Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Adventure Continues

The last weeks of summer have been full. Full of emotional highs and lows, full of travel, full of plans, full of activities with the girls, and in that paradox of motherhood, somehow also full of long hours to fill.

Time flies and time stands still. When we have an empty afternoon at home, I tell the girls, “go play outside, it’s beautiful out!” We get shoes on, apply sunblock, pack up carrot sticks or grapes. The girls stay outside for five minutes and then come inside saying they are thirsty, hungry, tired or want to watch PBS kids. But if it’s time to go, like to go get in the car right now for a date or appointment that’s in twenty minutes, suddenly they are biking in the driveway, going down the slide and otherwise collaborating in fantastic and elaborate imaginative games, begging for just a few more minutes. Bewildering.

So, I’ve started telling the girls it’s “time to go” about twenty or thirty minutes before it’s actually time to go. It’s working like a charm except for the fact that we usually pile into the car wet and dirty after thirty minutes of hard play. But I’ve decided it’s an acceptable tradeoff for what its buying me: thirty minutes to quickly vacuum the floors or type out a couple of ideas before they’re lost.

It’s an adventure balancing the drives and tendencies of my active little girls with the demands on my time as a mother, wife, friend, rental property manager, personal chef and housekeeper. But the added challenge of new levels of energy, stubbornness and emotional volatility are worth the work for the independence I have gained from their development.

I dropped dinner off for a girlfriend of mine who just had her second child. Seeing her standing in the doorway, television on, hair wet, and whispering at 12:30 in the afternoon, brought me instantly back to those first weeks of being a mother of two. I remember scowling at the telephone when it rang as if its choice to make noise (no matter what time of day) was of the utmost distaste. Showering was optional, even more so than these days, and sleep was a commodity to be grasped, searched for at any time of day and hoarded. Each day the internal battle between the potential for a couple more hours of sleep and the possibility of a hot cup of coffee was epic and constant.

The visit reminded me how far we’ve come. With rare exception, everyone sleeps through the night, we actually have a social life that doesn’t include the couch, a glass of wine and the television, and I can get to the gym with some regularity. But the biggest milestone I’ve observed this summer is that my two little girls, the little girls who just yesterday were a jealous toddler and an unaware infant, are now playing together, actually playing together, I mean collaborating. It’s absolutely delightful to watch. They are funny and adorable together. They pretend they’re puppies, they play “stop and go” down the driveway, they rock towel babies, they even tricycle together. Twila is, of course, the ringleader and Jada happily plays along, with a big smile, adding a key phrase every once in a while like “go!” or “bye mom!” she also has perfected her puppy pant with her tongue hanging out.

The other night as we stood in the driveway watching Jada balance on the back of Twila’s trike, I said to Ryan “This, is why we had two kids.” It might have been the pinnacle of my summer.

Of course I am also continually amazed by their ability to clutter a house in less than half the time it takes me to clean. Sometimes the chaos seems endless. Some days, their needs are constant and conflicting with each other’s needs so at no time can they both be happy. Some days I feel like I am breaking up fights all day long. The job of motherhood is unpredictable and that is the very thing that can make it joyful and can also make it incredibly stressful.

As Deborah Lewis points out in Motherhood Stress, all of the factors that make a “regular” job stressful are present in motherhood.

·An excess of novelty and uncertainty

· Lack of Control

·High expectations

·Ideals versus Reality

·No Clear Guidelines or Measure for Success


· Low status and Low Pay

·Poor Accountability

And I have to agree with Ms. Lewis, motherhood remains the most stressful job I’ve even held. And I’ve been a school teacher, a server at poorly run yet expensive restaurants, a pet groomer, a vet technician and a nanny for extremely obstinate and spoiled children. The only job that’s made me brake down in a puddle of angry and guilty tears or lashed out with shouts and threats, that I will later regret, is motherhood.

But that’s how adventures are: they are unpredictable. And sometimes that means stress and sometimes it means excitement.

So motherhood is still an adventure: new challenges at every turn and startling frustrations sprinkled with great joyous victories and rewards; emotional highs and lows. And at the end of each day, I feel like I’ve done battle. But usually, as I sit on the couch each night, exhausted and worn out, I feel gratified that I not only made it through another day, I invested time and energy and creativity in my children and got to participate in their adventure.

Friday, August 12, 2011

From a Fellow Birthmother

September 1999 after the birth of my twelve year old birthdaughter, Nicole
September 2006 after the birth of our five year old daughter, Twila
January 2010 after the birth of our youngest daughter, Jada, with her big sister Twila

I was contacted recently by one of my readers, a birthmother who is about to become a mom. Her questions and worries encapsulate the experience of a woman entering motherhood in the wake of open adoption. So with her permission I am sharing her questions and my response here.

