I met Coley through the 2011 Adoption Bloggers Interview Project. She placed her son for adoption in 2001, and her blog  Living the Bittersweet Life, talks about her life as a birthmother. You can also find her at Coley’s Corner. Here are the questions she answered for me, and you can see my interview on her blog.

Tell me about your husband and kids.

I had my first son, Noah, in 1996 at the age of 19. Noah has Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy, and Autism.Things did not work out with his dad and I moved on. Noah’s currently 15 years old. He is definitely a handful but he is also a heart full too!

I became pregnant with Charlie in 2001 due to a failed depo provera (birthcontrol) shot. Charlie’s birthfather did not want to be involved in his life. After many sleepless nights, I chose open adoption for Charlie and placed him with his family after spending 3 days with him in the hospital.

I actually started dating my husband, J, when I was pregnant with Charlie. He was a great support to me during the placement process. Two years after Charlie was born we got married on a baseball field before a minor league baseball game. Charlie was at my wedding, although he was too small to participate. His Mom was a bridesmaid and his sister a flower girl.

What made you start blogging about your life as a birthmom?

I have a personal/family blog, Coley’s Corner (http://coleybelle.blogspot.com/) where I blog about family life, raising a child with special needs, and share lots of my craft projects. After awhile I decided I wanted a separate place where I could blog about my feelings about adoption and being a birthmother, thus The Bittersweet Life (http://livingthebittersweetlife.wordpress.com) was born.

What’s your favorite post and why?

My favorite post is titled Being a Birthmom is Bittersweet and in it I talk about some of the things I’ve experienced in open adoptionthat are sweet but also bitter at the same time.

How has your attitude toward adoption changed since Charlie wasborn?

Before Charlie was born, I didn’t know very much about adoption at all. Now, I have learned so much about adoption. Before I got pregnant with Charlie, if you had asked me a question about adoption, I probably would have told you it was a happy thing for all involved. How naïve I was! Now, I know that there is agreat deal of pain involved for all parts of the triad. I really think that adoption should be a last resort – if a Mother can parent, then I think she should at least give it a try. But there are still circumstances in which I think adoption is an appropriate solution. And although my circumstances in life have changed since I was pregnant with Charlie, I still know in my heart that I made the best decision I could for him at that point in time.

What were your hopes for Charlie when he was born? What are they now?

For the most part, I think my hopes and dreams for Charlie are just like the hopes and dreams of many other Mothers and they really haven’t changed much over the years. I hope that he is healthy, happy, and has a good life. I hope he grows up to be a good, well rounded individual. I hope that he finds love and happiness. I hope that he feels loved.

But where those hopes differ from those of other Mothers is that I hope he doesn’t feel abandoned by me. I hope he isn’t angry and I hope that he understands I made the best decision I could at the time. And I hope he knows that I love him – totally, completely, and unconditionally no matter what.

Happy Veteran’s Day, Nick

November 11th, 2011

Medals

Nick and I used to feel ambivalent about Veteran’s Day. It wasn’t an issue with the holiday itself. We just felt ambivalent about his entire involvement with the military.

Nick joined when we were both twenty years old and still in college. He earned a good salary for doing nothing but what he loved to do–which was go to school. His job after school would be teaching, which was his goal at the time. Go to school to be a teacher. The fact that he would be teaching for the Navy at a Navy school didn’t make much difference to him, because he knew he needed experience to see if he was good at teaching and if he wanted to do it for the rest of his life.

After Nick graduated from the University of Dallas with his BS in Math, we moved to Charleston. He taught at the Nuclear Power School, and we both started our MA degrees at the College of Charleston. His was paid for by the Navy. We bought a tiny house that was financed by the Veteran’s Administration.

Every man and woman who works in the engine room of a Navy carrier or submarine started at the Nuclear Power School. They endure a high-paced, physically and emotionally demanding year-long program of math, physics and chemistry along with healthy doses of mechanical, electrical and nuclear engineering.

Nick learned a lot, to put it mildly. He sometimes chafed against military strictures and schedules, but he loved his students. He worked hard for them, and they loved him for it.

After Nick finished his active duty requirement, we were still ambivalent. But he didn’t want to leave it behind completely. We had this idea that if he could have a career in the reserves, he would get a healthy retirement package and we would never have to pay more than a few thousand dollars a year in health insurance, no matter how many kids we had. And that’s true.

Retirement is important. And goodness knows health insurance is important. But I think more than that, the Navy had started to be a part of his identity. So after his four years of teaching, Nick decided to sign up with the Naval Reserves.

We moved to Boston, and each of us started a PhD program. The GI Bill, a veteran’s education benefit, has supplemented our meager graduate student incomes for three years, and we will continue to receive it for two more years.

