Still room in my lap for you

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, they say. Try scorning a toddler.

grinning mother & daughter

Pre-nap, pre-meltdown selfie with Natalie.

Except I’m not scorning my still-a-baby toddler. My sparkling laughter, speaking eyes, throw-a-tantrum-like-no-other Natalie. Our surprise child. But not our only surprise child—because now Grayson has joined us.

Precious Natalie, there’s still room in my lap for you. But when Grayson cries and I pick him up, you think he’s ousting you. You think I’m choosing him over you. Even as I beckon you to come join Grayson in my lap, you scream and run the other direction, looking back at me with betrayal spilling from your eyes, coursing down your cheeks.

Such was nap time today.

Schedules thrown off, with Daddy gone and not able to take Madeleine to preschool. Five minutes before loading you three into the car, I opened your bedroom door. You slept on. I started a load of wash across the hall, opened your curtains, turned off your sound machine, turned on your light. You slept on. [Why oh why can’t you do this on a Saturday?]

Finally, I lifted you out of bed and onto the changing table. Groggy, you did not protest the diaper change.

Despite this start, the morning went smoothly—until nap time. Grayson’s game also was thrown off in the morning, never getting a solid nap between preschool drop-off and pick-up. He couldn’t settle in for his afternoon nap, so I let you play on with big sister while I fed and rocked him. Nap time crept later than usual.

mama reading to children

Not that long ago, my lap held only two–and they took up that space well.

Finally got Grayson down, and went to change your diaper, which you greeted with twisting, turning, and wailing. Then Grayson was crying, and I set you free.

You did not like this, me putting you down and picking up him. That is when you ran from me, screaming your unintelligible accusations. Asking 4-yr-old Madeleine to watch Grayson, I put him in a swing and picked you up, taking you to your room, hearing Grayson cry behind me.

But it was too little, too late for you. In your mind, I never should have let you go.

So you did what you’ve begun doing recently: Fell apart completely. Screaming like a wounded animal, writhing, flailing, sobbing. I did what I’ve done before: Hold on tight.

I don’t know what you need, sweet Natalie. To be put in bed and left alone? You’re not even two. You can’t tell me what you feel. You’re angry. I suspect you’re hurt. I suspect you’re insecure. But I can only guess.

I can only imagine. As I rock your writhing body, I remember my lowest time in the midst of infertility, the most difficult month of my 10-year marriage, when something your daddy did [or did not] do struck me in my center and shattered me. I remember clutching my arms around myself and sinking to the kitchen floor. And I remember his arms tightening around me when I ordered him to let me go. I remember my anger burning toward him and my unacknowledged desperation that he press through my anger. He never let go.

G&N-happy

Happy to see you…

G&N-worried

…worried about your intentions.

So today I held you in the rocking chair as you struggled to get free. I thought of how I’ve struggled against God, accusing him for not doing what I want him to do, feeling his betrayal. Running from him while pleading with him to tell me he sees me, loves me. At the time, I did not feel his arms around me; not in my anger. He let me writhe, kick, hit, scream. Eventually, I felt the Strength holding me tight. I knew he waited for me.

As I superimposed my adult experiences on your tiny-but-mighty self, I did not know if I was right to hold on. Did you feel constricted or secure? Hated or loved? God, help Natalie always know you hold her. Help her know you’ll never let go. Help her know how deeply loved she is.

I cried as I prayed out loud, stroking your hair damp with sweat and tears. Prayers meant nothing to you.

I could hear Grayson screaming, Madeleine unable to soothe or distract him. The face he knew best was out of his vision. He was tired, distraught.

Conflicted, I set you in your crib. Left you calling for me. Went for Grayson and strapped him to my front in the baby carrier. He quieted immediately. He was secure. I came back to you, now standing at the crib’s rail, holding both loveys, sobbing “Mama! Mama!” But then you saw him.

This is when the world fell apart. You flung yourself across the crib, refusing to come to me. Kicking and screaming renewed. Endless, endless sobbing. With Grayson on my front, I could not pick you up if you would not come to me.

All out of coping mechanisms, I began to sing, and sing louder over your wailing, touching you when you came close enough. Be Thou My Vision; Great Is Thy Faithfulness. My voice breaking into sobs. “Be thou my wisdom and thou my true word” – please God, I need wisdom.

Grayson asleep, snuggled against Mama’s chest, I sang. But you could not be comforted. You were beyond your ability to calm yourself.

Once again I sought my eldest daughter, grateful, so grateful for her. Beckoned her to come with me, to watch Grayson as he slept, to alert me if he cried. I would not hear him above you.

Then back to you, Natalie, sobbing still. Finally, Grayson no longer in your rightful space, you came to me. Only minutely calmer, you let me hold you; moments later, arching your back.

“Do you want to go to bed? Are you ready to be in bed?”

“Uh-huh,” you said, crying.

Back in bed, this time you flipped onto your tummy. You wanted the blanket over you. You let me touch you, rub your back, as your cries subsided into gasping breaths. Finally, calm.

siblings on a couch: infant brother, toddler sister, and preschool sister

Little bro, Biggest sister, Big sister

And finally, I’m starting to get it. Mothering is my most important task in this stage. That’s hard for me. It’s a stage I want to get through, move on to the next stage, have more time for what nourishes me. My brain wants so much outside of this role, but my children take everything; need everything. Mothering takes everything. At the risk of sounding “so 1950s,” I say this:

I can do nothing better than spend time with my 4-year-old, so she knows she’s still valuable even though she’s no longer the so-cute baby she wishes she were. Nothing will settle deeper into the fabric of this world than holding my nearly-2-year-old, building into her now the knowledge that she is deeply loved. And every second I spend nursing our infant—and there are a lot of those seconds—is nourishing a heart, mind, and soul that will in turn touch other hearts, minds, and souls.

An independent spirit like mine needs to ponder this, accept this. Stop fighting, and instead, live into this. Stop thinking about what I’m missing; look instead at what I’ve been given.

Grayson slept. Natalie slept. I wrote. And when both awakened, I nursed Grayson…and Natalie walked over to us, putting her head into my lap, stroking Grayson’s leg as he fed.

 

*Any article, speech, sermon, or book can address only a limited view. It is not meant to do more than make a point about one slice of reality. Yet often readers & listeners can feel that this one slice denigrates or invalidates their own experience. With that in mind, I make these disclaimers:

  1. Not all tantrums are made nor treated equally. Some of Natalie’s fits have left her isolated on the couch until she chose to calm down. This article is not a treatise on how to handle tantrums.
  2. Yes, my needs as a woman, as a wife, mom, writer, introvert, etc., are important. I have no trouble believing that. Don’t worry about me on that score.

Keeping things even-steven

One year.

Correction: More than a year.

More than a year since I last wrote about my family, our journey.

mother & daughters - Easter morning

Finally, my “baby-brain” is receding. Natalie sleeps through the night, and nursing is waning…though that not-so-little one isn’t about to wean herself. No, no; I’ll have to figure out this one without her assistance. Still, my sleep-while-they-sleep naps are shorter and my mind is sharper. Feels good to have my fingers on the keyboard again.

I’ve long considered the irony that wove its way through our worry about having one adopted and one biological child. Because, of course, we planned our biological child no more than we planned our adopted child. “Family planning” escapes us. But God — How often have I said but God…? — found (continues to find) ways to keep the scales of our concern re: our eclectic family balanced. We all know life isn’t fair or “even,” but I’ve been surprised by how “even” the supposed differences actually are for our daughters.

Giving birth is cheaper — right?

Ha! That’s what we thought. $100 copay, and take our grassroots baby home.

Not when you have preterm labor at 28 weeks and spend three weeks in the hospital drinking chocolate milkshakes. Not when baby arrives nine weeks early and substitutes NICU for my womb for four weeks. And, finally, not when occupational therapist and physical therapist appointments follow us past the first year. Our adoption costs were refunded via tax credit. Our out-of-pocket medical expenses for our biological child are not. So if our daughters ever get into the who-costs-more argument (not uncommon in families like ours), they’ll soon learn neither has a stone to throw. Not that our daughters will throw stones, of course. Not ours.

Bonding through breast-feeding

big pumpkinI mourned the inability to nurse Madeleine. Really, really mourned it. I knew it was great that Rob could share the midnight feeding schedule, and he could bond with her too…but feeding was my maternal role. As it turns out, a baby born at 31 weeks is not strong enough to nurse. We brought Natalie home at 35 weeks, still five weeks pre-due date. She did remarkably well at nursing, but needed bottle supplements with every feeding.

When Rob fed Madeleine in the middle of the night, I slept. I was off-duty. Not so with Natalie. First I nursed her. Then Rob gave her a bottle. I did not go back to bed at that point. No — I pumped, to provide milk for the next bottle and to keep up my supply for when she could take a full feeding by nursing. The nursing was, truly, everything I thought it would be…and more. Bonding with the electric dual-pump was not. Natalie was home three months before she took full feedings at the breast. I continued my intimate relationship with the pump four more months, so Rob could continue to bottle feed some meals…and give me the breaks I (would you believe it?) wanted.

First-born is the only one with undivided attention

I felt kinda bad for Natalie, before she was born, knowing she would not get that attention every first-born receives. As it turned out, Madeleine had to give up 99 percent of her parents’ attention in the last three weeks before Natalie was born, and in the first four weeks after her birth, as we spent every day driving 45 minutes each way to the NICU, bonding with our second child and learning to care for her in our long-distance relationship. So they both got quite a bit of that “only you” attention.

A daughter who looks like me

With adoption, I also mourned the knowledge that no one would ever tell Madeleine, “You look just like your mama!” No one would ever say to me, “We can tell she’s yours!” Now that Natalie is here, I shake my head and look at Daughter #2 with a wry grin. She looks like her paternal aunt more than she looks like me. Oh well. Good thing I like that aunt.

But God…

No, not everything feels equal for my daughters. Madeleine still asks if she was in my belly, though she knows she has a birth mom and can name her in photos. She remembers Natalie in my tummy; so of course she was, too. We wonder how this will play out, when she finally realizes….

Yet I’m impressed with God’s creativity in balancing some of my fears. What I know is that the very best I can give my children, adopted or biological, is my love. “But God…” is a comforting, if sometimes exasperating, belief. While I wish he’d follow my order of thinking sometimes, I count on him to handle the scales of my daughters’ lives. Indeed, it is all I can count on.


Making those pesky ends meet…for the sake of children

I remember entering into the adoption journey the second time around. It wasn’t that long ago. Naturally, the first question we asked ourselves was, “Are we ready for another child?” Just as naturally, our second question was, “How will we afford it?”

