or whole family. It was hard enough when my baby was an infant to share her with my own friends and family, how could I be expected to allow her birthmother to call, come over even hold her. I would feel completely threatened, territorial even.

As a mother I have both realized the depth of gravity of what I did by placing my baby, and I have gained a new depth of gratitude for my birthdaughter’s mother for how willing she was to share her brand-new family with me.

So open-adoption seems to be a necessity for me, the birthmother, but is it really what’s best for the adopted child? Is it manageable for the adoptive parents? It is my belief, and I’m going to start exploring this belief, that open adoption is not just manageable but beneficial for all three sides of the adoption triad.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Weekend Edition: Have Your Health and Crave it Too!

Swiss Chard Pot-Stickers
Okay birthmothers, mothers-to-be, parents, kids, aunts and uncles of all ages: enjoy the many health benefits of the intense green Swiss Chard. Like mega doses of vitamin E for mood calming effects, lots of fiber to aid digestion, vitamin C to ward off viruses and of course mega antioxidants that often come with that dark leafy greens.

So this is a delicious and fun way to get those vegetable servings, which, if you’re pregnant you especially know, is a challenge.

1. 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil (coconut, safflower or similar)
2. One bunch of Swiss Chard (finely chopped)
3. 6 ounces of shitake mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
4. 1 shallot finely chopped
5. 3 shallots, white and green parts, minced
6. 2 garlic cloves, minced
7. 2 teaspoons rice-wine vinegar
8. 1 teaspoon sesame oil
9. 2 tablespoons soy sauce
10. 24 round dumpling wrappers
11. Coarse sea salt and fresh ground peppar

1. In a large walk, heat 1 teaspoon oil and sauté mushrooms, chard, shallots, scallions, and garlic. Cook until chard stems or tender. Remove from heat and squeeze excess liquid out.
2. Transfer to a bowl and add vinegar, sesame oil, and a dash of the soy sauce.
3. Season with salt and pepper, and mix well.
4. Start scooping one small scoop of filling into middle of wrapper and close, using moistened fingers.
5. Place the pot-stickers on a piece of parchment paper.
6. Add the remaining oil to the pan and heat over med-high heat
7. Add the pot-stickers to the pan and cook until a deep golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.
8. Remove from heat, add a cup of water, return to the heat.
9. Cover and cook until heated through and all water is gone, 4 to 6 minutes.
10. Serve hot with extra soy sauce
Enjoy your vegetables!!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Synchronicity Part II

So I told you about my friend Gina who came to visit the other night. But I didn’t tell you just how synchronous our reconnection was.

In high school, I had Spanish class with Gina. She was a senior, I was a freshman. Also in that class was a guy named Kris who was a sophomore and I believed they were both far too cool for me to talk to. I was painfully shy in high school and in ninth grade, I was at the end of a very long, very awkward, awkward phase—I think the longest one on record in the Midwest.

Gina was so beautiful and confidant and artistic. I remember watching her set up these huge canvass paintings in the hallway for display and just gaping at how talented she was. I liked to paint in high school too but couldn’t imagine being confidant enough in my own creations to put them on display (putting my writing on display on a blog was a significant hurdle too).

I used to sit in Spanish class watching Gina and Kris laugh and talk and ignore the teacher and I would feel all the more awkward in the shadow of their confident coolness. I didn’t speak more than two words to either of them the entire semester.

That was in 1996. Three years later, after I had graduated from high school and after I had given birth to my birthdaughter and placed her for adoption, the universe lined up in just the right way so that I would go with my sister to a party one night at her boyfriend’s apartment. He also went to our high school, in Gina’s grade. That night I met his older brother, the man I am now married to. At that same party, I ran into Kris, from Spanish and we reconnected and he and his wife are today two of our closest friends.

Sometime in the years that I was getting to know Kris and dating my husband, we ran into Gina at another party. She was back in town, visiting from New York. We reconnected, and over the years we became long-distant friends and I always remembered what a talented artist she was—and is. She was flattered when I thought of her to do an illustration for my blog and hopefully some day for the cover of my book.

You will be seeing new art on this blog very soon, courtesy of the talented Gina Rossi of New York … and Spanish I.

(Picture of Orion's Belt: courtesy of:

Monday, May 4, 2009

Keep Breathing

This is just an update blog to let you know that I am still alive, still here, still blogging. I would love to write something more substantial, more interesting but in order to tell you what is going on in my life, I would have to know what is going on in my life. In order for me to know what is going on in my life, I would need to have a place to sit and think, a computer to write on. As it is, I have been displaced from my home yet another day. The flooring project that was meant to be done last Friday is dragging on another morning. Tomorrow I have been promised (again) that the trim pieces will be finished before noon. As I assumed today, I assume again that by noon tomorrow they mean three or four o’clock in the afternoon. I just want my house back, I want my computer and my desk and I really want the two men who dirty my water glasses, stink-up my bathroom, chip up my walls, track dirt on my floor and borrow tools and scissors from our drawers, out of my life forever. But as it is I am sitting at my sister’s apartment again, borrowing her computer as my daughter naps on her couch. But tomorrow when I am (hopefully) back in my home, I will have something more substantial and hopefully interesting to tell you. Until then, trust the path and keep breathing, which is what I will be trying to do until then.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Roman-Style Chicken

While most recipes I present here on The Birthmother’s Journey are developed by me, this easy, delicious, and healthy chicken dish is a favorite of mine that I am borrowing from Giada De Laurentiis, my favorite Food Network chef. Check her out for lots of simple and healthful Italian recipes. And check out this great, fast chicken dish this weekend. Enjoy!!

1. 4 skinless chicken breast halves, with ribs
2 skinless chicken thighs, with bones
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus 1 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 cup olive oil
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
3 ounces prosciutto, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons capers
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1. Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
2. In a heavy, large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, cook the chicken until browned on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
3. Keeping the same pan over medium heat, add the peppers and prosciutto and cook until the peppers have browned and the prosciutto is crisp, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, wine, and herbs.
5. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan.
6. Return the chicken to the pan, add the stock, and bring the mixture to a boil.
7. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 to 30 minutes.
8. Add the capers and the parsley. Stir to combine and serve.