Nick started to do his reserve work in Newport, RI. He helped different people with research projects that (felicitously) were similar to what he studies in his PhD program.

Then he got deployed to Afghanistan. To make a long story short, it was kind of a mistake. No names named, but it didn’t have to happen. We were mad. We were sad. We had just been planning our second adoption, and I was just starting to get good work done in my program.

But in the midst of the drama, Nick was kind of happy about all of it. He felt validated, like now he was REALLY in the military, and really deserved all these amazing benefits we’ve been given.

Then there was the year he was gone. It was terrible, long, lonely and stressful for both of us. But something changed about our ambivalence to the military. Suddenly, it was clear that the work he was doing was good. He was Officer in Charge of Strength Management in Kabul, responsible for personnel accountability of over 100,000 people. He developed a desperately-needed software program and reporting procedures to enable the force reduction that we’ve heard so much about in the past year.

He did good work. He came home. Now, when people thank him for his service, he doesn’t look at his shoes and mumble a response. He doesn’t feel guilty because they don’t know he’s never been deployed. Now, he feels like he deserves the praise. And he does.

When Nick was gone, I took a year off of work. I just couldn’t do much because we decided that if Nick was going to disappear from our son’s life, we couldn’t just put him in daycare or get a full time nanny. He couldn’t have everything change at once.  I had to explain my decision to several people in my program, and it was awkward at times. Most people understood and were supportive, but I raised some eyebrows.

Academia is by and large a self-described socially and politically liberal crowd. The military is an awkward topic. Nick and I didn’t talk about it with people in our programs. I’d say we even went so far as to hide it. Because we were ambivalent. We were ashamed. So when I had to tell people he was being deployed, a few people who hadn’t known Nick was a military man said to me, “Oh, I guess he joined the military because it paid for his college.”

That would be an easy way to explain it. And on at least one occasion, I let the comment speak for itself, thereby presenting Nick and myself as once-young, gullible children who thought the military sounded nice because they give a “free” ride.

But it wasn’t that at all. I can’t say the military is all bad, and I can’t say everyone in the military is bad except for the young men and women who get suckered into serving.

First of all, Nick didn’t get a free ride from the military. He already had a free ride to college. He got a salary from them.

Secondly, we weren’t suckered into it. Nick wanted to teach. They paid him much more than he would have made as a teaching assistant in his masters program.

Thirdly, despite the bad things that the military sometimes does, despite their colossal disorganization and the way they waste money, despite the fact that recruiting often isn’t in the best interest of the young people who are recruited, it’s not all bad. Like almost any organization, it is filled with fallible, not-so-good people. It is also filled with good people who want to do the right thing. And the not-so-good people and the good people are often the same people. Because that’s how human beings are.

I’m not a military supporter, per say. I lean toward pacifism. But what I’m not ambivalent about anymore is Nick being in the Navy.

Last week, I took out all Nick’s medals from his Afghan duffel bag. I put them in a row on the shelf in our living room. And I cried. Not just because it’s been a hard year. Not just because the transition to normal life is hard. But because the medals, which used to be just objects of propaganda in my eyes, now have a rich and personal history.

Happy Veteran’s Day, Nick.

My brother Joseph and his wife Amy have a baby girl, Helen Rose. She is nine months old now, but I wrote this poem the day after she was born. It’s not for her, exactly. It’s for her Dad.

I’ve been thinking a lot of my brothers and sisters, and how many of us are raising our children when it seems to me like we were just children ourselves. I have fourteen nieces and nephews. Another will be born next week. Another in April. One of my sisters will welcome a child adopted from Poland in the coming year. Then there’s our second child via domestic adoption, who is either a day or a year away (who knows?).

That will make 19 cousins on my side of the family. The world is full of beautiful things, and these children are truly beautiful.

 

List

 

If we’r e taking stock,

I’d say this is what we have:

 

The summer we dragged a mattress

To the creek, floated it above the falls

And rode like Huckleberry Finn

Over tadpoles and strings of rocks;

 

Also sunburns and burnt marshmallows—

We dug holes in the backyard

When no one was watching,

And built fires to roast potatoes;

 

Built earthen pots from clay we found ourselves,

Dug it up by the creekbed and it was always

Under fingernails and dried up in our hair;

 

Slung boards fifteen feet up and nailed them in

The tree, climbed up ladders to read or be alone—

Looked down between the slats at the lawn below

Until it seemed like another world;

 

We climbed over the swingset when it had no swings,

Leapt from bar to bar like the last children and thought up

What the world was like when things were new,

Flashing with hope and the cry of warming winter bulbs.

 

Barefoot children in a world of hurt,

We sung like mockingbirds

And cut the Easter lilies for our mama,

Cradled them like babies of our own.