We had the surprise ending we’ve heard of but never expected — we got pregnant. That wasn’t the case for our friends Ben and Angela.

little boy and little girl teasing, kissing

Noah and Madeleine, growing up together. (Too fast?) Photos by Angela Kantz

After similar poor turnouts with their own childbearing, these friends moved more quickly than Rob & I did down the path of adoption. I admired Angela for that. Greatly. If God wasn’t going to put a babe in her womb, she’d ask him to bring good news out of bad news. And he did. They brought home Noah nine months before we brought home Madeleine.

When we started down our adoption path, Angela cheered along the way. Not just cheering, mind you. Cartwheels. Pompoms. The whole shebang. She gave energy where I had none. She helped put together a fund raiser. Her confidence lent me courage and her excitement helped build my joy.

Then we both entered adoption a second time. And we both — along with our husbands — asked the question: How are we going to pull it off this time? The only answer, really, was, Somehow we managed last time. We’ll do it again.

We wanted siblings for our kids. And three years between those sibs was plenty. So we did our paperwork. We paid our fees. We began to hope and pray.

Then we got pregnant. One journey ended; another began. One month later, Angela got her call: A birth mom had chosen them. But this baby had some unexpected expenses.

Once you have that baby in your home, the cost is worth it.

Here’s Selah! Once you have that baby in your home, the cost is worth it…despite the stress. Photo by Angela Kantz.

Domestic adoptions start around $22,000. For Ben and Angela, the expense went up. The birth mom lived 3,000 miles away and wanted to see them once or twice before the birth. Then fly out again at the birth. Pay for places to stay each time. And in addition to paying an adoption agency in their home state, they had to pay an adoption agency in the birth mom’s state. The price tag climbed up to $30,000.

I remember walking with Angela before they said “yes” to this match, to this baby, as she told me the financial particulars. The baby was the perfect fit for their family, but “it’s so much more than we planned on,” Angela said. “Do we decline because the cost is so high? But how can we say no to this baby by saying a cost is too much?”

<I’d like to insert a rant here about how the adoption industry takes advantage of couples who have few options. But I know only my side of this issue and have done no research. So in all fairness, I will withhold my rant.>

Baby Selah came home last January. She’s among the most beautiful babies I’ve seen, bar none. And, as diligent as Ben and Angela are, they still have $22,000 of adoption debt to pay off.

This time it’s my turn to come alongside, to pay it back. And you have a chance to pay it forward. Working with North Valley Friends Church, which has an adoption fund that is helping out Ben and Angela, a few of us put together a raffle. Unfortunately, all prizes are local: Gift cards for The Allison Spa, Wilson Orthodontics, Black Tie Tours, Feller House Bed and Breakfast, and Open Hands Massage Therapy. But anyone can donate to the cause.

The longer I live, the more I discover I need help from others — and the more I want to give that help in return. What’s $10 to me? But my $10 with your $10 and his $10 and her $10…all of that together starts making a difference for someone else.

photos, logos of raffle prizes

You can help build a family by participating in the Kantz Family Adoption Raffle.


Courage in the Time of Ebola

With hands full of our lively 3-yr-old and swiftly-growing preemie (now nearly 6 months old!), I’ve not found time to blog. But this post by my friend in Tanzania, Africa, is well worth reblogging.


The unexpected advent of Natalie Lucia

Yesterday our daughter would have been born. One week early, by C-section. Would have been, if all had gone as planned. But nothing about Natalie was planned…why change that with her birth?

May 8, 2014 ~ 1-ish a.m.

daddy meets newborn daughter in NICU

Rob meets his new daughter, Natalie Lucia, born May 8, 2014 — nine weeks early.

The blood alerted me that, potentially, life was about to change. But our little Natalie Lucia, not yet born, had offered many a “maybe” in this pregnancy. No need to panic now.

I’d just said goodnight to my nurse, who had come to get my vitals (blood pressure, temp) before I settled in for the night. Now three weeks into my hospital stay, we’d gotten into this great routine of no nurse-ly interruptions through the night. Each evening, they monitored baby and me for an hour. If that hour went well — if I had no contractions and Natalie had no decelerations — I was off the monitor until the next morning, and the nurses left me in peace to sleep.

“Leaking again,” I told my nurse as she reached the door. I said it with a sigh. After my water sac tore back at 28 weeks, I had several episodes of leaking, and then it stopped. Tonight we were at the tail end of 30 weeks, and in the past several days, water had begun to leak again. One of the several reasons for my vacation in antepartum (pre-birth section of labor and delivery at the hospital). It was just…inconvenient…at night. Seeping water keeps me awake. As it was now.

Was it just water? With another sigh, I unwound myself from the body pillow cocooned within the circle of my arms and legs, supporting my belly and back. Pulled on slippers and walked the few feet to the bathroom, thankful again to not drag monitor cords with me. Moments later I was a little startled to see not water, but bright red blood on the pad. Not gushing, but flowing. Not soaking, but “more than usual for me.” The trademark phrase every time I called a nurse.

So…this could be it. Or it could be nothing. Every other time it’s been nothing. Still…I started down my to-do list.

1. Remove and clean retainers.  (You bet I’m wearing my retainers — no need to redo expensive braces just because of a prolonged hospital stay). After I washed and put them away, I climbed back into bed. Then I pushed the call button.

“May I help you?” the nurse at the desk answered my call.

“Yes…would you tell my nurse it isn’t water after all? I’m bleeding.” I don’t know if she heard the tiniest bit of strain in my voice.

Is this it? Will we — will Natalie — really be OK?

1:10 a.m.

My nurse, Clover, immediately strapped me to the baby and contraction monitors. No, she wasn’t interested in how much blood; not until she got a look at baby. Natalie was fine. Then Clover looked at the blood.

2. Call Rob. “Should I call Rob?” I asked. Naturally, this was the night he was home with Madeleine, 45 minutes away. “I don’t want to worry him…he needs his sleep.” He had the 2-year-old, after all.

“You may want to alert him,” Clover said. “It’s a lot of blood, for you. Tell him not to come — yet. We’ll see what the doctor says.”

I called Rob; she called the hospitalist on duty that night. Rob got out of bed and began packing; just in case. We wouldn’t call our emergency people — yet.

3. Call Mom. No; don’t call Mom. Not until you know what’s happening.

1:20 a.m.

I did my best job ever of relaxing so the hospitalist could get a good look in my nether regions. Then the population in my room tripled. Nurses. IV in my arm. Ultrasound machine. The hospitalist left to call the OB on duty. “Tell Rob to come,” Clover said. More blood was coming, and I’d begun contracting — not that I knew this at the time; I was focused on my next steps, nevermind why I had to take them.

1:30 a.m.

3. Initiate emergency plan. “Call your parents,” I told Rob. “Start driving. I’ll call Pat to come stay with Madeleine until your parents arrive. Be safe! Love you.” Please be safe.

I prayed more for Rob’s 45-minute drive than I did for me.

1:40 a.m.

4. Call Mom. For real this time. 4:40 a.m. her time. I told her what was happening and then we just started chatting before Clover caught my eye from across the room. “We’re moving fast,” she said. “Mom, I gotta go,” I said. “I guess I’m headed to surgery.”

I blame Mom for this, the early birth. She predicted I’d have my second daughter by Mother’s Day, now four days away. Her granddaughters know better than to make a liar of her.

But the medical reason? Well, my body offered a plethora of them. The increased bleeding indicated a placental abruption — pulling away from my body — which cuts off blood, oxygen, everything to the baby. Contractions, of course, were the beginning of labor. The umbilical cord was still right down at my cervix as it had been throughout my hospital stay — so labor would push out the cord before baby…and then baby is in trouble.

Through all of this, Natalie was doing fine. Doc didn’t want that to change, so took charge before my body did.

2:00 a.m.

5. Emergency C-section. Wheeled into an all-white room with big, big lights above. On count of three, shifted from hospital bed to a table. A table. Weird. Roll over. Sit up. Clutch nurse Marissa’s hand (“Nice to meet you, Marissa. Hope I don’t bruise you.”) as a needle was pounded into my spine.Wow! That hurt.

Then they raised a blue curtain to cut off my view of the nurses, doctors, and their carving skills. The anesthesiologist poked me. “Does this hurt?” she asked. “No…” What is she doing that doesn’t hurt? Then I felt the tugs and knew blades sliced open my abdomen. Think of something else. I began humming a Quaker worship song.

“What kind of music would you like us to play?” the anesthesiologist asked. What’s wrong with my humming? I decided to not take offense. “Classical,” I said. They can concentrate with classical playing in the room, right?

2:30 a.m

I never knew when Natalie was lifted out of me, though it’s possible someone told me. I knew Rob was in the building; I knew he was too late to join me, and they sent him straight to NICU to meet his daughter. She was healthy, within the parameters of a baby born nine weeks early. We were grateful.

preemie baby with feeding tube

For the first three weeks, this is what Natalie looked like — overall, incredibly healthy for a preemie. My breast milk was given to her via the feeding tube in her nose.

July 4, 2014:

newborn in pink jumper

Natalie now.

After 3.5 weeks in the hospital, I was discharged. Natalie stayed in NICU four weeks, coming home the day she reached 35 weeks’ gestation…except she was no longer gestating. Yesterday, the day she was to be born (though her due date is July 10), she celebrated eight weeks of breathing our air. She’s doing great. We’re all doing well — so glad to be home, be together, and be healthy.


WAIT

While Anticipating I Trust

little girl snuggling Mama's baby bump

The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime,
And in the night His song shall be with me —
A prayer to the God of my life.
Psalm 42.8-9

“Good morning, Mama. Don’t be afraid.”

welcome to your hospital room

This isn’t a sign I expected to see in my pregnancy — yet I now expect (and hope) to wake up to it every morning the next five weeks. Some information in photo blurred for privacy reasons.

I came to the bottom of the stairs, watching Madeleine descend, step by step, one morning. With one hand she held the stair rail spindles; with the other, Daddy’s hand. Reaching the bottom step, she looked up at me.

“Good morning, Mama. Don’t be afraid.”

I turned my wide-eyed gaze from my not-yet-3 daughter’s face to my husband’s own surprised eyes. Words she’s never said before — or since. Had she been conversing with the Angel Gabriel in her room just now?

23 weeks

Five nights earlier — now seven weeks ago — Rob and I spent the night at the hospital in fear for the life of our unborn daughter. I’d gone to the hospital after-hours because of bleeding. The doctor kept me because of contractions and concern that my amniotic fluid was leaking. Baby’s heart was beating strong. She looked good. That reassurance turned to disbelief as a nurse explained to us that Baby was one week away from “viable.” If I gave birth that night, at 23 weeks, we would hold our daughter and watch her die.

Rob climbed into my hospital bed in the wee hours and held me as I sobbed. Would God bring us this far…? As my stomach convulsed beneath the contraction monitor strapped to me, I wondered what the straining muscles of my grief looked like on the monitor’s graph on the screen at the nurses’ station. Did they know I was crying?

