4.30.2012

# 27: WE FOUGHT WITH SUPERPOWERS!







PAGE # 27
Tuesday
12/13/11
Early Morning
"You can't go tomorrow," I pleaded. 
"It's only for two nights," Tom replied.  "I'll hop right back on a flight if she goes into labor."
"If Kendra gives us her baby, this is going to be our baby!  Would you go if I were on the brink of labor?"
"She's not going to give us the baby," Tom said.  "And I still need to support this family.  This is the most important meeting of the year and people are coming from overseas.  I have to be there."
I agreed that Kendra would likely decide to parent her little girl.  We were hoping for that.  But if she went through with the adoption plan, I did not want to be left alone.  And Paula, the social worker, had told us we needed to be there.  At the hospital.  For Kendra.
"Jennifer, now is the time to put on your therapist hat," Paula had said.  "You and Tom need to be there for Kendra.  This will be the most difficult thing she'll ever do in her entire life, and you guys need to be there for her."
What if Kendra wanted to keep the baby?  Maybe it was better not to be there?
"No," Paula had said.  "Kendra has chosen you guys for her baby.  She needs to see you falling in love with her baby.  You need to make her feel comfortable."
Who was going to make me feel comfortable?
"I have to go," Tom said.  "This meeting was arranged way before we even knew about this baby.  If you were pregnant, I wouldn't have scheduled it in the first place."
"I doubt that," I said.  "You always leave at the worst times."
And so commenced a terrible fight between us.  I am not talking mere debate here; I am referring to the kind of explosive drama that requires the use of superpowers. 


Tom and I are married for almost 17 years now.  That's fairly long for people our age; plus, it was not predicted to work out so well, given our unmarried but pregnant beginning.


So, when people ask about the secret of our success--I usually cite all the therapy bills, our great communication, or some other nonsense.  But the truth is that we are simply lucky:  we have benefited from a balance of powers in our relationship.  Superpowers! 


I do not believe that all people are blessed with superpowers.  Some have more, others less, and a sorry few have none whatsoever.  I am suggesting that an inequitable distribution of powers is what leads to divorce.  If a man and woman are not equally armed--they cannot stay married.  Because in marriage, as in war, if one side runs out of ammunition--that's it, party's over.  


So, the fact that Tom and I have made it this far probably has only a slight fraction to do with shared values, good communication, and (just enough) sex.  No, it probably comes down to the simplest of facts:  that Tom and I are pretty equal when it comes to the distribution of superpowers in our marriage.  And these powers are of commensurate strength, respectively.


Some of my powers include excellent eyesight, a seemingly infinite attention span, a severe case of moral indignation, and superior introspective abilities.  Some of Tom's powers include spatial navigation, the art of persuasion, a profound loyalty to his family of origin, and the unsung power of subtlety.  


Now, there are some marital disputes that require each spouse to draw upon his/her full arsenal of powers, but on this particular morning, we selected one weapon each (one must assume fairness if any relationship is worth fighting over in the first place).  I liken that morning to one of those epic video games kids play nowadays, where the game player collects various weapons/special abilities throughout his virtual existence, but during a particular challenge, must choose one item, and only one item, from his bag of tricks.


On that morning, we each chose our personal best superpower:


I selected the power of extraordinary autobiographical memory, also known as episodic memory.  I can recall, and with exquisite detail, most everything that has happened in my personal life.  I may not remember names or faces that well, but my memory for what happens to me is surpassed by few.  There are the obvious exceptions to this rule (alcohol, traumatic stress, etc.), but if I've experienced it, I tend to remember it.  Some of my friends even use me for their own personal memory storage--I'm like an external hard drive for others (that is, if we happen to share an experience together).


Tom, on the other hand, selected the power of denial.  The power of denial should never be underestimated and is actually composed of sub-powers.  One of these sub-powers is Tom's ability to remember almost nothing from his autobiographical past.  If his brain were not a living organ, I'd like to get in and dig the crap out of it.  Most psychoanalytic theory will list denial and repression as distinct defense mechanisms, but I think the two are inextricably linked.


And what good battle is without irony?  On the very day that we were engaged in combat, three of our dearest friends were composing personal references about us--letters intended for the social worker's inclusion in our home study.  But before we get to those lovely artifacts, let the battle unfold!

4.26.2012

# 26: BUT MY TUMMY'S NOT BROKEN...HIS LITTLE HEART IS!


PAGE # 26


Monday
12/12/11
Probably around 11:30 pm


There's no easy way to differentiate whether Tom is actually sleeping or merely trying to.  He's a darn light sleeper--even the slightest whisper has the potential to wake him.  Sometimes I just put my face up close near his and open my eyes real wide.  If he's awake, he can sense I'm looking at him and will usually answer with an exhausted, "What now?" And if he's asleep--well, at least my nocturnal stare is not powerful enough to disturb the man.  I consider it one of my best communication strategies.  


On this night, however, I was staring wide-eyed at Tom, but he was not responding.  I cheated a little by blowing on his nose, but he was either in an unusually deep slumber or had simply had enough of me for the night.


I rolled back over toward my side of the bed, but I couldn't fall asleep.  I was thinking about a lie--and even though it was probably no big deal--it was troublesome enough to keep me awake.  


The day we met Kendra and Johnny at the attorney's office, Kendra cried on behalf of her 5 year-old son, Alex.  He was struggling to understand the adoption plan.  Why wasn't his baby sister going to live with them?  