Hi Melissa,
My name is also Melissa and I'm a birthmom of a beautiful 13 year old boy named Aden. I gave birth to him when I was a senior in high school and have a very open relationship with him as well as his family. In fact, my entire family has an open relationship with theirs. It's been encouraging to stumble upon your blog and read about your experience and how similar it is to mine. I too went through the pregnancy and placement on my own (without the birthfather) and felt very strongly from the moment I met [my birthson’s] parents, that they were the Ones.

My reason for contacting you is not about our adoption experiences however. It's because I'm now pregnant with our first child (my husband's name is also Ryan- weird, huh?!) and I'm experiencing a variety of emotions. My most concerning is that I don't feel as excited about the pregnancy as I want to. We planned to get pregnant and tried for about 2 weeks before it happened so it wasn't a surprise in that sense. I know my feelings have to do with the adoption and not wanting to get attached to this baby because of the pain I experienced with Aden but I'm just wondering if you went through something similar with your first pregnancy. I've never felt deep, unending loss with my relinquishment of Aden because of the ongoing relationship I have with him but I have to believe the feelings of loss have to be surfacing in some capacity.

I'm sure you wrote about this experience but was hoping you could give me some help & hope that it does get better. I honestly have wanted nothing more in life then to be a mom and knew that at 18 I wasn't ready... and haven't been "ready" for 13 years. But we are now, for the most part. I'm just feeling really ill-equipped emotionally for the journey ahead.

Melissa’s thoughts and questions go to the heart of the post-open-adoption experience. For those of us lucky birthmoms with positive open-adoption experiences, the real challenge lies in how to move on with our own lives after we’ve placed our baby.

The greatest shock of my life was getting pregnant with my five year old daughter Twila and feeling lackluster about the prospect of meeting my first baby. How could this be? I wondered. How could I be less excited to meet my own baby than I was to meet the baby I knew I would place for adoption?

Meeting my birthdaughter, Nicole, was my first experience with parental love. There is nothing like locking eyes with your newborn for the very first time. Nature and biology kick in and the bonding and attachment vital to human survival takes hold even in the first seconds of life. So even though I knew I would be placing my baby into her mother’s arms the next day and saying goodbye, I began to bond with her anyway. In short, I fell in love.

I don’t know if this is the case for every, or even most birthmothers. In the movie Juno, the main character Juno decides not to even look at the baby or hold him since he’s “not mine, anyway.” And perhaps this reflects the choices of some real life birthmothers. But for me, after nine months of carrying this little human, I was dying to meet her, to hold her, to look into her eyes. And once I did, there was no turning back from the awe-inspiring, heart-rending, all-consuming love that a new mother feels for her baby.

I’ve spent a lot of time as a writer of adoption issues, insisting that the “birthmother” role is entirely different from the “motherhood” role. They are separate relationships and separate responsibilities and never should they intersect in their rights or responsibilities. And I believe that. Except for this one area. As a birthmother, when I looked into the eyes of my new birthdaughter, my heart didn’t pulse out the title: birthdaughter or something politically correct like that. It felt the deep anchored love of motherhood.

Of course, by the time we left the hospital, my path as a mother diverged from my daughter and the woman and man who would become her parents and branched off into an entirely different and unique path: the birthmother path. Where there are countless models of the mother path in our lives (often more than we can stand to pay attention to) there are few if any birthmother trailblazers to follow behind. Like many brave birthmothers before me, I forged my own path.

While the first moments and even hours of my birthdaughter’s life, I felt just the way a mom feels about her new baby, once I left the hospital, everything changed. I slept when I was tired, I took care of myself, and my birthdaughter’s adoptive mom took care of her: fed her, nurtured her, changed her diapers, and rocked her to sleep at night. Over those days, weeks, months and years, Sandy, became my birthdaughter’s mom and her love for Nicole grew and deepened into true mother love. My love for Nicole remained intense and deeper than any love I had known. So this, I assumed was what mother love felt like.

As I said before, I am one of the lucky birthmoms. My birthdaughter’s family is today (nearly twelve years later) great friends of my family. So as I worked out my path as a birthmom, my birthdaughter’s mom, found her way as a new adoptive mom, with me. As I’ve said countless times, she was a generous mom. She made me and my family welcome, allowed me to love my birthdaughter and allowed my birthdaughter to love me. She was brave and that shouldn’t get glossed over. Many adoptive parents deny their children the benefit of a healthy relationship with their birthparents out of fear, jealously or insecurity. But the Bensons have always put their children first.