In the end, nothing was wrong. Yep, nothing. We went home.

Five days later, the morning Madeleine passed on the angel’s message, I was in pain. Concerned. Again. Back at the clinic. Again.

Again, nothing was wrong. “Fibroids,” the OB said. “Sorry, but this will be a painful pregnancy.” Pain I can handle, if the baby is safe.

28 weeks

Fibroid pain. That’s what I thought it was two weeks ago, a Thursday evening, when I rang the on-call doctor after-hours to ask if I could safely take more pain killer. “Tell me what’s going on,” he said.

“Enough pain the past couple nights to keep me awake,” I said. “What I’m taking isn’t covering the pain. Mostly goes away during the day, until this afternoon. The pain is significant now, coming every three minutes, lasting 15-45 seconds.” I stopped to breathe through the next episode. “I’d double over, except that makes it worse.”

“I’d like you to come in,” he said. “Sounds like contractions.”

But we’d already made so many trips to the hospital in this pregnancy….

“Our daughter is in bed,” I said. “What if we wait through the night and see how it is in the morning?” But he convinced me. I hate false alarms. But if I endangered my child, I’d likely hate myself.

Three hours later, my first ambulance ride conducted me from our local hospital to the nearest hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Magnesium Sulfate infused my body, slowing contractions. Friday, 1am, I settled into my new bed 45 minutes from home. The plan: to stay put several days until my body settled down.

Later Friday morning my water ruptured. Rob again held me in a hospital bed as I sobbed. “I didn’t want her to come yet,” I said. “But at least we made it to 28 weeks. We made it to 28 weeks. She’ll be OK.”

30 weeks

sign: "At risk to fall"

This sign was taped to the outside of my hospital room door the first several days of my stay here, while Magnesium Sulfate (a heavy-duty muscle relaxer intended to stop my pre-term labor) not only stopped labor, but relaxed the muscles of my body to the point that I shuffled, needed help in and out of bed & on and off the toilet; my left eyelid drooped; I could not focus both eyes together, so talked to people either with my eyes closed or covering one eye — and before it was over, Rob was feeding me. But it did successfully end my pre-term labor.

Labor did not restart; Baby did not come. But rupture of the amniotic sac was a game-changer. “You’re here until the baby comes,” the perinatologist told us. Fifty percent of women give birth within 24 hours of rupture. The greater part of the remaining 50 percent make it 14 days. Today we hit 17 days. “Every day is a good day,” they say here — every day counts for that baby inside the womb. Beating the 2-week mark puts us into the “who knows when” category. We’re aiming for 35 weeks; because of the rupture, they will not let us go longer than that.

Our issues are not confined to the water. Baby’s umbilical cord hangs to the bottom of my uterus, settling on top of my cervix. If I go into labor it could prolapse — meaning, come into the open air before Baby does. That’s a life-threatening situation, and they’d have me in the operating room, taking Baby out, within seven minutes.

Fibroids, not far above my cervix, are a curse and blessing. (First of all, Baby likes to kick them. Ouch.) The curse is that they could block Baby’s exit. But we already knew my body requires a C-section. And as it turns out, the blessing is that the fibroids may keep Baby from pressing too much on the umbilical cord…which is the final (well, more like a primary) concern — that if the baby presses on the cord and does not release, she’ll cut off her own oxygen and blood supply. Potentially, those pesky fibroids are protecting her life by not letting her do that.

What all of this means for now

As mentioned, I’m at the hospital until Baby comes. Baby will come if the cord prolapses and I’m rushed into surgery. Or Baby comes if labor begins, and I’m taken at a more sedate pace into surgery. Or Baby comes if we make it to 35 weeks, and they schedule my visit to surgery.

Until then, I am monitored (baby monitor and contraction monitor strapped to my middle) three times a day, one hour each time. I’m no longer on “strict bed rest with bathroom privileges” (using the toilet being the only time I was allowed out of bed the first three or four days), so may putter around my room…and not a step further than my room. My favorite spot is the couch (more of a bench) by the window. I am allowed a couple short wheelchair rides each day, no further than the boundaries of the labor & deliver/pre-term unit. And Rob may wheel me to a small patio where I can feel the breeze.

While Rob stays with me at the hospital (sleeping on that uncomfortable bench) Madeleine is with Grandpa and Grandma (Rob’s parents). I’ve always been glad to live near them, but never more grateful.

And so we’re taking it day by day. Every day is a good day.


Will I still love my daughter?

Some questions are more honest than you want. But bidden or not, once they’re there they will not leave without an answer. They will sift  your soul until you turn back from the corner too small to hide you, and you give an answer.

Would you have adopted Madeleine if you knew you’d eventually get pregnant?

little girl holding trumpet

“I made music!” Madeleine said, and giggled. This mama thinks it just doesn’t get much cuter.

I stood in my bedroom, in front of the windows where I read, where I gaze, where sometimes I press my face into the carpet and beg for wisdom or miracles or forgiveness. I’d known I was pregnant for an hour? A day? My mind rarely is content to stay in the present, in the known. It searches for clarity and understanding. Where answers are moot, it finds new questions. It demands honesty, painful or not. Emotional masochist that I am, I usually think the more painful it is, the more honest it is.

So there was my question. One I’d feared, in some small part of me, since adopting Madeleine. What if I do get pregnant? Will I love my children equally? Will I regret adopting?

In the months after bringing Madeleine home I told God, Don’t let me get pregnant if that will harm Madeleine’s sense of self and belonging in our family. She’s now more important than my dream.

Still, I longed to be pregnant. I prayed for it. No; I begged for it.

Would you have adopted Madeleine if you knew you’d eventually get pregnant?

I’ve put the question twice here. But I did not need to hear it twice. My answer came without thought or hesitation: She’s my daughter. I don’t even want to imagine not having her. I would fall apart if we lost her.

Frankly, as swiftly as the answer came, so came my relief. I knew my heart had not cleverly crafted the correct response. This is my answer. It’s difficult to answer a “What if” question — if we’d known for sure that we’d get pregnant, would we have spent $22,000 to start our family three years earlier?

The real question of course, was, Do you still want Madeleine? You know…now that you’re pregnant with a biological child.

That is the question I answered. And because the question asked itself and my soul gave its immediate answer, I know I can always — always — look Madeleine in the eyes and say, “We wanted you. I wanted you. I want you. You’re my daughter. Our family can never again be complete without you.”

 


I’m 40. I’m pregnant.

Written in my journal (you know; that old-fashioned kind with paper) on February 20, 2014.

I’m pregnant.

I’m pregnant, I’m 40, & today we reached five months. And this is the first I’ve written about it in my journal.

Kimberly, 5.5 months pregnant, posing with her arm around 2-yr-old Madeleine

Still a little camera-shy (I love being pregnant…but I’m just not into displaying it), so I snagged Madeleine to join me. Here I am with my two girls: Madeleine, 2.75 yrs; Baby Girl, 5.5 months gestation; Mama, 40 yrs & just fine with that.

 

Similar to adopting Madeleine, I’ve processed so much…with little energy or space left for writing. Feels like netting the universe & confining it to my back yard — can’t be done. I did blog — finally — in January, to announce our surprise. Our shock. I should print that and fold it in here before it’s lost completely. Those first emotions. The discovery.

I’m five months along, and the wonder of it is finally sinking in and coming out. Showing in the smiling woman I see in the mirror…the delight I find in maternity clothes…gently rubbing my hands over the growing baby bump & repeating, again, “I can’t believe I’m pregnant.”

At first, in the numbing shock, I just wondered, “Why now? Why at 40, when chances of baby & body dysfunctions skyrocket?”

It’s not that I didn’t want the pregnancy — but I wanted it seven years ago. Five years ago. Two years ago. I still wanted it — I’d decided to give up all hope at 40 — but once I had what I wanted, I was grumpy that I didn’t have this gift earlier. When I was younger. Telling me that age doesn’t matter didn’t help. Of course it matters. I had to process.

Now I smile. Sure, age matters. But I love it that I’m 40 & pregnant. I love it that I’m pregnant.

Encouraging links for other 40-&-older moms:


Repeat or redemption?

vineyard in winter

I dug the unused, unnecessary pregnancy test from the bottom of a basket on a bathroom shelf, a remnant from…what, 2010?…when we tried several rounds of IUI.

“What is that?” Rob asked.

We were getting ready for bed that Sunday evening, and I was reviewing plans for the next day. Monday was a big day: Potty training for Madeleine. I’d purposely planned to wait until after PMS to dive into this new, terrifying adventure.

And that gave me pause. PMS was past, right? Except that…. I trotted downstairs and checked my calendar. Trotted back upstairs and dug in my basket.

“It’s a pregnancy test,” I said, stripping off the wrapper and plopping the plastic stick on the bathroom counter. “I’m three days late.”

I don’t remember what question Rob asked next. I just remember the look on his face in that first unguarded moment before logic could intervene. This precious mix of hope and stunned disbelief. Such eager hope, for a split second.

“It’s probably just the progesterone I took earlier in the month,” I explained, utterly convinced. “It can delay my period.”

What I hadn’t told Rob several weeks earlier was that I’d finally followed through on my pledge-to-self to get rid of all trying-to-get-pregnant paraphernalia. Time to move on. However — I cannot just throw things away. I’m a missionary kid. I come from German Mennonite stock. I’m frugal. You do. not. waste.

So I had to use that last, expensive ovulation kit. And if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it right. Filling in the chart…seducing my husband at the appropriate time. [Have I embarrassed anyone? Sorry.] And then, as I still had some leftover progesterone supplement, I used that for about a week after ovulation until I forgot a couple evenings, and then just gave up on it. I wasn’t pregnant anyway, so it’s not like it mattered. We’d done all of it before — with and without bona fide expert medical assistance — with nary a baby.

I explained all this to Rob while performing the necessary duties for the test. Then we watched the test.

The control line appeared immediately. No second “you’re pregnant!” line appeared.

“That’s that,” I said. “It’s the progesterone.”

two pregnancy tests, both showing positive for pregnancy

Can’t believe I’m posting online two tests I peed on. What am I coming to? But anyway — test #1 (which had expired in 2010) and test #2 (cheapo, courtesy of Dollar Tree). I sent this photo to Rob, via cell phone, the next day while he was at work.

In the seconds it took me to say this, a faint second line emerged. We looked at each other, at the test, at each other again. It darkened. Pregnant? Really?

We stared at each other. No joy. No smiles that I remember…except perhaps a nervous little one that tugged at the corners of my lips before I stifled it.

“Does the test have an expiration date?” Rob asked. (That’s the logic I’m talking about.)