Shelley, the attorney, had addressed this by suggesting the following:
"You just explain to him that another mommy has a broken tummy and..."
"I'm not infertile," I interjected.
"But a pregnancy would be dangerous for you, right?" Shelley inquired.
"Well, the doctors aren't saying that it would be dangerous for me.  No one has said I can't have another pregnancy.  I just have really hard pregnancies.  I have tons of huge fibroid tumors and really bad nausea and vomiting," I clarified.  
(I've suffered a bunch of uncomfortable symptoms since my last pregnancy, mostly due to some complicated endocrine problems, but no medical professional has declared me infertile.) 
"Fibroids!" Shelley exclaimed.  "I almost died during my pregnancy because of fibroids," the attorney said.  "I almost bled to death."
 I lost track of what Shelley said next.  I'm sure I did because I remember thinking how I never knew fibroids could be that bad.  They caused a lot of pain and gave me an irritable uterus (actual medical terminology), but had I really escaped a possible hemorrhage?  


Then, earlier on this day, Paula helped Kendra explain the adoption to Alex.  And she used Shelley's broken tummy tale.
"But that's not true!" I nearly shouted into the phone.  "I made it clear to Shelley--and in front of Kendra too--that we're not adopting because of infertility.  Did Shelley tell you I'm infertile?"
I did not want to be misrepresented to Kendra.  What if she didn't want to give her baby to someone who could potentially bear another biological child?  What if she only wanted a couple who was struggling with infertility?  I was happy Kendra picked us, but I did not want to be chosen under false pretenses.  And honestly, as much as I disliked the attorney, I really didn't think (at least back then) she had purposely lied about my fertility status.  I figured she probably dealt mainly with infertile couples and had made an honest mistake.  
"I don't like that, Paula.  It's not true."
"Kendra knows that.  But this was a developmentally appropriate way of explaining the adoption to her son.  This is not an ethical problem.  It's just the best way of explaining the loss of his baby sister."
I had dropped the issue after Paula provided the rationale for the falsehood.  Me and my broken tummy.  Okay.     


But that night, as I tried to fall asleep, the long term implications of such a lie struck me. What if Kendra agreed to an open adoption?  I hoped this baby girl could grow up knowing her two brothers.  But wouldn't Alex, the 5 year-old, despise me?  Why should someone take away his baby sister because of a broken tummy?  Perhaps he would worry about being given away himself?  Would he develop a fear of women with wounded abdomens?


Even now, I can get a bit wild with my imagination.  Best case scenario: Alex grows up to be an abdominal surgeon.  Worst case:  He's already throwing toy dolls out the window.  And I mean Barbie type dolls--not baby dolls.  I'm worried all this might inflict a severe case of misogyny.  


I understand that the reader might find my thought process somewhat ridiculous.  On the other hand, a five year old has hardly any power or control over his life, his surroundings, the people he is exposed to.  A five year old doesn't even like to share a toy!  How dare anyone usurp that boy's absolutely appropriate grief and suggest he have empathy for some strange woman!  


I get that the circumstances of his sister's conception were beyond the little boy's comprehension.  But really?  Was it really developmentally appropriate to tell this to the boy?    


I intended to discuss it with my husband.  And with my friend Crystal.  But now, I can't recall if I discussed the issue with either of them.  It was all just so much.  I wasn't prepared for this experience--the process of adopting was not matching up with what I had envisioned.  And a  lot of the details are only coming to me now, months later, as I'm writing about it. 


It's almost like I suffered from a case of psychogenic amnesia.  Memory is crashing in on me and I can't write fast enough now.


And I have a therapy background, resources, a support system.    


What about Kendra? 

