I wrote the other day about the latest adoption plot on Grey’s Anatomy. Shondra Rimes, the producer, and Ellen Pompeo, who plays Meredith Grey, have spoken publicly about wanting to explore adoption in the show. And after an appearance on The View, some media sources cited Pompeo as “defending transracial adoption.” I happily looked up the video clip, and found that she does just about the opposite of defending transracial adoption.

Early on in the interview, Whoopi Goldberg asked her if she had gotten any backlash from the storyline of white parents trying to adopt a child of color.

Pompeo said, “Well, no one can say anything to me because I HAD a child of color.”

Here’s the clip.

So, when thrown a question about backlash from the show’s plot, Pompeo took the question personally–”no one can say anything to me.” Goldberg’s question is extremely culturally pertinent. They could have had a great conversation on the issue.

Pompeo could have talked about the challenges of  transracial adoption. She could have affirmed that, with the right tools and attitude, white parents might successfully parent a child of color that is not biologically related to them. Instead, she does that thing that makes adoptive parents cringe. That word that Pompeo so heavily accents–had–carries an idiomatic, physical meaning. She meant, “I gave birth to a child of color.” {As in “When did she have the baby?”} By answering Goldberg’s question as she did, Pompeo asserts that she can parent a child of color successfully because of her ability to conceive, carry, and birth that baby.

Pompeo’s statement has nothing to do with defending transracial adoption. She avoided the question of adoption altogether.

The rest of the conversation on the video is an embarrassing reminder that most celebrities can’t talk about substantial issues in an intellectual manner. I know the format of The View is casual, and I know Pompeo was probably nervous and taken aback at the situation. All of that aside, I really think Pompeo should show how smart and accomplished she is by hiring a media consultant who can help her speak about important issues in stressful situations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Third Child

August 3rd, 2011

I haven’t told many people, and I didn’t want to for a while. It was a secret I wanted to hold close. And people don’t talk much about these things anyway.

I had a miscarriage. Nick was home on leave for three weeks. For the second time in our marriage that I know of, I was pregnant, and we lost a baby.

I thought: No. No more loss.

It’s so different this time. I feel like I actually know what is going on, that I’m psychically aware. But at the same time, I am more confused. And what I’m thinking about the most is how small and mysterious our baby was. So so so small. When I was younger and miscarried, I felt impelled to name the child. Mary John. And this baby? I just don’t want to.

I am always saying people grieve in different ways, but in the past I had assumed that it would be almost universally good for someone to name a lost baby. And it does good for people. It counteracts a collective silence about miscarriage. It helps us name not only our children, but our grief.

But right now, at least for the time being, I have a confusing relationship with this child we have lost. I feel like she’s so mysterious that I can’t claim her with a name. I can’t claim her actuality or potentiality or pretend like she is really mine. This is what I’m feeling. I don’t like it. I want to feel sure about her, to embrace her and call her mine.

That’s what hurts. She’s not mine. Children never are, whether they are born alive or die early like uncut gems buried in the earth. Whether they are biological or adopted, whether they are close to you or independent.

Our joy, our great sacrifice, what we cannot help but do, is to love them anyhow.

How to Count Your Children

April 6th, 2011

I was going to write a post about fertility issues in my immediate family, but on second thought I realized I should ask permission before I start talking about my siblings’ varying levels of (in)fertility. I think that would be smart. So, that topic…maybe another day.

But my parents’ fertility is free game. They gave up their privacy years ago to gawkers and political commentators, rude people in public places, and their childrens’ friends, who, like Michael in Mary Poppins, stood with their mouths open in disbelief when they found out how many kids are in the family.

This photo was taken Christmas 1980, when I was two weeks old. I'm in love with the expressions on my siblings' faces. From the left: Rosemary, Jeanne, Catherine, Mary, Ever, John, Thomas.

I try to not tell people how many siblings* I have, because I’m usually not up to the task of dealing with their reaction. I should just start saying, like Mary Poppins (who is, as you remember, practically perfect in every way) “Close your mouth, X. We are not a codfish.”

My parents have twelve (12) children. Yes, I said twelve. Two parents, twelve children. Four boys. Eight girls. No twins. No octuplets. Yes, my mother is still alive.

Technically, one of my sisters is adopted. And one of my brothers died. But there are still twelve of us.