I pulled the wrapper back out of the trash and looked at the stamped date. Why yes. It expired two years ago.

“Why don’t you buy another one?” he suggested. I warned him I’d heard you can’t have a false positive on a test — but sure; I’d feel better double-checking, too.

Seven years

Seven years ago, in October 2006, we discovered our unexpected, unplanned pregnancy. This time around, October again.

Seven years ago, our ultrasound at nine weeks revealed that our baby had died the week before, at eight weeks. Three weeks later, our baby passed out of my body the weekend of Thanksgiving. It took six years for Thanksgiving to not be a sharp reminder of our loss.

This time, our ultrasound was scheduled for the week after Thanksgiving. We had six weeks to go from the night we stared at that not-so-innocuous test. Every week — every day — we wondered if our baby was dead or alive. Would this October and November, seven years later, be a repeat? Or redemption?

Ongoing, sharp pain threatened a tubal pregnancy. Spotting three different times supposed a miscarriage. Blood work each week reassured us, until the final lab was run incorrectly and indicated that the baby had died. But the advice nurse caught the discrepancy, and requested a redo.

We passed through Thanksgiving tentatively hopeful.

A week after Thanksgiving, the ultrasound.

“Make yourself comfortable,” the ultrasound tech said as I swung my legs onto the table. I kept my comments to myself and lowered my waistband. Rob sat no further away than the edge of his chair,  his fingers wrapped around mine. Steady. Always steady.

Steady, that is, until we saw that pulsing heartbeat. And then my steady man slumped into his chair, still holding my hand. We didn’t cry. We just breathed. In and out; in and out. There’s the heartbeat. Our baby’s alive. Dear God, our baby’s alive.

ultrasound - 9weeks

There’s our little one, waving to us at 9 weeks. We now entered 17 weeks.


Many surrenders

Early morning light prodded me awake, anticipation nudging open my eyes. Why do I feel this way? What’s today?

Then I remembered. Sixteen-year-old Yolanda. Baby Leo. Maybe our next child? Anticipation…and regret.

emerging human pupae

Transición Transformación” by Gabriel S. Delgado C. from Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela CC-BY-2.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Not an infant. A 10-month-old. Not a second chance with a mewling newborn. Another dream derailed. This was back in July, the third time our emotions were caught betwixt heaven and earth, suspended in that four-letter word: Wait. Far from sedentary, my waiting struggled in my suspension, like a butterfly caught in its cocoon hanging from a leaf — not nature’s gentle emerging, but a battle against becoming what I’m meant to be.

Really, God? Can I have no part of the story I want? No pregnancy, no matter the prayers and faith. Now I look forward to another adopted infant, and you decide I can’t have that, either. Why have you answered the prayers in the lives of so many others, and not mine?

I know, I know — strike up the violins, right? Stop feeling sorry for yourself. You have a beautiful daughter and wonderful husband. Count your blessings, for the love of God.

Yes. And no.

For the love of God, surrender. Feel what you feel. Admit it.
Own it. And surrender it.

My heart cannot make room for cherished blessings until it surrenders the disappointments. Everything is granted a time and place. Honest, courageous surrender comes first.

There’s nothing new about surrender.

Every day I surrender to traffic laws and my desire for chocolate. I surrender to the comfort of my husband’s arms encircling, holding me…reluctantly surrender his lips as Madeleine tugs on my pants and says, “Hug? Self?” Eagerly surrender to my 2-year-old daughter’s affection.

Some surrender I like; others I don’t. Know what I would tell you with absolute conviction? You won’t reach your full potential or find your greatest satisfaction without complete surrender. It’s this hunch I have. But I don’t want to surrender; not one little bit. Not if I did not choose it to begin with.

Do you have any idea — any at all — how much I’ve wanted to be pregnant? Aside from recreating Rob’s & my DNA, aside from having a little girl with Rob’s red curls, I simply want to feel that miracle growing inside me. I had a taste of it; I want more.

Before I ever met Rob, I told a coworker, “I don’t know about raising kids… H U G E  responsibility…but I’d love just to be pregnant.”

When Rob and I married, my deal with him was, “I’ll carry the children; you raise them. You realize we have the potential to ruin their lives, right? OK; your responsibility.”

I never got to hold up my end of the deal.

Yet on this July morning, now fully awake in the bright sun, I realized something. Or remembered it.

I am God’s servant. Not the other way around. God is not obligated to give me anything. What if he wants me to be the hands and feet of Christ to 10-month-old Leo? What if Leo is God’s answer to our prayer for a child who will thrive in our family? Who am I to order around my creator? Who am I to pout at his answers? Who am I to think the God who loves me — and I know he does — has no idea how to bring me happiness? Who am I to limit what can make me happy — and why would I want to do that? How incredibly short-sighted and unimaginative of me.

This earth makes room for me not so I can serve myself, but so I can serve God. Swimming in the sea of God’s grace, I forget this. My life is not about me. I may rail at God if I like, but I will end exhausted and unhappy.

I have had other surrenders in this journey, none of them easy. Surrendering to the possibility of a tough road ahead. Surrendering to the need for thankfulness. Surrendering my idea of what “family” looks like, and surrendering the challenges that my daughter will likely face as she surrenders her comparisons between her life and the lives of her friends…the life she wishes she had. The rub is that some surrenders take practice — and so I get to surrender some things again and again.

Surrender so often feels like I’m giving up…if I just push harder for what I want, I’ll get it; and if I stop pushing, no one will look out for me.

But surrender is growing up. It isn’t laying down to die; it’s being willing to beat my wings and become who I’m meant to be. Emerge from the cocoon and see what colors the rainbow has painted me. Soar down my path and boldly meet what surrenders come my way. It’s foolish to degrade myself over the difficulty of surrender. Surrender is hard. But it forms me, so let it come. Let it come and form me into something beautiful — that can fly.

Author’s note: This post refers not to a new situation in our journey, but to one that happened several months ago. Some posts just take a bit longer to form. I did surrender to the joy of welcoming baby Leo into our home, but it was not meant to be.


It’s for adoption. It’s for love.

My mood settled in with the doubting blanket of the overcast Oregon sky. Gray day in August. Of course.

First, it rains on my wedding day. In July. Now it gets to rain today, too? Grumbling at my powerful God who doesn’t care to move weather on my behalf for important days like my wedding. (No grudges here.) And today.

violinist Wendy Goodwin and guitarist Nate Macy perform at garden concert

Beautiful music, humble souls: Wendy Goodwin and Nate Macy. Photo by Rob Felton.

TODAY [this past Sunday, that is] was the benefit concert for our second adoption. With two amazing musicians who barely know us but are willing to do this. For us. For adoption.

I know I should trust. I know I should believe. But what if…? What if no one comes? What if the musicians wonder why they gave their time and talent? What if the all-morning baking efforts of our bakery friends are wasted because no one is there to buy their goods? What if everyone who helped us thinks it’s a complete waste of time?

It did rain on my wedding day. God gave me thunder and a lovely candlelit wedding instead of bright summer sun. The candles would not have been nearly so effective with all that bright light coming through the stained glass windows. Eight years later, people still talk about how beautiful it was. Gentle reminder to self.

But TODAY He gave me sun. The clouds cleared and the temperature was moderate. And people came. People came and they gave gifts of coins and bills and checks and they hugged us and encouraged us and applauded our hope for a child because they care for us and are excited for us. They want us to have another baby and they don’t want us in deep debt because of it.

Good music. Good friends.

Good music. Good friends. Photo by Paul Bock.

Four-year-old niece Olivia sorted through her piggy bank, eager to do anything she could to help her next cousin arrive. “She gave you only silver coins,” Momma Amy said; “she wanted to keep the pretty pennies.” Multiple sermons in that gesture.

Guitar, violin, and vocal wound along the paths of our our friends’ peaceful, expansive garden. Children played on the swing set and in the sand box. Men and women strolled the garden’s paths or sat and soaked in the lilting music.

I wished I’d not insisted on so many chairs. No one sat in the middle section, right in front of the musicians. “The sun’s there,” Rob pointed out.

Bruce Bishop & Brenda Burg of Newberg Bakery selling pastries to support adoption fundraiser

Bruce Bishop and Brenda Burg of Newberg Bakery had a loooong line much of the evening — and cheerfully contributed their profit to our adoption. (We’re the ones with the balloons.) Photo by Miriam Bock.

Two women friends came on their “hot date” for girls’ night out. One couple relaxed in the expansive peace of knowing their three children were safely at Grandma’s — while they, the parents, were not. Families came, one mother handing a wad of cash to her kids and saying, “Buy as many pastries as you like; it’s for a good cause.” The incredulous joy in the children’s wide eyes made her laugh. I wondered how bedtime would go. She probably did, too; but to her it was worth it, for me. For our baby, our family. For adoption.

Friends surprised us by auctioning one of Newberg Bakery's cakes. A lady from Idaho, whom we don't know, bought it first. She said she couldn't take it with her, so they should sell it a second time. It sold twice.

Friends surprised us by auctioning one of Newberg Bakery’s cakes. A lady from Idaho, whom we don’t know, bought it first. She said she couldn’t take it with her, so they should sell it a second time. The cake sold twice. Photo by Paul Bock.


Can you miscarry the same baby twice? (In adoption, yes.)

You think you’ll stay detached. But you don’t. Because as soon as you get that call saying “The birth mom wants to meet you,” your heart and mind plunge into all the fear and joy in the log jam of possibilities, just waiting for the birth mom to move the right log so it all comes tumbling into your lap.

A logjam metaphor makes it sound like a bad jumble that tumbles into your lap. But when it’s a baby you’re talking about…though you may second-guess all the new complications once the baby’s actually in your home…all you can think of beforehand is how much you want that jumble to tumble.

*   *   *

Call #1 — Tuesday: Last Tuesday we got the first call. “Yolanda,” our agency called her, was considering adoption — again. We’d had a call about this same 16-year-old mom and her 4-month-old (at the time) son, Leo, back in February. The end of that story was our second “adoption miscarriage” in two weeks (Charlie was the first). Yolanda had chosen us and then her mom promised to be more helpful in child rearing, so Yolanda withdrew.

Leo is 10 months old now and Yolanda is overwhelmed; her mom isn’t helping out after all. Were we still interested, the agency asked. “We’re in,” we said. We wondered if she’d remember us.

Call #2 — Wednesday: The caseworker showed up at Yolanda’s with a stack of adoption albums and the girl asked, “Do you still have the family with the little Hispanic girl?” (She meant us[!].) She wasn’t interested in any other family. The caseworker called; could we meet Yolanda the next day?

It took a few back flips, but all necessary details and rearranging of our lives fell into place for the next day. It felt…miraculous. Right. A blessing on a meeting that could (would?) lead to our second child.