4.24.2012

# 25: THE BIRTH PLAN


PAGE # 25


Monday
12/12/11
7:30 pm


Our dog, Jersey, was rolling around on the front lawn.  We did not want to discuss the details of Kendra's birth plan right outside our front door.  Just in case TJ appeared without warning.
"Come on Jersey!" I tugged at the leash.
We were quiet until we walked past three or four houses.
"Did she make sure no one is forcing Kendra into this?" Tom asked me.  
Tom was referring to my earlier phone conversation with the social worker, Paula.  
"Yeah, she claims that Kendra demonstrates more thoughtfulness and clarity than any other birth mom she has ever worked with.  Paula said she was really impressed with how deeply Kendra has processed the adoption plan."
Jersey ran around me.  I got tangled up in his leash for a minute and had to unravel myself before I could continue.
"Kendra initially planned on keeping the baby in the nursery, but now has decided to keep the baby in the room with her.  She's decided it's better to spend time with her before saying goodbye," I explained.  
I took a deep breath and continued:
"So, I asked Paula whether we could have an open adoption.  I mean, we only live a half hour away.  If she really can't take care of the baby, I don't see why that has to mean goodbye."
Tom was in full agreement with me.  But the social worker had not been:
"Look, Jennifer, that kind of arrangement requires a lot of advance planning and tremendous maturity from all the involved persons."
"But you just said that Kendra is the most processed birth mother that you've ever worked with," I had challenged.
"Yes, but I meant in terms of her decision making process.  Her marriage needs a lot of work.  They have a lot of growing up to do.  I don't think an open adoption would be advisable in this situation."
I was confused. 
"So, you're saying that an open adoption only works if the birth mother has her life together?  But if that were the case, why would such a birth mother be placing her kid for adoption in the first place?  I'm sorry, Paula, but I'm just not understanding why Kendra is not a good candidate for an open adoption."
Paula sounded apologetic: 
"Forgive me if I'm not making myself clear," she started.  "What I'm trying to say is that Kendra and her husband have a lot to work out.  I don't know if their marriage will make it.  And they already have two little boys. I don't think the complexity of their situation would be fair to anyone right now."
When I reiterated this part of the conversation to Tom, he stated that no one can know the inside of another couple's marriage.  
"I think Paula's an okay lady," Tom added, "But there's no way she can predict the future of their marriage.  And she's totally underestimating us.  We've been married for almost 17 years.  And we've been through a lot.  If any couple could make an open adoption work, I think we could."
"I think so too, but we still don't know if that's what Kendra wants."
"Can't we just call her and find out?" Tom asked.  "Why does everything have to go through Shelley and Paula?"
"I don't know," I said.  "Jim and Tracey used to talk to Ricky's birth mother every day.  They even did stuff together."  
"Yeah, I remember that," Tom said. 
"And I even asked if I should call Kendra, but Paula said not to.  That Kendra is tired and uncomfortable.  That this is a different situation than other birth mothers because Kendra already has two kids she is busy taking care of.  It kind of sounded like Kendra doesn't want to talk to us right now."
"Well, we have to respect her privacy then," Tom said.
Jersey was pulling me back toward our driveway, but I wasn't ready to go inside yet.  
"Maybe we'd be putting too much pressure on Kendra if we reached out to her?  I mean, if I were about to place my baby for adoption, would I really want to deal with some other couple's questions and stuff?  It might be too intrusive," I suggested.  
"I think we need to follow Kendra's lead," Tom said.  "This is her baby and her decision.  She needs to be in control of everything."
We walked up our driveway.  Jersey was trying to run inside.  He wanted his evening treat, but I wasn't finished describing the birth plan:
"Paula also said that Kendra wants us at the hospital."
"In the delivery room?" Tom's eyes were wide.
"No, no.  Nothing like that," I said.  "I guess she means in the waiting room."
"I can't imagine it," Tom said.
"I can't either," I admitted.
"She's not going to give away her baby," Tom decided.  "My parents don't think so either," Tom added.  "I mean, it's a little girl!  She has her two boys.  She can't give away her little girl!"
We sat down in the chairs just outside our front door.  
"Maybe she's just trying to show the husband that she will do anything to reconcile the marriage?" I wondered.  "But then, when the baby comes, maybe she's secretly hoping that her husband will say to keep her?" 
Tom nodded his head.  
"That's plausible.  Or...maybe she's still in love with the bio dad!  And hoping he comes to her rescue.  Didn't you notice how proud she looked when she showed us his picture?  I think she still loves him."
"I don't know about that.  She has a restraining order against him!"
"So what?" Tom countered.  "You're the one always saying how an abusive attachment can be more powerful than any other kind."
He was right.  We couldn't dismiss the possibility that Kendra was using the adoption plan as a ploy to try and win back her lover.  Anything was possible.
"Oh my God!  I totally forgot to tell you something else!"  I exclaimed.  
"What?"
I undid Jersey's leash and let him back inside.  But he'd have to wait for his treat.  I couldn't bring this conversation indoors yet--I didn't want to talk about this in front of our kids.
"Kendra's husband is taking their two boys away for Christmas.  With his parents.  And Kendra is NOT invited."
Tom almost fell over.
"What?  You mean to tell me that Kendra's husband is going to abandon her for the holidays? And take away her two kids?  Right after she gives birth and gives away her little girl for adoption?"
"Yes, it's horrible, I know."
"Well, that right there...see...that right there...," Tom could hardly speak, he was so indignant.  "She's giving up a baby and he's going to leave her in the aftermath?  And that's how he plans to reconcile the marriage?"
"It's horrible, I know," I repeated.  
"I don't like this at all," Tom said.  "If that's the case, how can we really be sure that Kendra is sure?  I mean, she is getting abandoned at Christmas!  He's punishing her!"
"You're right."
"We have to talk to them in the hospital.  Forget Shelley and Paula."
"Definitely," I agreed.  "There's no way we're taking this baby home unless we're certain that this is really what Kendra wants."
And that's how Tom and I settled on our own version of a birth plan.

4.19.2012

# 24: HAVE YOU HEARD OF THE PUTATIVE FATHER REGISTRY?

WAKE UP DAD!
There's a man at the door who says you forgot to sign the putative father registry.
And now some weird family is gonna come and adopt me!

PAGE # 24

Monday
12/12/11
2:30 pm
"Jennifer!  Hi, it's Paula." 
 The social worker sounded enthusiastic.  I could practically hear the smile on her face.  I moved into the living room, the only spot in my house with decent cell phone signal. 
"Hi Paula," I replied.
"I just left my meeting with Kendra and Johnny.  Jennifer, I have to tell you, I believe she is going through with this," Paula stated.  "She has thoroughly processed this adoption plan.  She is so different from other birth moms I've worked with.  I'm telling you, she is the cream of the crop as far as birth mothers go.  I was so impressed with her..."
"Paula, wait," I interrupted.  "Hold on."
Of course I wanted to hear about the meeting with Kendra, but I had an unsettling conversation earlier in the day with the attorney, and it needed to take priority.  Immediately.
"Look, Paula," I started.  "I spoke with Shelley [the adoption attorney] earlier.  She told me that Kendra has a friend spying on the biological father's Facebook page.  And that the biological father is saying all kinds of terrible things about Kendra, about how she messed up his life, and that he wants to kill himself.  I'm very concerned about this," I explained.  "Everyone has been telling me that Bobby [the biological father] doesn't want anything to do with the baby, but now this?"
Paula made a slight sound--an indication that she was listening and that I should continue.
"Shelley is adamant that the biological dad does not want the baby.  She said that if he really wanted the baby, he'd be taking legal action to stop the adoption, not posting stuff on his Facebook page.  Does this sound reasonable to you?" I asked.  "I wondered whether perhaps Bobby does not know what legal steps to take, but the attorney claims that the specific directions are in the papers she served him, as well as her phone number.  She says that if he really wanted to try and block the adoption, he could just pick up a phone and call her.  That he's just trying to hurt Kendra with all the Facebook posts."
I was anxious.  Tom was away at a work meeting, and the attorney, obviously, had not been a comfort.  
"Look, Jennifer," Paula said.  "I know how Shelley comes across at times and you just have to remember that she's an attorney.  She doesn't have the patience for all the emotional factors involved.  I get it.  But she's right," Paula stated.  "If Bobby wanted this child, he'd call Shelley.  And sign the putative father registry.  He's not doing any of the steps toward parenting this child.  He hasn't even given Kendra any money.  In order to establish paternity, he needs to demonstrate financial support during the pregnancy."
"What about the suicidal threats he's supposedly making on Facebook?" I asked.  "I've worked in an inpatient psychiatric hospital, Paula.  It's impossible for me to just dismiss a suicidal threat without any kind of clinical assessment."  
"I know this is all very dramatic and overwhelming," Paula agreed.  "But this is just how adoption is.  Biological families are dysfunctional and they tend to act out all over the place.  I do not believe this guy is suicidal, not at all.  It's all posturing.  He's just trying to save face with his family and friends.  It's what a lot of these guys do."
"Save face?" I asked.
"Yes," Paula continued.  "He doesn't want the baby.  But he's not going to admit that to his family and friends.  This way, he makes Kendra the villain and himself the victim.  He gets everyone's sympathy if he loses this baby to adoption.  And he's done nothing to challenge the adoption."
Bobby needed to do 3 things to contest the adoption:
  1. Sign the putative father registry.
  2. Submit a signed affidavit attesting to his ability to parent the child.
  3. Send Kendra some money.
According to the adoption attorney, Bobby had failed to complete any of these three steps.  Moreover, if he didn't understand what he needed to do, he simply needed to call her for clarification.  Her contact information was all over the legal paperwork he'd been served over  a week earlier.