“What do I say when people ask how many children I have?” my mother says. I tell her to count Johnny, the one who died. “Say twelve.”

But since I’ve been writing this blog, since my own miscarriage and the miscarriages of my sisters and sisters-in-law and friends, I want to ask her, “What about the miscarriage?”

We should be able to say, “Thirteen.” In the ideal world, people wouldn’t count all the heads and then say, but where are the missing ones?

So, thirteen children. Ten biological and alive, one adopted and alive, two biological and in another world.

But let’s start counting more.

What about John Michael, the one year old we fostered for two weeks when I was in high school? The baby I attached to fiercely, and wept over as his abusive father carried him away screaming?

By some accounts, fourteen.

What about the neighborhood kids, the friends who went in and out of the house, ate dinner with us, said the rosary with us, drank up the chaos and games and music and fighting like they were in a magical world?

There are all sorts of ways to count your children.

Take twenty-two year old Katie, an American woman who moved to Uganda and, almost without planning it, adopted fourteen girls. She lives with them in a little house and cares for countless other children and adults who are turned away by other people. Read her blog; it’s among a handful that made me change the way I think about the world.

Someone recently asked me, after a long performance of codfish-gawking and rude comments about my parents choices, “Can you see yourself with twelve children?”

I think she wanted to confirm that I had completed my narrative of progress away from my Southern, Catholic, conservative roots to a glorified form of feminism.*

“Yes.” I said. “You never know where your children will come from.”*

I wanted to say–“I’ll take twenty.”

* “Siblings” is a word that bothers my brother Tom. He says he doesn’t like it because it doesn’t make gender distinctions. But here’s my counter argument: It takes too long to say “I have eleven brothers and sisters.” I like the abbreviated “I have 11 siblings.” Plus, gender distinctions really kicked our butts. One of my brothers has nightmares about having eight sisters who nag him about everything from wardrobe choices to his career. And then he wakes up and it’s true.

*I’m just saying, people, there are many kinds of feminism. I’m not axing my “past” for any ideologies. I was particularly annoyed by how she assumed I would say disparaging things about my parents.

*Please don’t worry about my sanity. Saying I could see myself with twenty children was just a manner of speaking. Maybe.

Surgery

October 15th, 2010

*written January 2009*

My doctor (the only one I’ve ever trusted in my life) told me I need to have surgery for endometriosis. That was a year ago, and I finally decided I should do it.

There was this part of me that didn’t want to. I knew it would help me feel better, help a lot of my pain. But for so long I wondered and wondered and wondered if I would get pregnant…that monthly cycle of anticipation and disappointment, surface nonchalance and sudden despair, constantly being pulled back from the everyday into the realm of what my body cannot do.

I didn’t want to go back there. The adoption process has been kind of difficult, but so healing as well. Just knowing that even if there are disappointments or failed matches on the way, we will have a child to love. To love us. It was so good to move on, after years of berating my body for not doing what it’s supposed to.

Not that the grief associated with infertility goes away. But like any grief, it gets easier with time. It’s part of my history, the history of my marriage. It’s part of my identity. My everyday, here-I-am. But not an everyday, terrible, heavy stone I carry in my heart.

So that’s why I waffled and hemmed and hawed for so long about this surgery. Despite the fact that it’s principally about making me healthier, it also opens up the possibility (or the thought of the possibility) that my wacky hormones will take a turn for the better, reverse themselves, start doing what nature intended. Maybe I’d even ovulate!!

I finally scheduled the surgery. With a surgeon named Dr. Philosophe. How could I argue about being operated on by someone with a name like that? I loved him. As much as you can love a surgeon. They do cut you open. Cut things out of you. And he cut A LOT of things out of me.

I woke up from the surgery crying. Just not knowing where I was, not able to see. I hear this voice asking me why I’m crying and like a child, a very little child I call out Will you please hold my hand?

And someone did. I couldn’t see who. My vision was blurry for so long. She squeezed my hand and I hit hard against the reality that I had been unconscious, vulnerable, that I didn’t know what had happened to my body. Not really. I couldn’t ever, really. All I remember is taking a pill, a moment in the operating room hearing an 80′s song on the radio, then waking up sobbing.

Of course the morphine helped with that. Later on I was singing the praises of my life and babbling to my sisters over the phone about how happy I am and just so sure everything will work out. Everything’s just wonderful. If I have all adopted chidlren or some biological and some adopted, it’s all okay. I’m okay now.