Call #3 — Thursday: I woke up with that anticipation that maybe, hopefully, life was about to drastically change. The third call came at 8:30am.

“Yolanda isn’t ready to meet you,” the caseworker said. A follow-up email said Yolanda had withdrawn her “very sure” adoption plans. Again.

*    *    *

We knew we were dealing with a teenager — that breed of not-yet-adults that make decisions on whims with no idea of how they’re jerking people around; how they’re hurting people. [So said the bitter heart; compassion came later.] We knew, and yet my heart still attached to the possibility of Leo.

When I called Rob at work and told him our meeting was cancelled, he said, “I was just thinking about how hard it must be for her to consider giving up her child.”

“I know –” I said. “But I can’t make room for her right now. Right now I just have to hurt.”

I had attached to Leo not because I intended to, but because I had to do heaps of heart work in those two short days, beginning immediately after the initial call.

First, fear: What would it be like to bring a 10-mn-old into our home, who knows and misses his momma who is no longer his momma? I had a lot to learn in a hurry about attaching to a child with a memory.

Second, regret: I’ve longed for another newborn, another chance at savoring those few itsy-bitsy-size moments. A complicated grief blindsided me when we brought Madeleine home…I long for a homecoming filled with acceptance and joy. A grieving 10-mn-old did not sound like acceptance and joy.

Third, surrender: This is it’s own blog post…in summary, I remembered that I am God’s servant — not the other way around. He is not obligated to give me anything. But I am wise to trust Him. Trust frees up a lot of space.

Fourth, excitement: Having a 10-mn-old will be great! He can take baths with Madeleine; he is sturdy enough to bear her loving touches; before long, he’ll run along and play with her. No infant formula; jump right into baby food. Pureed squash, here we come!

Fifth, caution: No, don’t figure out sleeping arrangements yet. No, don’t call around for boys’ clothing yet. Wait and see. Wait and see. She’s changed her mind before.

*   *   *

So you know, when you’re already a mom, you hold it together until nap time. Once the biggest demand of my day was nestled in quiet darkness for a couple hours, I laid down…and wondered, How do moms whose children die do it? How do they keep going, caring for their other children’s needs, when they just want to wail? This wasn’t even a physical miscarriage, which I’ve also had; this was an emotional miscarriage…and I was so sad.

Who knew that a 10-month-old would show the surprising dexterity of being both our second and third adoption miscarriages, working his way down our heart canal not once, but twice? Who knew we would be nothing more than the release valve (twice) for a teenager who was frustrated in her (admittedly difficult) parenting role?

I knew that within a day or two I would recover. Give me a week, I thought, and I’ll brush off the experience as just another bump in the adoption journey, and be thankful for a little more time in the relative ease of parenting one child instead of two.

But for that day, as one friend said, “That’s shitty.” For that day, I agreed.


No limit on the “reset” button

toddler asleep in car seat

A rare moment indeed — Madeleine asleep in the car.

The day will come when Madeleine wakes up as angry as when she went to bed. The memory of wrongs accrued against her prior to sleep will cling to her back and whisper to her as she stirs to wakefulness.

But for now, sleep is a beautiful “reset” button. No matter the tears or tantrum beforehand, the nap wipes away our struggles and we begin again.

Sometimes my baby needs the “reset.” But sometimes I’m the one in need.

This morning I yelled in my daughter’s face.

Yes, I yelled — less than 10 inches from her startled eyes.

I’m not proud. I’m horrified.

I’d awakened irritated. Then I asked Rob about something he’d forgotten, carefully guarding my words so I did not become hurtful…a draining (but worthwhile) endeavor for my say-it-straight personality.

After Rob left for work, my daughter “dropped” her bowl of breakfast on the floor, after several times of “dropping” individual pieces of breakfast onto the hardwood, all with the bewildered innocence(?) of a two-year-old. This was the third or fourth in a series of mishaps already, and my patience bucket — already with a leak in it this morning — was now as empty as Madeleine’s breakfast bowl.

So that’s what I yelled about: Picking up the bowl of food and dropping it. Again. How many times do I have to say it? Don’t pick up your bowl, I yelled. She cried. I thought of how ashamed Rob would be of me…and yet my spirit still felt she deserved it just a little.

This is not who I want to be, not even for a second.

This is not the brand of love I want Madeleine to experience, not even for a moment.

Yes, usually…maybe “often” is more honest…I’m patient. Yes, I know all moms “lose it.” But I don’t want to, y’know?

Yet it happens. Those days come when either everything is wrong inside me from the get-go, or everything is wrong in my world. And I lose it.

This morning I yelled in my daughter’s face. Other times, I’ve impatiently snatched Madeleine from wherever she disobeyed me, set her roughly in her crib, and closed her door with a decided thud.

And when that happens? I slump to the top step, right outside the nursery door, and listen to her wail. Defeat bows me, shame whips me, and I know I can never deserve this baby — so-why-did-Madeleine’s-birth-mom-choose-me-when-she’d-obviously-do-a-better-job-because-I’m-sure-she-never-gets-frustrated.

Today, however, was different.

Yes, the yelling happened. But defeat and shame found no place here. Instead, I pushed the “reset” button.

Earlier this morning before Rob left for work, I’d walked the hills behind our house. I’d read Psalm 23, and a phrase returned to me: He anoints my head with oil.

People are anointed for a purpose — like becoming king — and as a blessing, like Mary Magdalene anointing Jesus’ feet.

I, too, am anointed. For purpose and for blessing.

King David was anointed, and he messed up. Repeatedly. In fact, I have a hard time liking the guy; not a good family man. Yet his purpose and blessing was not removed. He was disciplined, he repented, and he kept choosing again to follow God.

He (and God) hit the reset button. The king got a mulligan, a do-over. Moms get those, too. God is pretty liberal with them, actually.

So, today —

Rather than allowing shame to cling to my flesh, I accept that I am still anointed. Anointed to be Madeleine’s mom and anointed to love her. 

I accepted the mulligan, and the grace that goes with it.

I hit the reset button.

“Baby, I was wrong to yell at you,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

And I decided that the rest of the day would be a good day — because I’m allowed to hit the reset button.

I put parameters on my day, knowing that I currently am predisposed toward frustration:

  • No yelling.
  • No discipline unless absolutely necessary (i.e., risk of life or limb…lax parenting for a day won’t ruin her).
  • Stick to easy tasks, both for myself and for Madeleine, that are less likely to cause frustration.
  • Let Madeleine watch a video after her nap, to give me more space.

Then I sent a text to a sis-in-law: “Angry day. Please pray.” She’s a mom; she knows what an “angry day” is. And God knows parenting is hard. He’s got a lot of us “toddlers” running around, “innocently” dropping things.

Now I had “air support,” as one friend refers to prayer, and I had accountability — because I knew someone else knew, and might ask later how the day went.

The day will come when sleep is no longer an automatic “reset” for my darling daughter. Hopefully by then she’ll have seen me hit the reset button plenty of times, and know where to find it.

Related links:


Be gentle with the childless on Mother’s Day

Sign posted by fence at cliff overlooking ocean

WARNING: Mother’s Day is around the corner

Here it is, nearly Mother’s Day. Can’t believe how unremarkable the day is to me, nor how little I want to write about it. Almost as if, now that the pain of childlessness is mostly gone, I just don’t want to go there anymore.

So there’s a wee bit of hope for you, women with aching arms! One day the pain may subside. But today I write a post for those who ache still, who cower at this upcoming holiday that pours acid on their hearts.

Actually, I’m writing to all you husbands, parents, siblings, and friends of those hurting women. Because YOU CAN HELP. Here’s how:

But first, a disclaimer. Please use your own best judgment. You are the ones who love and know the women you’re thinking of right now. I write from my experience and personality. Ignore the suggestions that would be an obvious poor choice for your women.

  1. Acknowledge her pain of Mother’s Day. Wrap your arms around her, ask if she’s dreading the day, and how you might help make it better.
    • If you are this woman’s mom (or mom-in-law), offer to bypass the day entirely rather than force her to celebrate you when she is in so much pain. Your daughter loves you. Let that be enough.
    • If you are her husband and a celebration is planned with your mom, see if your wife is up for it — and if not, offer to work out something different with your mom. This is a chance to really love on your wife…please don’t make her feel badly about needing some distance from the celebration. Coddle her this day.
  2. For the love, get her some flowers! C’mon…really? The moms at church get flowers. Restaurants — including fast food, I discovered one year — ask, “Are you a mom? This carnation is for you!” Don’t get me wrong; I think this is great, really and truly. I just wished someone would have given me a beautiful bouquet that day and said, “I love you, and here are some flowers while you wait. You’re valuable just the way you are.”
  3. Send a card. One year my mom sent to me a Mother’s Day card that was specific to empty arms. (Card companies think of everything.) But the card doesn’t have to be that specific…it could be anything; just write something inside that says you’re thinking of her on Mother’s Day. No, YOU WILL NOT CAUSE MORE PAIN. She’s already feeling the pain; you’re choosing to share her burden, and that makes it hurt less.
  4. It’s not too late to plan a get-away! Mother’s Day changed from a test of my stamina to a day I anticipated when we began planning fun get-aways on that day. A hike at the coast one year; Saturday night at a boutique hotel another year, followed by a scenic drive and hike on Sunday. Hop on Groupon and see what you can find in your area for this weekend.

Belated addition: I neglected to say what we are doing this Mother’s Day. I was delighted when Rob’s dad called to say he and Mom are taking Grandma out for dinner; would we like to join them? So I get out of cooking. Otherwise, a normal Sunday. I’m just fine with that.

 


The smooch of sweet success

toddler holding tightly to mother's finger

Photo by Lindley King

“Madeleine, it’s time for me to go now. Daddy and I will be gone for several days.”

I heard the surprised exclamations from the women around me; I knew the concerns.

“She shouldn’t tell her.”

“She should just leave.”

But my daughter is smart. She knew the instant we entered the nursery at Grandma’s church. That’s why she squeezed Grandma’s hand tighter at the sight of unknown children. That’s why she backed into my legs behind her, and observed the room only from the safety of my lap.

After several minutes of letting Madeleine adjust, I led her to the toddler-size chalk board, and we explored together what chalk can do.

“Madeleine, it’s time for me to leave,” I’d said, and heard the confirmation that I was not following common wisdom. Madeleine kept drawing.

“Could you give me a kiss?” I asked.

She immediately turned, planted her lips on my cheek and made the kissing sound, her precursor to the actual smooch of a kiss — a skill she has not yet learned.

“Oooohhh — how sweet!” All ladies in the room concurred on this point as well, and I sighed in relief.

My daughter had confirmed for me that I knew her, and knew what she needed. My willingness to sit with her reassured her, though she knew I was leaving. And now that she felt safe, a kiss was just fine — before returning to her play.