I was calming down, for sure, but being an obsessive-compulsive checker, I ran the whole Facebook drama past one of my best friends, Crystal.  Crystal is also a social worker, who, like Paula, does adoption home studies.  She's spent years working with kids in the foster care system too--and has seen more than her share of abuses.  She is 100 % ethical and devoted to the safety of everyone in all her cases.  I've listened to her vent her own frustration about 'the system' and know she will take every action necessary, including testifying in court, on behalf of her clients.  She is also an adult adoptee with a significant trauma history of her own.  She was adopted out of the foster care system at the age of five, but you'd never be able to tell.  She is a true survivor and a success story.  Her opinion is everything to me.

Crystal was in agreement with Paula:
"It does sound like the bio dad is just saving face with his friends and family.  Obviously, you cannot know anything for sure, but given all the information we have, it's pretty clear he's not interested in fathering this child," Crystal explained.  "But," Crystal warned, "I think you need to go into this with a different frame of mind.  You need to start thinking of this as a foster-adopt placement, because the birth dad has not signed off on the paperwork.  And until his 30 days are up, you and Tom are officially a foster family.  And no matter what is going to happen, you should just focus right now on giving this baby a safe place for her first weeks of life.  You and Tom and TJ and Sara are going to give this baby all the love she deserves, and even if the adoption falls through, you will always know in your heart that you gave her at least that."
Crystal and Paula were probably right, but I logged onto Facebook anyway, and tried to access Bobby's profile page.  Though his pictures were public, his wall was limited to friends only.  Again, his profile picture made me shiver.  But it was worse than the first time I had looked.  Before, he was pictured holding the dead corpse of a deer he'd obviously hunted, but now, the photo had been cropped.  He had cut himself out of the picture.  In fact, most of the deer was gone too.  All that remained was the animal's head:  its vacant eyes, the blood gushing from its mouth, the stained fur.
*** 
I could not stop myself from projecting every conceivable emotion, image, idea, etc. onto the biological parents.  They were mysterious, heartbreaking, terrifying, unknown lurking variables in this complicated equation of adoption.  And while I tended to thrust relational paradigms upon Kendra, I thought of Bobby, the bio dad, as some quantitative entity in my mind--like a pie graph.  Since I had absolutely no direct knowledge of him, I saw him as one giant circle cut into parts representing numerical possibilities.  I figured it was a 50/50 chance that he wanted to father the baby.  Out of the half a chance that he did indeed want to father the child, I divided this region in two parts (to account for possible reasons why he had not taken any legal action thus far).  According to my mental diagram, he was 1/2 deadbeat bio dad or 1/2 victim himself:  






The green half--Truly No Interest in Baby--requires no additional explanation.


The red quarter--Victim of Kendra Lying About Him:
Maybe he had sent Kendra money but she was lying?  
The orange quarter--Victim of Confusing Legal System:
Perhaps Bobby was struggling to decode the legal documents?  It seemed plausible that the man might be overwhelmed by the legal process and not have the resources to help him navigate the system.  
I mean, what the hell is a putative father registry?  I'd certainly never heard of one.  Where does one sign it?  Does one learn about it in public school?  Maybe the government gives you a pamphlet about it when you register to vote?  Or get your driver's license?  


Nowadays, it's not enough just to make the baby.  At least not for the man.  


If you:

  1. Are male
  2. And have had intercourse with a female in the last 9 months
  3. And are not married to said female
  4. And could have fathered a child
  5. And even if you're not sure
  6. And even if it was a one night stand
  7. And even if you don't know said female's real name
  8. And if you don't want your maybe baby adopted out
THEN...STOP READING THIS BLOG IMMEDIATELY!  AND GO SIGN THE PUTATIVE FATHER REGISTRY.


Of course, you'll need to know where to go sign--it's not so well advertised.  And God forbid your baby is getting adopted in a different state, then first you have to figure out which state.  Good luck getting that all accomplished in a short time frame.


Good luck indeed.