As if a surgery could fix my psyche. I heard Nick tell them over the phone, She’s acting VERY happy–must be the morphine. And I remember thinking, Now why is he saying that?

For the five days after the surgery, Nick had to be out of town. So my sister-in-law took care of me. I laid on my couch for about 23.5 hours a day, sleeping and thinking and sleeping. Remembering when I had my wisdom teeth out. I remember sleeping on the couch then, and my younger brother coming out in the middle of the night every three hours to make sure I took my pain medication. Remember thinking how sweet that was. And how sweet my sister in law was, bringing me tea when I could finally drink, soup when I could eat.

On the fifth day, I sat up and started adding applique and embroidery to some tiny newborn clothes. We were almost matched with a woman who is due in about a week. But she disappeared. And while I was adding tiny stitches to these tan knit pants, a little picture of an apple tree, I realized that little baby girl, who we already called Laura, wouldn’t ever wear the pants. Or the tiny white shirt I sewed a heart onto. I knew her mother wouldn’t be coming back. But I kept on sewing. A little wool bird onto a shirt. A tiny flower on a hat.

So this week I’m back to school.  My body feels strange. I feel estranged from it. Like a wide wound I can’t escape.

And these tiny clothes in the top drawer of my dresser. So sweet. So sad.

One Time: Miscarriage

July 13th, 2010

A comment by Ann on my “Water” post made me think about miscarriage. She wrote:

“Yes, water. I used to listen too and I still do. To me it is like going inside of yourself, to a place somehow familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. When swimming with a new little life the quiet under the water makes me feel as if they can hear me praying, “please stay with me this time.”

We don’t talk about miscarriage enough. I have so many family and friends who have lost babies, and many of those people have told me they feel they can’t talk about miscarriage as a “real” loss. If you’re someone who never grieved a miscarriage because you didn’t have time, or didn’t have anyone to talk to, or thought that you didn’t have the right to grieve, let yourself be sad. Find some way to think about and commemorate your loss and your child.

Write about it here, tell a friend, join a support group, pray about it, write it in your journal, or talk about it with your spouse. Take time to grieve, no matter how long it’s been.

Part of our story is below.

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There was only one time in the past eight years I knew for sure I was pregnant. I was barely twenty-two, married seven weeks, and I was five weeks pregnant. The one child ever conceived in my body made her appearance in the first two months of my marriage.

The morning the bleeding started we had a class to attend. But the professor had said he didn’t care if we missed two classes; it was the third that would earn us a warning. I remember his words and even the inflection of his voice: You can go see the Pope, you can go to a baseball game, you can sleep in for all I care. I don’t even want to know.

So my husband went to class while I stayed home. I sat in our apartment for a while, thinking not of the baby but just feeling the hyper-reality of my skin and my body, the concentrated feeling of skin and body and blood. Then I walked to campus and went to the chapel, a cold brown church I loved to sit in. I lay down on the stone floor and touched the cold with my hand, felt the embrace of the cavelike walls. I walked up a path to the building where the class was to wait for Nick.

There is an atrium in that building–a simple fountain in the middle. A collection of wrought iron tables and chairs around it. When Nick came out, he sat down with me while I cried in this atrium. I remember the sound of the water. I remember his face. And I remember our professor walking out from a hallway, looking at us, then going across the way to the registrar’s office. He emerged with a yellow slip of paper, waved it in my direction, then left the building. It was a silly slip warning me I had missed two classes and was “in danger of failing.” I found it in my mailbox a week later. And for the life of me I can’t let that go. The promise that he didn’t care if we missed two classes. Then this carbon copied paper waved in my face and delivered to the mail room.

The sadness of it seems to strike me almost more now than it did then. Removed from the visceral pain, I see myself as a character who deserves pity and love. Caught skipping a lecture because it seemed like the right thing. An observance, the smallest thing I could do for that disappearing child of my youth.

And then this professor waving a piece of paper in my face.

The black wrought iron, the beautiful fountain, the sun through the skylight, the yellow slip of paper. When I remember the feeling of these things, I know I never forgave him.

He: a bad day, annoyed with a student who appeared to be flaunting her absence by sitting outside his classroom.

Me: iron, water, sun, child. Gone.

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