“Will you give Daddy a hug?” I asked.

Madeleine turned and ran to Daddy, throwing her arms around him, surprising and warming him. Rob smiled, turned his nose into her hair, and hugged her tight in return. We’d miss our daughter the next four days.

She knew what was happening, and it was OK. We’ve always come back before, and she’s always had fun in the meantime.

“Well that was easier than I expected,” Rob said as we walked out the door and got into our car. This was our last stop before the airport, en route to San Francisco.

My triumph was sweet and soft.

How easy it is to doubt my mothering skills. How easy to hear the voices around me rather than the voice inside me.Voices that mean no harm and usually don’t even expect to instruct…they’re simply verbalizing internal reactions to what they see, comparing to what they’ve experienced themselves. They’re spectators to my life at that particular moment, the commentators in the press box high above the field. They don’t intend to influence me. And yet they do — if I forget they’re up in that box, and I’m the one playing the game on the field.

My triumph is this: I focused on my daughter and gave what I believed she needed from me. The reward is that I was right. This time, anyway.


It really DOES hurt mommys more

I never believed my parents when they said it.

I’m quite certain I glared in mute, taut disbelief before bending over Mom’s or Dad’s knee.

“This hurts me more than it hurts you.”

Whatever.

Photos are always better upside-down...at least in Madeleine's world.

A happier moment: In Madeleine’s world, photos are always better upside-down. Photo by Kimberly Felton

Now I’m the mom. And frankly, when Madeleine screams at me in rage, a timeout for her feels pretty good to me, while I walk into the next room and breathe deeply. But last night didn’t sound like rage. I looked at my darling little one and heard in her weeping,

Please don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me. You’re leaving me forever, and I can’t bear it. I love you, Mommy. Please don’t leave me.

Weeping, clinging to me as I lowered her into the crib, reaching her arms up to me. “Momma, Momma!” And then, “Hand…” as she sobbed. She wanted to hold my hand.

I put her down, and I walked away, closing the door softly behind me. As I gathered my computer and notes into my backpack, I said to the babysitter, “Text me if she’s still sobbing in 30 minutes. Call me if she isn’t quiet within 45.”

And then I had to walk out the door, drive to a nearby university, and speak to a writing class about life as a freelance writer. I told them:

I’m a mother.

I’m a wife.

I’m a writer.

And tonight I’m 20 minutes late because I learned it really does hurt me more than it hurts my child when I make her cry.

My throat tightened and I paused. Sympathetic eyes watched me from the front row all the way to the back — no small feat in a college class. I looked down until I could trust my voice.

And that is life as a freelance writer.

How easy it used to be, working in the church nursery as a single woman, telling mothers, “He’ll be fine! This is good for him.” How I scoffed at their worry. Obviously the child needed to learn to be fine without momma.

But this is my child. The child who earned my brusque impatience just an hour earlier during dinner, when I needed her to finish her meal — her good meal, by the way; be grateful! — while I washed dishes and straightened the house before the babysitter arrived. The child who vied for my attention all day while I prepared my talk and Power Point (which did not work) in all-too-typical last-minute fashion.

“It’s not your fault I must go talk tonight,” I’d told Madeleine as I rocked her a bit longer before bed, stroking her, knowing I was pushing up against a deadline my whimpering daughter did not understand. “It’s not your fault I was busy and tense.”

My daughter usually says “Bed” before I’m quite ready to put her into her crib at night, wanting to hold and rock her warm softness in my arms just a bit more. So what made the difference this night? Did I fail to love her enough in the midst of my class prep? Is this the 22-month prequel to the dreaded twos? Or did she just know because the babysitter was there that I was leaving…even though I put her to bed?

“She was quiet five minutes after you left,” the babysitter said upon my return.

I’d assumed she would be, or I could not have left. Yet I wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure what caused the meltdown, or whether I could have done a better job…. But all was forgiven — or forgotten — in the morning.

“Momma?”

“Hi, Baby.”

This is the life of the freelance writer. This is the life of a mommy. Forever the twain shall not only meet, but tangle and hold. Because this is life.


5 weeks, 4 calls, twice chosen, no baby

“Feast or famine,” Rob says. January and February were a feast, of sorts.

First was Charlie. The Monday after he was born, the day our caseworker called and confirmed that the tribe had picked him up, she said, “…and I have another baby for you to consider.”

I don’t remember the scenario any more. We said we’d pass. Whatever the story of that birth mom and child, we did not feel a kinship. We said “no” to a baby.

Within two weeks, another call. Baby Leo was four months old; Hispanic. Another son; another Hispanic baby, like our daughter. The mother is a teenager, and said she just can’t do it anymore. She wants to finish high school and go on to be a medical assistant. She didn’t have a lot of help taking care of Leo. She was 100% sure of her adoption plan.

Absolutely, we said. We’d love for her to consider us.

I was at a local university when I took the call about Leo, interviewing a professor and a director of a new program, writing an article for the university’s magazine. The director was kind enough to let the call interrupt our interview. “This may be my son,” I told him when I hung up.

Rob wrote the letter to the birth mom this time — he was home with Madeleine, and I had the second interview to conduct.  Our caseworker needed the letter immediately, because she would take the adoptive family photo albums to the birth mom that afternoon. Once again it was Friday, once again we had a weekend to wait through.

And once again there was a hitch. The teenager’s mom did not yet know about the adoption plan. What were the chances she would let her 4-month-old grandson go? We held it lightly, and yet we hoped.

Monday came, and Rob called the agency. They had another baby for us to consider, our caseworker said.

“And Leo?” Rob asked.

“The birth mom’s mother said she’ll be supportive and help more,” the caseworker said. Leo would stay with his family. “But you were her first choice,” she said. “…if she’d chosen adoption.”

I believe the only person who knew about the Leo-possibility was my mom, whom I called in a moment of weakness — oh, plus a friend who called me at the right moment that weekend. After Charlie, I wasn’t ready even to ask anyone for prayer.  “Am I showing lack of faith if I don’t ask people to pray?” I asked Rob.

Rob figured God could do the job with just us praying.

Leo will have some challenges growing up in the home of a young mother. But he would have different challenges growing up with us. We continue to believe God will put in our home the child who will thrive in our family. That is our prayer. Charlie wasn’t that child. Neither is Leo. We hope for nothing short of joy for each boy and each family caring for them.

And that fourth baby? Again we said “no.” This was back in February, and the details of the story have blurred. We did not feel we were the ones for that child.

For a month or more, I was thankful to not see our agency’s name pop up on my phone. Energy depleted, I wanted to make no decisions and face no disappointment.

Now we’re ready again. Now we wait and hope for another call, another possibility. We’ll be glad when it comes.

Today we drove past the reservation where, somewhere, Charlie lives. I mentioned him in passing to my parents, who were with us. “Char-we,” Madeleine said. That was a little sad, thinking she could have said her brother’s name. But it’s OK. Charlie isn’t her brother. We’ll wait yet and see who is.


More grit than glory

We got a lot of mileage out of “Goodbye, Charlie.” I say this with ironic twist of heart…why? Maybe I fear I’ve wasted the sympathies of many people, when my heart has healed. Maybe I feel I don’t deserve (is that the word I want?) such expressions of gentle love and loving outrage. Maybe because, in the presence of outspoken, united empathy, it’s easier to let anger slide beneath a covering of trust in God’s ultimate goodness, justice, and rightness – not just for us, but for Charlie. Job needed such friends.

You know what we lost when we lost Charlie. You don’t yet know what we gained.

picture of The Grinch's heart growing

And what happened then…? Well…in Who-ville they say
That the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!

The first time through adoption, I refused to believe I would be a mom until I was a mom. As I prepared the nursery, it was the “maybe baby” room. I painted and decorated neutral colors and themes…nothing too baby-ish, in case a baby never came. The only thing I knew for certain was that nothing is guaranteed.

Until the day we brought Madeleine home, I quarantined joy in a far corner of my fragile heart. This tender organ had sustained deep bruises, and I cared for it the only way I knew how.

So you see, I could have stayed detached from Charlie.

Grinch lifts gift-laden sled

And the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches… plus two.

But this time my heart was stronger. Experience taught me that I would hear the beat of God’s heart against mine even through disappointment – and this time around, an adorable toddler with a mischievous grin clutched my healing heart in hands smeared with mac-and-cheese.

I knew that planting my hope into the possibility of Charlie and praying, praying, praying was precisely what I was supposed to do, and would do, regardless of the outcome. We knew Charlie was a long shot. But I wanted no regrets, no “what ifs,” no wondering if I could have done something more to change the outcome.

Thus I entered the most intense week of prayer and surrender I have experienced.

Praying for *Betsy, Charlie’s birth mom, for peace for her come what may.

Praying for Charlie’s future, that he would be where he will thrive.

Praying for tribal members making the decision, that they would act in wisdom, not in pride or fear.

Praying for us.

Don’t picture me with bloody knees; toddlers allow little time for joint-straining genuflexion. Rather it was a week when Bible passages came to mind, and I bent my ear to listen and ask if God was speaking to the situation. Or I’d think of different people involved, and turn those thoughts to prayer. I awoke from dreams that called me to prayer. I stopped in the midst of cleaning or reading or writing to pray — and pray I did, with everything in me, knowing that each prayer knit Charlie closer to my mommy heart.

A week went by, with no word from the tribe.

“I feel like I’m biding my time today. On hold,” I texted to Rob. “It IS going to hurt if we don’t get Charlie.”

As you know from “Goodbye, Charlie,” Charlie is not in our home or arms. Rob’s and my part in the story is over.

But I have no regrets.

It is tempting, when faced with such a less-than-satisfactory outcome (to wit, an answer with seemingly few redeeming qualities), to wail and gnash my teeth. I considered this option. The truth is that bending my emotions to that purpose would not help Charlie in the least. Nor would it help me.

In the midst of it all, while I gave everything I could, I told God over and over (for myself, not Him) that I trusted Him no matter the outcome. When it was over, I felt the mournful tide wash over me, recede, and wash over me again.

“Your love for Charlie and your compassion for this mom will not go in vain,” wrote a friend with two adopted children of her own. “You were obedient to the calling at hand…to love, to cherish, to show compassion.”

I believe this, in faith. Somehow, giving my entire heart left my heart intact rather than in tatters.

I cannot pretend that in another situation, at another time, I would recover so well. I do not have a good track record for appreciating chronic disappointment. Two years ago I would have said, “But what about me? How can my heart continue to endure…?”

All I know is that this time, I am stronger. This time, I bent my back and shoved my shoulder into an immovable situation because I believe in a God who has the power to work miracles, the wisdom to know when to apply that power, and the goodness to not forget me. And this time, friend, is a building block for next time.