4.14.2012

# 23: TOUGH & TABOO TOPICS


PAGE # 23

Sunday
12/11/11
Mid-afternoon

TJ, our 16 year old, looked miserable.  
"What if I don't love the new baby as much as I love Sara?" he asked me.
"You mean because she's not going to be your biological sister?  Or just because you don't know if you can ever love another sister as much as Sara?"
TJ looked down.  "The first thing.  But I feel really bad about it."
"Honey," I said.  "Remember when I was pregnant with Sara?  Well, I was worried I wouldn't love her as much as I already loved you.  But when she was born, my heart just grew bigger."
"Yeah," TJ said.  "But this is still different."  
"Well, that's true.  It is very different."  
"And Gordon said something really awful about the baby.  It's so mean, I don't even know if I should tell you!"
Gordon was a waiter at one of our favorite restaurants.  
"I don't want you to get upset!" TJ exclaimed. 
TJ was pacing back and forth, something he always does when he's angry or frustrated.  He inherited this trait from Tom.  I, on the other hand, prefer to snuggle into a cozy spot with a pillow.
"Come on, sit down with me." I patted the couch.
TJ stopped pacing but he didn't sit.  He explained what had happened at lunch:
"Dad told Gordon about the adoption, and at first he seemed real nice about it.  But then, when Dad went to the bathroom, Gordon said that adopting the baby would be like buying a kid at Babies R' Us!  And that it was good because at least if we didn't like the baby--we could always return her!"
I wanted to punch Gordon.  
"And there's more!" TJ continued.  "This old lady was there, at the table right next to me, and she heard it too.  Even she yelled at Gordon that he was nasty!"  TJ finally collapsed onto the sofa.  I patted his back.  "And now I'm worried that we won't love the baby.  All because of that stupid Gordon!"
"That was a terrible thing to say to you.  And cowardly too," I added.  "He probably wouldn't say that in front of me or your dad, but I'm sure he realized you'd come and tell us."
Gordon's assault violated the humanity of everyone impacted by this adoption.  I thought of the baby and her already tragic beginning.  Of Kendra and her two little boys.  Of my two children who were trying to navigate the unexpected arrival of a little sister who would not share their genetic make-up.  Of my best friend, Crystal, who was adopted at the age of five after living in multiple foster homes, including an institutional setting.  


But although Gordon had made a terrible comment, it did give TJ an opportunity to bring up a taboo subject--would love for an adopted member of the family be the same as for a biological member?  I bet most people do wonder about it, even if it's not the politically correct thing to discuss openly.


TJ had other worries too: 
"And the other day, someone asked me what we're going to do if the mom wants the baby back?  What if we fall in love with the baby and then we have to give her back?  Then what?"
"That is something that I warned you about," I admitted.  "It's a possibility because the birth father hasn't signed off on the paperwork."
"So, he might take the baby away?" TJ asked.
"No, honey," I said.  "If the biological dad contests the adoption, then Kendra is going to take the baby back.  But she is adamant that the dad wants nothing to do with the baby."
"But what if Kendra decides that she wants her baby back?  Jim said she can't get the baby back after she leaves the hospital.  That the law in our state is really protective of adoptive families."
"TJ," I explained.  "Just because something is legal doesn't mean it's right.  If we take the baby home, and then Kendra changes her mind the next day, we will definitely give her the baby back."
"But what if she changes her mind a month later?"
"I think we would return the baby and hope to be included in their lives in the future."
"But what if she wants the baby back in a year from now?  Two years from now?"
"I think that would be different," I said.
"So, at what point in time do we know that it's okay to keep the baby, even if Kendra wants her back?"
"I don't know, honey."  And I really didn't.
TJ posed an excellent, if challenging, question.  There's always debate around contemporary moral issues and where to draw the line.  I was stumped.  But only on a philosophical level because I strongly believed that Kendra would be keeping this baby.
"It's really hard for me," TJ said again.  "Because how am I supposed to let myself get attached to her if I don't know if I am going to lose her?"
Another good question.
"And I feel like I'm not as important in the process either.  Like with Sara, I came to the ultrasounds and stuff.  But now, you and dad are talking about Kendra, and I haven't even met her."
"You're right, TJ, you are," I admitted.  "I want you to meet Kendra.  But I also don't want to intrude on Kendra's privacy.  I don't even know if she ever wants to talk to me again," I said.  "I'll ask the social worker about this tomorrow.  I'm sorry, honey, but that's the best I can give you right now.  I have a lot to think about too."
TJ seemed okay after our talk, at least for that evening.  I was definitely worried about him and Sara.  About what kind of impact this adoption would have on them.  During our home study, I had brought it up with Paula, the social worker.  What if we took a baby home, and then had to return her?  Was it fair to the two kids we already had to take such a risk?


The social worker had been super encouraging:
"Your kids are at the two perfect ages for this.  Sara is only two--she's not going to understand or remember any of this if the adoption doesn't work out.  And what an amazing opportunity this is going to be for your teenager!  Whatever happens, he is going to witness his parents doing a wonderful thing for a baby.  And for a birth mother in a very bad situation.  He's old enough to handle this and your little one is young enough."
Paula seemed to know what she was talking about.  She never even hesitated when I posed tough questions.  Adoption was her area of expertise.  And even though adoption was not my clinical specialty, I used to practice psychotherapy as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.  We had the same degree in common.  Talking with Paula was like finding another American when lost in some foreign land.  The attorney was horrible, but Paula seemed to speak my language.  So, I trusted her.  Simple as that.

4.12.2012

# 22: PLEASE KEEP YOUR BABY!




PAGE # 22


Saturday
12/10/11
10:00 am


My good friend, Tracey, who is also an adoptive mom, wanted the latest update.  I sent her the following text message:
The social worker spoke with Kendra over the phone.  She said Kendra sounded very put together, asked thoughtful questions, etc.  Kendra said at first that she only wanted to see the baby briefly after the delivery, but now thinks she should spend time with the baby to say goodbye.  She doesn't know what to do with her two boys.  Social worker said they should come to the hospital to meet the baby, take pictures with her, and meet us too.  Tom and I really thinking that there is no way she can give up her baby.  Can you imagine her taking pictures with the baby and her two boys?  There is no way the mom is going through with this!  
Tracey wrote back:
Ricky's birth mom took plenty of pics with him before she left and spent the night with him at the hospital.  Obviously know that she can change her mind, but any of them can.  It is impossible for us to imagine any of them giving up their kids, but it happens because they know it's best for the baby.  You can't put yourself in their position because you have never been in their position.  I can imagine giving the baby up.  She is 24 and can't afford the 2 kids she already has.  Plus, it's not the husband's baby!
I read Tracey's message a few times, but I wasn't convinced.  Kendra and Johnny (her husband) came from affluent backgrounds--they could definitely afford the two kids they already had.  The problem, financially, sounded more like a potential punishment from Kendra's in-laws. 