It sounds like the birthmother, Melissa, who wrote to me is blessed with a similarly positive adoption relationship. Our challenges in adoption are different from women who grieve and mourn their decision to place. But our challenge still exists.

The challenge for birthmothers who know their birthchildren and who love them and are loved by them, is that one day, we will need to turn back to our own lives.

I lived vicariously through the joys of my birthdaughter’s growth and development for seven years, celebrating her birthdays, laughing over the things she said, delighting over each new skill learned like a doting aunt but with more love and care and interest.

I loved this role. I was a very lucky birthmom. I was invited to birthday parties and baptisms. I got pictures and got to talk to her mom and eventually her on the phone all the time. We got together nearly weekly for years. But all that changed when my birthdaughter was seven.

After being a happy birthmom for seven years, my husband and I got pregnant with our first daughter. Of course we were delighted. But as the months of pregnancy wore on, I was surprised by my feelings, or lack of feelings. I found myself missing my birthdaughter intensely. I craved her company, the feel of her head under my chin as she sat on my lap, the softness and smell of her hair. Slowly, and frighteningly, I began to realize, I didn’t want this new baby; I wanted my birthdaughter.

I was horrified at my feelings. But it was the truth. I didn’t feel excited about this anonymous baby growing in my body. How can I ever love her as much as I love my birthdaughter? I used to wonder as I lay awake at night.

When I was about nine months pregnant, I broke down crying in the car with my mom one day. I admitted that I did feel anything for the baby I was carrying. Thankfully my mom, a mother of four, got it. She explained to me that each time she was pregnant she doubted that this new baby would manage to gain her love like her previous children had. “It’s so hard to imagine a baby you haven’t met, becoming someone that you will love,” she admitted, “But somehow, miraculously, your heart grows and encompasses the depth and severity of love for your new child that it did for you previous children.” I couldn’t imagine it, but I trusted her.

Of course, as it turns out, I do love my daughters—both of them—as much as I do my birthdaughter. In fact, while the love I felt for Nicole was the deepest most powerful love I could have imagined at that time, the newest surprise of my life was that in the days, weeks, months and years of caring for my girls, feeding, changing and comforting them, I discovered a love growing in me that surpassed even the depth of love I felt for my birthdaughter. While I would have given my life for my birthdaughter, I actually do give my life for my girls each day. And with that kind of constant sacrifice, comes a love I could not, before I encountered it, have imagined.

What my fellow birthmother (Melissa II) doesn’t know, is that her email, about a critical time in her journey as a birthmother, came at a critical time in my journey as a birthmother.

For a birthmom, becoming a mom, is a huge turning point. She must contend with questions of identity and loyalty. The turning point I have been facing this past year is the question of how does my birthmotherhood impact my identity as a mother of two, as a mother of a five year old? While at one time being a birthmother consumed much of my identity, today, it feels like a much smaller part of who I am.

This year, I have begun to blog less and less. This is in part because my busy daughters are consuming more and more of my time and energy and I am committed to living in the moment with them, enjoying this time of youth and dependence. But the other part is more complicated. I have been doubting my qualification for writing about birthmotherhood. My platform is that of a modern birthmother, a woman who has a birthdaughter and who is also a mother. But more and more I feel like a mother who was once a birthmother.

These days I spend more time with my girls and doing things for them than I do anything having to do with birthmotherhood. I spend much less time than I would like, talking to or about my birthdaughter. In fact I was talking with her mom, Sandy just the other day and saying these very same things, just a day or two before I got Melissa’s email. I said: “My life isn’t that impacted by birthmotherhood anymore. I don’t want people to think I’m taking too much liberty writing as an “expert” on adoption when in truth, even our relationship isn’t colored by our adoption that much anymore.”

Sandy heard me, but encouraged me to keep going, reminding me that a lot of birthmothers get to where I am now and different issues come up at different times. She suggested I still have something to teach.

Even though my life is much more about being a mom these days, I am still a birthmother and my relationship with my birthdaughter and her family, will in great and small ways, impact my life and my family forever. Even though Twila gets who Nicole is and that she grew in my tummy, I know that this is a rudimentary understanding of what that means and that the weightier questions about unplanned pregnancy, premarital sex and adoption are to come.

So, I’ve decided to keep writing about my experience as a mother and about the times that motherhood overlaps with birthmotherhood. And I’m very grateful to you who are mothers or birthmothers or friends and family of mothers or birthmothers for deciding to keep reading.

Thank you to Melissa for writing in!

You can read more about the Melissa’s story on her blog