I am released to let Charlie go and believe that at the right time, a little baby will sleep in the bassinet waiting in our room…and that God will give Charlie and his birth mom everything they need, despite everything. Maybe even because of everything.

Though I have no satisfactory proof of answers to our prayers, I know that sometimes God shows more grit than glory…and in all the grittiness of His work in our messy world, He’s got a handle on this particular little mess.

*Name changed to guard privacy.


Goodbye, Charlie

This is a difficult post to write. Not because of grief and loss — which you might well assume as you learn the details — but because of anger and injustice, which you may or may not understand. The latter is the difficulty, because I don’t know how many reasons for my angst to delineate and explicate when I know only one side of the issue.

painting of "American Progress" by John Gast

Unfortunately, the story of Charlie begins long ago when a government decided they had the right to determine the fate of entire people groups…. [“American Progress,” by John Gast (painter) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.]

Friday, January 11. Our adoption agency called us. A woman was nearly due with a son whom she’d named Charlie, in honor of his grandfather. She hoped the adoptive parents would keep his name. “Betsy,” as I’ll call her, is Caucasian; Charlie’s father is Hispanic — and so Betsy wants Charlie to learn Spanish.

This is our son, I thought. “Charles” is in both Rob’s and his father’s names. Our daughter Madeleine is Hispanic, and though we’ll be delighted with any child entrusted to us, it seems wise for Madeleine to have a dark-skinned sibling. We have a goal of learning Spanish with Madeleine…and promising Betsy that her son will learn Spanish would help us stick to that goal.

There was one glitch. Charlie is 1/16th African American, and 1/16th Native American, both on his mother’s side. The “native” part is the glitch.

Betsy was adopted at birth by a non-Indian couple and had tried but found no way to connect with the tribe’s values or her birth family. She lives her life apart from the tribe. Yet the adoption agency by law must alert the tribe about Charlie, though he is as much African American as Native American, and more Caucasian/Hispanic than anything else. The tribe has the right to take this child, no questions asked.

We knew that if Betsy chose us, we were more likely a hope than a reality…a way to comfort a single mother who, due to permanent disability, is unable to parent her child and wants to choose a home for her child with values she respects. But the tribe was unlikely to acquiesce.

Monday, January 14. We met Betsy. Sweet, likable, well aware of her situation, certain of what she wants. “Do you or have you ever used drugs?” she asked us. That’s blunt. She wanted a home with a mom and a dad for Charlie, with no alcohol or drug abuse. She wanted Charlie in a Christian home, and over the past weekend she had looked carefully at our “adoptive family album” for clues that this was true of us. “I don’t need to think about it,” she told us at the end of our visit. “I want you to have Charlie.”

We left her with broken hearts. Prior to meeting Betsy, we wanted Charlie for our sakes. After meeting Betsy, we wanted Charlie for the sake of this woman who carried a baby she could not keep, who wanted the right to choose parents to care for him in her stead.

Betsy wrote a letter to the tribe, explaining why she wanted us as Charlie’s parents.

Her (adopted) mother wrote a letter to the tribe, begging them to not deal such a blow to Betsy as to take her son.

We wrote a letter to the tribe, promising to honor his Native American heritage and opening the door for Charlie to know his extended birth family.

Evening of Friday, January 18. Just as we sat for a symphony concert, Betsy’s adoption caseworker called. Betsy was in labor, at the hospital. Charlie was expected during the night.

Saturday, January 19. Charlie was born. “Kimberly and Rob are the only people who may leave with Charlie,” Betsy said. Her mom called the tribe. They said they would come for Charlie. “You don’t leave with Charlie unless you first explain to Betsy, face-to-face, why you are taking him,” she told them.

Monday the tribe took Charlie. At last report, Betsy was “doing OK.”

*****

Now I must consider why I’m writing this post. To rail against the tribe? We had no right to Charlie — no more than Betsy’s wish to give him to us. The tribe did not wrong us.

Yet this story and the anger are part of our journey toward a second child.

I’m incredulous that a tribe can overrule a mother’s right to determine her child’s future. Acting under the Indian Child Welfare Act, instituted to protect Indian children and their parents from tragic separation by the U.S. government, the tribe used the law specifically against one of their own, Betsy, to make plans against her will for her child. “Communal” overwhelmed “individual” in a way I do not understand. They never spoke directly with Betsy nor requested her input in choosing a family within the tribe. They insulted her choice of us (“young couples always have marriage problems”) before placing Charlie with a family precisely opposite of what she wants for Charlie (an older, single-parent home).

It seems the writers of the Act opposed this action:

“…the court, in the absence of good cause to the contrary, shall transfer such proceeding [adoption] to the jurisdiction of the tribe, absent objection by either parent….”

Yet when Betsy’s mom pointed out this clause to two attorneys, both said the courts would not touch it; the tribe could do as it pleases.

Do I write for sympathy? No. Can you believe me when I say I don’t seek condolences? We trust the outcome, though I’m obviously incensed with people and systems involved.

Adopted children have a built-in challenge to understand their identity. Charlie will grow up with a strong identity for at least 1/16th of who he is. We could not have given this to Charlie beyond Native American culture camp and occasional visits with his birth family.

Most people who hear we “almost” adopted a Native American child shrug and say, “They never let them go.” Right now, at least, I cannot shrug. I wish the tribe had come alongside Betsy, rather than demand and take from her. Perhaps they’re doing a better job with her now that they have Charlie…I hope so.


2nd time’s a breeze… well, mostly

Madeleine sits on Mama's lap during adoption intake

Signing papers to begin the home study process for adoption #2.

In January, our agency approved us for our second adoption, exactly two years after our first approval. Wow — so much easier second time around.

This time, I’m not surprised and somewhat offended that our young, single caseworker is asking my husband if he was or is unfaithful to me.

This time, I’m not angry about the all-encompassing focus on birth moms, and feeling like a second-rate, last-resort bottom-feeder myself, useful to the agency only as an abortion alternative for the birth mom.

This time, I’m not gasping at the cost of adoption, resentful that as a result of our pain, we’re paying for a great portion of the agency’s ministries outside of our specific adoption.

This time, I’m not shaking my fist at the suggestion that the birth mom has the right to name the child she will not raise…taking from me the right bestowed on parents from the beginning of time to confer a name upon a child brought into their families, deepening the grief of my inability to give birth to my child.

This time, I already know – this is simply the way it is. And oddly enough, it all works out.

If birth parents have chosen a name that makes us shudder and we can’t find a compromise, we may not be the right mix for that baby…and that’s OK. But there’s a good chance we can live with the name, or we even love the name, or the birth parents want to give us the honor of naming the child. This incredibly important matter the first time around is, on the second go-round, simply one of the several details that help the birth parents and us decide if we’re a good fit for each other.

I’m still not crazy about the right given to our young caseworker to poke and prod into our personal lives. But it isn’t her fault she’s young, and sure – we understand the reason for stripping away our privacy…though I will insist that how many times a week we cuddle or have sex is our business.

The cost; well, we made it through last time, and will again this time. Last time, God provided through many generous donations from family and friends. Perhaps this time funds will come through additional freelancing or garage sales or creative fundraising.

And this time…this time I’m downright eager to meet the birth parents of our next child. I hope we become friends. I hope they know how valuable they are, regardless of the circumstances leading to their decision for adoption. I hope our child grows up confident both in our love and in their love.

If anything, I’m more aware this time around of how truly complicated adoption is. But this time around, I’m not afraid of the details. This time, I’m eager to find out what they are, and step up to meet them.


Adrenal fatigue and the new mom – Part 2

<<Adrenal fatigue and the new mom – Part 1

foggy forest; autumn leaves on the ground

© Martinholek | Stock Free Images

Chemical or spiritual fatigue? Wrong food or wrong approach to circumstances? “Yes,” I say. All have affected my life as a mom, and all are playing into recovering the energy to be a mom.

Adrenal fatigue is like a rainy day, when wetness has saturated the earth for weeks already, and the autumn leaves can only drip their accumulated drops into puddles below. Whiteness stretches from horizon to horizon because the clouds are not above; they are before, behind, beside, around, and within. You notice the blazing colors on the trees, but that’s the best you can do. The colors do not energize or inspire…you smile wanly and wish you were gasping with unfettered awe instead.

Not everyone acknowledges adrenal fatigue. The wikipedia definition, for example, likely was written by a traditional medical practitioner, dismissive in word and tone. Yet a hormone test showing my depleted system explained my sleeplessness, my low threshold for stress, my complete lack of energy. A lack, I knew, that was about more than being a new mom.

Two things dug me out of my rut; two more pulsed new life into me.

1. Amino acid supplements prescribed by my naturopath supplied my body with necessary ingredients to help my hormone levels regain ground. After a couple of months, I no longer crawled into bed by 2pm every day, napping when Madeleine napped. My nighttime sleep improved, and I was able to fall back asleep after waking up in the middle of the night. Timeline: June-December 2011.

handwritten list of things that give energy, sap energy2. I read Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome. The part most daunting to me — nothing less than evaluating my entire lifestyle and desires — gave me hope as I curled up with the book during Madeleine’s afternoon naps, following the directions to list what in life drained me, what gave me energy, and determining how to decrease the former and increase the latter. This tool transformed into communion with God, as I asked the question, “How? How do I not let differences with Rob scare me? How do I recover who I am as a person, as a writer?” The answers came, too. Marriage counseling. Individual counseling. Asking Rob for me-time on a regular basis. Asking Rob’s mom if she was willing to watch Madeleine a couple times a month so I could have writing days. Finding someone to provide daytime daycare when I had freelance projects, so I wasn’t stuck working on the projects late at night, after Rob and Madeleine were in bed. Answers were waiting…I’d just been too foggy to even ask the questions. Timeline: January-June 2012.

So June came around again. A year into this recovery journey. And still, I was exhausted by 6pm every night. Still, I struggled to figure out and accomplish dinner every night. Doing that much in addition to caring for Madeleine emptied the bucket every day. I used to have so many ideas, so much joy…so much energy.

Drastic times call for drastic measures, and I decided I was there. Time to change my diet. Time to remove the gluten. Dairy had already fallen by the wayside several years earlier…but wheat? Ugh. Yet I’d rather learn a new way to cook and eat than drag through life. Enter the next steps:

3. I needed a game plan for removing gluten, so chose a 40-day diet recommended to me: The Maker’s Diet. I cringe as I link to this site because this diet, like all others I suppose, has become such a marketing business. Still — it gave me a convincing story, a holistic plan, and steps to follow. Within a week my energy returned, such as I’d not had in more than a year. Timeline: July 2012.