Johnny was not the baby's father.  His parents probably didn't want a grandchild around who was not their genetic lineage.  Since Johnny worked for his parents' business, perhaps his job and income were at stake?


Johnny had told us that his parents were not supportive of his reconciliation with Kendra.  They wanted him to divorce her.  But Kendra and Johnny were officially separated when she became pregnant with this baby girl.  They already had two little boys together.  This baby girl had two half brothers!  Even if Kendra's in-laws hated her, had they no compassion for their two grandsons who were about to lose their baby sister?  


I looked at Tracey's text message again.  The following line struck me:


You can't put yourself in their position because you have never been in their position.


This wasn't entirely true.  I had never been in Kendra's exact circumstances, but I did have a "crisis" pregnancy once upon a time.  I was unmarried, 20 years old, and a college junior when I got pregnant.  I was definitely not encouraged to keep my baby.  I did (TJ is now 16), but the hardest thing about that time in my life was not the actual baby--it was the attitude of other people.  I had to summon all my strength and courage to endure the judgment and constant criticism from society.


I felt terrible for Kendra.  How could she summon that kind of energy when she already had two children to care for?  Why didn't her own parents want to help her?  This was their grandchild!  I couldn't understand any of it.  


Tom shared my heartbreak, but was more optimistic:


"Everyone is going to fall in love with this baby girl when she is born.  Believe me, her family is going to beg her to keep the baby!"


We agreed that this would be the best outcome for the little girl.  We talked about giving Kendra some money, as a Christmas present, for her and the baby.  We wanted to help them.  We imagined that we would remain in contact.  Tom was certain that an adoption would take place, just not an adoption of the baby.  He was convinced that Kendra was going to adopt us-- as an aunt and uncle for her baby girl!


We were back to our rescue fantasy.  During earlier times, when Tom and I had casually discussed adoption, we always envisioned ourselves providing a home for a baby who had nothing.  But this baby had a beautiful family!


I read blogs and message boards online, but could not relate to other prospective adoptive couples.  Other couples were literally praying to get the baby--not secretly hoping that the real mom would choose to parent instead.  


"That's because you guys are not desperate," Tracey told me.  "When I was adopting Ricky, I just wanted a baby.  It's all I thought about."


I guess that's why I didn't find any online camaraderie.  I already had two biological children.  Kendra already had two biological children.  I was more psychologically identified with Kendra than with other hopeful adoptive couples--and I felt sadness and confusion.  


If there had been more time.  If this baby hadn't appeared out of nowhere.  If I wasn't racing around to prepare for a newborn--I might have called my former therapist and scheduled some emergency sessions.  


Adoption is portrayed in the media as this wonderful event, but actually it is a time of tremendous crisis.  Adoption always involves loss, trauma, and grief.  It may even involve coercion.  And the transfer of a life, from one family to another, imprints layers of mystery upon everyone involved. 


The image of a stork bringing me a baby was definitely fading away.  

4.07.2012

# 21: THE INTERLOPER


PAGE # 21

Friday
12/9/11
4:00 pm


I hadn't checked my emails all day.  After Tom and I arrived home from our fingerprinting appointment, I scrolled through my inbox for any new messages pertaining to the adoption.  There was a note from Shelley, the adoption attorney, from the previous day:
Hello,
I trust all went well with Paula [the social worker].  I know she will be speaking to Kendra and Johnny in the next few days.  
Kendra and Johnny really liked you both and are so happy you are going to go forward.  They do understand your concerns [about the birth father] and really believe everything will work out.  Kendra's Facebook "spy" said that the birth father posted something that he hurt his knee and needed a ride to the courthouse cause he couldn't ride his motorcycle.  She does not know if that was related to the criminal case or this one.  There were no more postings today.  I did not receive a phone call from him or a lawyer.
The attorney was trying to extinguish my concerns pertaining to the biological father. Sure, Tom and I were proceeding with the adoption plans; however, the birth father had not signed off on the adoption paperwork.  On the other hand, as Shelley noted in the above email, he also had not contacted her.  He had been served papers informing him of the adoption and he had done nothing to try and stop it.  He had exactly 30 days from the date of being served the adoption paperwork.  That meant he had until early January to stop the adoption.  It was only early December, and the baby was due any day now.


The subject of Bobby, the biological father, was one I brought up often, even though it seemed to irritate the attorney.  I'd ask a mere question about the man and Shelley would react as if I were an annoying child who kept pleading for another cookie.  Some examples of her blatant dismissal of Bobby's significance:  
"If this interloper does anything to try and mess up the adoption, it's not because he actually wants this baby!  He's just trying to hurt Kendra!"
"There's no way this interloper is ever getting this baby!  He has criminal proceedings coming up for his assault of Kendra and he doesn't even have a job!  No judge is going to grant him custody of this baby!"
"The interloper has no proof that he is the father.  And he can't get it.  The law protects Kendra's baby from any paternity testing because she is lawfully married to another man."
Shelley would rant and rave about the interloper, while I worried about a man named Bobby.  