 

All around us, the shining worlds of joy and work,

The autumn fells, the winter flames,

The first strong and hopeful cry

Of each new child that wove us together.

 

I’d say these are the things we have:

The shining primal hurt,

The love we can’t escape

Or throw away or price too low.

 

The happiness of recognition,

The weight of our sorrows

And the gold feathered sheen

Of sunshine on a row of jeweled lights.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adoption is showing up a lot these days in TV storylines. Grey’s Anatomy is taking another stab at it this season, as Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey’s characters try to adopt Zola, a baby from Malawi who has spina bifida.

I dip into Grey’s once every few years, and every time I get caught up in the drama: I’ll admit I love it. Especially the talent and emotional realism on display when Pompeo and Dempsey interact. They’re like magic together. Seriously. It’s true, even if it’s said a little too much by adoring fans and talk show hosts.

Here’s the super-sweet and well done scene where Derek proposes adopting Zola to his wife.

Adding a person to the Derek/Meredith love story is a great way to enliven a plotline that’s getting pretty L-O-N-G in it’s eighth year. A love triangle, lets say. But without too much jealousy and backbiting. Any baby would do, really. But a kid with medical problems? That fits in well with the hospital scene. They can throw all sorts of health crises at her to fuel the drama and have an excuse to have a cute baby on set. The adoption process? LOTS of drama.

So you see I know that Grey’s is primarily about drama. That’s the deal–it’s a prime time soap opera. But its producer Shonda Rhimes and Ellen Pompeo have spoken publicly  about wanting to depict the adoption in a realistic way. They want the show to spill over into reality, to circulate socially and start discussions, contribute to the gradual breakdown of stereotypes and prejudice against adoption (both of which are rife, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Rhimes chose the most controversial adoption pairing she could: a black child and two white parents. (Revision: More controversial would have been an African-American child instead of an African child, but that’s also is a topic for another time.) They could have tried to adopt a caucasian baby like Lisa Cuddy on House, whose toddler is only paraded around when we need to be reminded of how complicated Cuddy’s life is.

But the Mer/Der/Zo configuration makes a real statement about the possibilities of multi-racial family groups occuring even when both parents are white. (And even though Angelina and Brad make it seem like old-fashioned stereotypes of matching families are a thing of the past, believe me: they’re not.)

This storyline has SO MANY possibilities for real discussions about the difficulties white parents have in parenting children of color. These are real problems, real questions. Can they handle the pressures of being a “visible” family, always drawing stares? Can they give their children strong and meaningful connections to other people of color? Can they successfully recognize racial difference without making it a point of precious special-ness or a one-dimensionsal attribute?

Did Zola’s social worker ask Meredith and Derek anything about these issues? No. In fact, Zola’s race has become discursively, if not physically, invisible on the show. The social worker thinks they’ll make great parents because they’re doctors that can understand Zola’s medical problems. The other doctors comment on how perfect they are as Zola’s parents because they’re doctors. No one ever says anything about Zola’s skin color.

Hmmmmm.

Why does it matter that she’s black? Isn’t Grey’s just representing a world that we would like to exist? Where no one would look twice at a family like this one?

That would be a great world. But that world won’t exist until we’ve dealt with a myriad of political problems surrounding adoption. For example, how black families interested in adoption are not recruited by adoption agencies as often as their white peers. How black kids make up a disproportionate number of the children in the foster care system, and black families are targeted more for intervention by DCF than white families. How poverty, which disproportionately affects people of color, makes it hard for black mothers to parent their children and black families to stay together. How children of color raised by white parents in the US have spoken up about the difficulties they encountered and alienation they felt in all-white neighborhoods, all-white schools, and all-white churches.

So for now, we have to have discussions about how white parents can parent kids of color. I’m not targeting anyone specifically here, just myself and anyone who wants to think about this issue. Our son is partly Hispanic and we get LOTS of stares and questions in public. One day we might adopt an African American child or a biracial child. Believe me, the stares and questions will increase. It will become even more of an issue we’ll have to deal with constantly as a family.

I wish Grey’s would mine some of those questions. If Rhimes really wanted the adoption process to be realistic, her realism on this point is an epic fail. Unless she’s copying all those agencies that cater to white parents’ desires to think that love is enough, and race doesn’t matter. Or, in Meredith and Derek’s case, it’s not that love is enough. It’s just enough to be a doctor.

_________________________________________

{After I wrote this, I watched the Season 8 premier. It turns out it’s not enough to be a doctor. You also have to not do crazy things like run off with the baby you have temporary custody of and worry people into thinking you’ve kidnapped her. Point still holds, though. Still nothing about the “transracial” part of this potential adoption.}