Unfortunately, Shelley's language was contagious.  I didn't realize that I'd incorporated the word into my vocabulary until I referred to Bobby as "The Interloper!" during our home study.  Paula, the social worker, had corrected me immediately:  
"You really need to stop calling him that," she gently scolded.
"My gosh, I'm sorry," I said.  "That's what the attorney calls him all the time.  I guess I just got used to it."
"Well, it's preferable that you refer to him as the birth father."
"You know," Tom said.  "I'm not even sure what the word interloper means.  I never heard anyone use it before."
I had to admit--I had never heard the word used before either.  I could guess at its obvious meaning, but we Googled the word immediately.


The following definition appeared at the top of our search results:



in·ter·lop·er/ˈintərˌlōpər/

Noun:
A person who becomes involved in a place or situation where they are not wanted or are considered not to belong.
Synonyms:intruder

At the time, I did not give much thought to the topic of adoption language.  I was much too embarrassed, having used a word inappropriately.  


Was Bobby, the birth father, merely an intruder in all this if he contested the adoption?  He was the biological father!  


INTERLOPER.  Just the sound of it makes my stomach turn.


That kind of language dehumanizes a biological father.  It sends a covert message straight into the potential adoptive parents' brains:


He is not the father!  He has no rights!  He is a problem to be overcome!  He's nothing but a meddling sperm donor!


Think about it.  What goes through your mind when you hear the name "Bobby?"  Now, repeat the word "interloper" a few dozen times and analyze what impact that has on you.


Here's what I see when I say the word "interloper" repeatedly:


I see Shelley, the adoption attorney, waving a big red flag in my face.  


I never liked the attorney.  But only now that I am able to process our interactions, without the pressure of trying to get ready for a new baby, am I able to understand the full extent of her unethical behavior.  

4.04.2012

# 20: WHAT'S IN A GIFT?




PAGE # 20

Friday
12/9/11
2:00 pm


Tom and I were rushing around like lunatics.  We had already taken care of criminal background checks, and we still needed to obtain health exams.  The attorney had called earlier to report news from Kendra's latest obstetrical appointment:
"She might go any moment now!  Already 3 centimeters and having lots of those Braxton Hicks contractions!  Get on your list of things to do--no time to waste!"
Our next mission was to get our fingerprints taken.  We had almost arrived at the facility when I received a text message from Paula, the social worker, to inform me that she had scheduled an appointment to meet with Kendra the following Monday.  We sent a flurry of text messages back and forth, and then Paula simply called me.
"This is too much for texting," she said.
During the home study the previous day, I had expressed some concern about Kendra feeling obligated to give us the baby.  What if she changed her mind about keeping the baby, but then felt like she couldn't disappoint us?  I knew of a few people who proceeded with wedding ceremonies, even when they had doubts about the pending marriage, simply because they felt bound by wedding expenses and the expectations of family and friends.  Surely, it was possible that a similar effect could happen to a birth mother?  
"I wouldn't worry about that," Paula had assured me.  "When that kind of thing happens, the emotions are so high--a birth mother isn't going to be concerned about hurting anyone else's feelings."
I also fretted over the issue of birth mother gifts:
"I've heard it is customary to buy a birth mom a gift," I said.  "But what kind of gift?  What is appropriate?  How much money should be spent?"
I asked these questions because I was slightly uncomfortable with the whole notion of buying presents for Kendra.  This was likely on my mind because of my past profession as a clinical psychotherapist--the topic of both giving and receiving items/services to and from a client is one that is debated through graduate school and beyond.  


For example, imagine a therapist, who for whatever personal reason, gives something (say a free session) to a client.  Pretend it's for the client's birthday.  The potential danger is the establishment of a dynamic that renders the client feeling indebted to the therapist.  Moreover, the therapist is typically the person with greater power in the relationship.  


I'm not suggesting that the birth-mother & adoptive mother are dancing to the same tune as the client & therapist; however, the power imbalance is likely similar.  A birth mother is in a crisis situation.  An adoptive parent has resources (adoption is not exactly cheap--remember I was quoted the whopping price of $40,000).  The notion of giving a woman in crisis a gift, in exchange for her baby could be rendered problematic, in my opinion, especially given the power differential.  I did not want Kendra to feel obligated to us in any way.


On the other hand, I did want to give Kendra something meaningful and thoughtful.  I wanted her to have something concrete to hold onto--something that I had chosen specifically for her.  I wanted to give her a connection to me and the baby.  In fact, I wanted Kendra and I to remain in contact after the adoption.  I did not know at that time if Kendra hoped for the same.


So much of the adoption process is speculation and fantasy.  


I had only met Kendra one time.  


I really didn't know her at all.  


But I had already projected a wide variety of relational paradigms upon this mysterious woman.  Just yesterday, I was imagining her as a victim who needed my rescuing (in the form of me convincing her to keep the baby).  Before Kendra had picked us, I imagined her as a 'glorified teenager' who might judge my physical condition since developing multiple endocrine problems. And now, while I chatted on the phone with Paula, during the car ride to our fingerprinting appointment, I was beginning to envision Kendra as my co-mother of this unborn child.  


How many times would I transform this imaginary relationship between the two of us?  Could Kendra and I ever achieve a truer sense of each other?  Did she even want to?  


I wondered what kind of relationship we would mutually construct if given the opportunity to do so.


But I was way ahead of myself.  I was still on the phone with the social worker, discussing birth mother gifts.  
"Sorry Paula," I apologized.  "I'm afraid I didn't hear what you just said."
"A necklace," Paula suggested.  "A necklace is always a great gift.  A lot of couples get something with birthstones as a sentimental gesture."
 I spent the entire following week trying to pick the perfect necklace.  


The gift should have been the easy part.  When I asked Tracey how they chose a gift for their adopted son's birth mother, she shrugged:
"I can't remember," she said.  "I think we picked it up at the mall right before we went to take Ricky home."
I should have known then, that if I was struggling profoundly over this one decision--I couldn't even pick out a freaking necklace!--I probably had no business in the world of adoption whatsoever.  


The decision making was only going to get tougher. 

4.02.2012

# 19: SHAME, GUILT & PLAIN OLD SELF-LOATHING

PAGE # 19

Thursday
12/8/11
12:50 pm


The social worker arrived ten minutes early.  I was in my bedroom when I heard TJ, our 16 year old, open the front door.  I hurried into the foyer and introduced myself.  
"It's great to meet you, Paula."  I offered her water and led her to the dining room table.  "My husband ought to be home in a few minutes.  Should we wait for him?"
"I need to interview each of you anyway, so we can just start with you first," Paula suggested.
"What about me?" TJ asked.  "You need to interview me too, right?"  
 "Sure," Paula replied.  
 "I was in the delivery room when my sister, Sara, was born," TJ explained.  "And I've been helping take care of her ever since.  Especially when my dad has to travel for work.  That's when she really looks up to me like a father.  So, you see, I'm not just a brother--I'm my dad's understudy!"
"Well, then, I definitely need a full interview with you too," Paula smiled at TJ.
"Okay then, let me know when you need me!" TJ went to his room.
I liked Paula immediately.  She was warm and friendly, easy to speak with, and had a quick sense of humor.  She thoughtfully answered my questions and I never felt judged.  She was able to interact in a way that was personable and engaging, but still maintained appropriate boundaries.  
"How do I know Kendra really wants to do this?" I asked.
"Well, you can never know for sure.  There are birth moms who change their minds after delivery."
"No, I mean, how can I know she isn't being coerced into this by her husband or in laws?"
"That's part of my job, Jennifer," Paula assured me.  "After I leave here today, I'll be scheduling an appointment with Kendra too.  I'll be making sure that this is her plan, and that no coercion has taken place." 
"It's just that I don't understand why she is doing this," I explained.  "I mean, I'm so happy she picked us.  But I can't understand why she is doing this, so it just seems like maybe someone is forcing her into this?  You'll make sure and get back to me?"
Paula nodded.  "Yes, I will make sure.  I won't be able to share what Kendra talks about specifically.  That part is confidential.  Just as I am here to help you and your husband through this, I'm here to support and counsel Kendra as well," Paula said.  "But I can give you my overall general  impressions, just not the specifics."
I was comforted on multiple levels:  Paula would be looking out for Kendra's needs and providing support.  I was grateful that Paula would investigate whether Kendra's decision was self-initiated.  And...I trusted her because she promised not to breach confidentiality or make ethical violations.  This was in great contrast to the attorney, who had already revealed the birth father's identity to me.  I am not the kind of person who likes getting information on the sly; in fact, such proceedings induce anxiety in me and disable my ability to trust.


Tom arrived soon thereafter and Paula completed all the forms pertaining to each of us.  We had to answer questions about our financial capacity to support another child.  Provide information about our own families of origin.  The kind of stuff I expected.  Toward the end of the home study, after these more concrete details were ironed out, we had time to explore the psychological impact this adoption process was taking on us.  One of us, probably me, brought up our rescue fantasy:
"We just keep thinking that maybe we should be helping Kendra to realize she should keep her baby," I shared.  "I know that sounds crazy, and I know we are totally projecting stuff here, but I think we just feel so bad for Kendra."
Paula remained quiet.  She waited for me to continue.
"We just don't know how we can take her baby away from her!  How can we take home her baby and cause her so much pain?"  
The social worker looked me straight in the face and said:
"Jennifer, this is not your decision.  You and Tom are not making Kendra place this baby for adoption.  This is Kendra's decision.  And you are right--it is likely to cause her pain.  But she initiated this process--not you.  She needs you to be there for her baby.  To honor her decision.  To know that you are going to love her baby and take care of her baby.  That's what is most going to help her through this process."
I considered what Paula was saying.  What was I feeling just then?  Looking back, I think it was shame.  I was so worried about someone else manipulating Kendra into the adoption plan, I myself had completely failed to respect her very autonomy.  In fact, I was practically ready to talk her out of what was probably the most difficult decision of her life!  How could we have been so condescending and judgmental?  So self righteous?  


Paula seemed to read my mind:
"There's nothing wrong with your feelings.  Adoption is complicated.  It's normal to feel bad for the birth mother, even to feel guilty that you are getting a baby due to someone's crisis situation.  But you need to be able to love that baby, without any guilt over this.  I think once you have the baby in your arms, Jennifer, you are going to feel more empowered."
I felt like I needed to sleep for 100 years. 
"I hear you, Paula, I do," I said.  "It's a lot to process in such a short time.  We had talked about adoption, but we weren't even trying to adopt when this opportunity fell in our lap.  Exactly one week ago today, I thought I was going to Disney next week, not bringing home a new baby."
The social worker agreed:
"That is highly unusual.  People are usually waiting for a long time," Paula said.  "The other thing, too, Jennifer, is that you have two biological children.  Some adoptive families have never had a biological child.  But you have.  You know how hard this is going to be for Kendra.  And also," Paula continued, "a lot of adoptive families have already suffered through years of infertility and failed adoptions.  They've suffered so much loss, they might not be thinking about the birth mother as much as that they just want a baby.  It's going to be different for you.  You don't have that type of desperation."
Out of all the reasons we had hoped to adopt, desperation was not one of them.  But this too left me feeling somewhat guilty.  Like I was stealing someone's long awaited child.  I felt bad to take the baby from Kendra.  I felt bad to take the baby away from all the childless couples who were waiting for years.  I was having a hard time feeling good about any of this. 


My husband, on the other hand, had much more positive coping mechanisms.  After Paula left, he grabbed my hands and said:
"You need to stop doubting everything.  We are good people and we are a great family and this baby deserves the best life.  We need to start getting ready for our new daughter.  We've had our share of hard things to deal with, that's for sure.  Maybe we deserve to be lucky once in a while."
And that was the moment I started to let myself fall in love with Baby Lily.