4. At the same time as I committed to the 40-day diet, I committed to at least 15 minutes with God each day. Fifteen minutes in the cozy chair in my bedroom, looking out the window over our neighborhood and to the valley beyond. Fifteen minutes reading the Bible or just sitting and…soaking in God. His love. His delight. His invitation to walk with him. Just 15 minutes. Not the hour that would make me truly holy. Just the 15 minutes for survival. There was a difference, too, in putting this time at the very beginning of my day. I’ve oft rebelled against this Good Christian Rule, this legalism. Yet it made a difference for me. It brought order and…relief…to my day, rather than adding stress by remembering and squeezing it into the afternoon nap segment. Maybe not so legalistic after all…maybe more of a truism.

I write this not to convince anyone of the existence of adrenal fatigue or God or the evils of gluten or the necessity of devotions. It’s my story. My journey. And frankly, it isn’t all solved. After the high of regaining energy, I still hit more lows than I care for. Some days I eat gluten and dairy and sugar. Many days I forget how convinced I am that I need that time with God. But it’s still my journey, and my findings are still true when I remember and apply.

A few links on adrenal fatigue:

 


Adrenal fatigue and the new mom – part 1

This is what adrenal fatigue feels like…

baby crying as she attempts to crawl

Learning to crawl can be miserable work.

I suppose it began with the miscarriage in 2006, followed by three months of pointed and inescapable physical pain.

Perhaps it began earlier, in the midst of a workplace that supplied five managers to me in three years, the final one calling me a liar, telling me no one liked to work with me, and citing Webster’s Dictionary in her insistence that my statements about my experience were false. My horror at the time gave way to humor at this unaccountable interaction, but I did not laugh hard enough to stay longer than another six months.

No doubt infertility appointments and treatments added to my energy’s general demise, with five years of spreading my legs for doctors to poke and prod my private places and point fingers at my imagination; discovering no good reason for our lack of conception or my physical pain. One male doctor told me that getting pregnant would resolve my pain with intercourse, so don’t worry about the pain. Nevermind that he could not discover why I was not pregnant, or that intercourse is the generally accepted method of achieving pregnancy, and enjoyable intercourse generally helps the process. I wanted to suggest that I clamp part of his sensitive area and see if he thought pregnancy would resolve his pain. [P.S. Surgery to remove uterine fibroids answered this pain issue. Thankful the learned doctor was desperately wrong.] Yes…I suppose I would count those years as energy-sapping.

Regardless of how I got there, I was grateful to learn the name of where I landed: Adrenal fatigue. The diagnosis arrived in May 2011. By that time I’d gone without a solid night of sleep for two years.

***

pencil sketch of the doldrums, from Phantom Tollbooth

“Well, if you can’t laugh or think, what can you do?” asked Milo.
“Anything as long as it’s nothing, and everything as long as it isn’t anything,” explained another. The Lethargarians in ThePhantom Tollbooth, one of the best books ever.

In this land where the doldrums reign, I longed to crawl into bed by 1pm every day. My body forgot how to sleep, waking religiously at 2:00 or 3:00 each morning, wide-eyed if not bushy-tailed for 2-3 hours, slumbering again as dawn roused the world. Then I was off to work. By autumn of 2010, my brain failed me regularly at my part-time desk job where I desperately needed it to operate on full-time energy and ability.

After sleeping pills prescribed by my physician assistant failed to help my body re-learn sleep patterns, I found a naturopath who specialized in hormones. If I knew anything, I knew my body was out of whack. A hormone test showed in graphic terms (literally; the results graphed the rise and fall of my hormones) that a number of my hormones scraped the bottom of the bucket.

The ticket to adrenal fatigue is bombarding your body with any kind of stress – physical, emotional, or mental; it’s all the same to the adrenal glands – until those little glands sitting on top of your kidneys slump over, go on strike and dramatically slow production of hormones.

I did not know hormones have everything to do with sleep. And energy. And stress. And reaction to stress.

Three other things I did not know:

  • My low energy had everything to do with my struggle to be a good mom that first year. Energy affects mood and the ability to handle emotions.
  • My energy was much lower than the average new mom’s energy, and I was getting less sleep than the average new mom — leaving me not one whit higher than “able to function.”
  • I was not as big a loser as I thought. Giving myself grace in this looks-fine-on-the-outside illness would have been entirely appropriate.

I know these things because I’m now two months on the other side. I have energy again. I wake up thankful rather than dreading the day ahead. It’s remarkably easier to enjoy my daughter. Cooking is fun again. This is not because Madeleine is so much more independent. (She’s more independent all the time…but only incrementally.) It is because I’m finally figuring out what my body needs, and how to provide it.

I’ll write more about this in my next post, but for now the thought I’ll pass on to you is this:

If you wake up in the morning and wish the sun were setting rather than rising, if you know you’re surrounded by blessings and despise yourself for how grumbly you feel, sure — maybe you just need to get your head back in the game and make it through. Maybe you just need to be more thankful, more happy…just set your mind to it. It’s entirely possible this is the case. Sometimes it is.

Or maybe there’s something else going on in this intricately-woven spiritual-physical being of yours that was created somewhat like a game of pick-up sticks: Move one stick, and they all shift. The trick is finding the stick that moved.


Mama-me and the rest of me

road sign in London: "changed priorities ahead"

Photo courtesy of Pamela Jane Photography.

I’ve just returned from a deep-talking, heart-touching, make-me-cry-kind-of-laughing road trip with my college roommate. Twenty years ago this week I walked through the doorway of my new dorm room 3,000 miles from home and heard, “Roomieeeee!” And I thought, “Oh my.” Introvert, meet extrovert.

Holding my newborn

Becoming a mama. Photo courtesy of Pamela Jane Photography.

We roomed together freshman and sophomore years. Our lives have ebbed and flowed together and apart, though we’ve never lost touch. She was in New York when I married, but joined us in the hospital nursery in Oregon hours after Madeleine was born, capturing in photographs the moments we could live only that once. Days later she flew to Paris and then on to Amman, Jordan, freezing through her lens the glimpses of life we so often miss.

A month ago she returned. Weeks later a mutual friend visited California for a brief break from her life overseas, and we discovered our opportunity to catch up: One mad-dash trip to southern California to visit our friend; 17 hours down, two days there, 16 hours back (the trip home must have been downhill).

“I can take Madeleine,” I told Rob.

“I’ll take the days off work to watch her,” he said. “Have fun.” Blessed art thou among husbands, I said…after the appropriate are-you-sures.

***

Trips away from home have long been my time to recalibrate. Work-related conferences reinvigorated me for my job. Flights to various appointments gave me time to sit back and think, removing the option of multitasking. One 3-week stint of driving through unknown countryside on the eastern seaboard, reporting on a series of music events, gave my soul space to breathe.

During those times away, I remembered who I was. I explored hideaways in my heart and welcomed them into who I am always becoming. God was at work and finally, away from the rest of life, I could see it, hear it, feel it.

Now I’m a stay-at-home, freelance-writing-mama. The mama-me easily forgets the rest of me. I don’t even know I’ve forgotten me (outside of the slow leak in my soul)…until I get away, be it a memory-caliber road trip or a simple several hours shopping on my own.

In July, Rob’s parents took Madeleine for six days while Rob attended a conference in Chicago, and I attended to Chicago: double-decker bus tours, poking in and out of museums and historical buildings, catching up with a cousin, writing in my journal for the first time since Madeleine’s birth.

kissing my sweet husband

Affection in the light of Chicago’s Ferris Wheel.

Despite the sight-seeing, the highlight of the trip happened upon our arrival, somewhere between O’Hare and Raffaello hotel. Must have been on the “L” Blue Line. I remember greeting Chicago through the window as a particular joy and energy filled me. Not for the vacation, though the vacation allowed room for it. But for my excitement and desire of who I want to be as a wife. Ah yes, a wife. A wife who wants to ask questions rather than assume and tell. A wife who deeply loves her husband and wants him to know it.

Conferences were always good for regaining excitement about my job. That’s what this was like…remembering why I’m doing what I’m doing, and how glad I am to be doing it.

***

So the Chicago trip was about wifing, really. The California road trip was about mothering and the core of me. My fears. My hopes. My dreams. That I can’t or won’t “be enough” as a mom. That I won’t hear the whisper in my ear defining my dreams, and can’t catch the wind that propels me toward them.

Where the Chicago trip settled me, the California trip stirred me. Both reminded me of who I am outside of carrying baby, changing diapers, entertaining baby, cleaning bathrooms, training baby, and putting dinner on the table.

Chicago renewed my joy. California renewed my longing. Both are me. The joy is still there, somewhat submerged beneath mothering duties. The dreams remain alive, if dormant. Yet not dormant; simply a little dusty — or maybe they’re fermenting; wouldn’t that be a lovely surprise? — waiting for the right moment to remind me of who I am and what breathes life into me. I like my joy, my dreams; I like to remember them and hold them, and know the dream of becoming a mom has not overtaken the rest of me.

So now I’m home, no longer with miles of laughter and chatter and tears stretching ahead. That journey is in the rear view mirror. The rich silt stirred by the conversation and introspection has again settled across the bottom of my heart. I have new things now to ask God, questions to ponder, reasons to sit in quietness with my hands open, waiting to hear the whisper.


Not sure what this should be

Walk with Us fell by the wayside for several months. The sabbatical began innocently enough, when freelancing took up all the baby-napping-mommy-writing time. Then…then it was just easier not to write.

This blog began as a place to process my journey, to vent the frustration and air the agony of so few people “getting it.” Not just about infertility, or adoption. But about the entire package of rabbit trails and digressions. Of hated holidays and misused words and mixed emotions about pregnancy and children and family and billboards.

But of equal importance was the desire to journey with others. “We read to know we are not alone,” said novelist, poet, and academic C.S. Lewis. So many of us feel alone in our journeys — in parenting, in marriage, in singleness, in chronic disease or fatal disease. We feel alone either because no one will listen, or because we’ve learned we’re better off not talking.

So Walk with Us has been the “dark side.” The hard stuff. The socially unacceptable confessions. And that makes it heavy. Too heavy? I’ve wondered. While the happy, fun stuff displays on Facebook, the angst lives here.

This is what I pondered in the months of no writing. Frankly, I wish I were gut-splitting funny. Writing is effective, I knew long ago, if people laugh or cry in response. Either will do. I wish I had more of the funny here.

And then I get one more comment, someone saying she felt so alone…and then she stumbled across the blog…and knew someone understood. That’s when I think, This is the grace in my journey. This is where pain and writing mingle…and heal. That’s when I want to keep writing the heavy stuff.

So there you have it. That’s what I’m thinking about this week, wondering, pondering. What has been helpful/encouraging to you? What questions might I answer, from where we’ve been and where we are now? What do you wish I’d write more…or less? Will you be brave enough to answer?


One year!

close-up of Madeleine

Somewhere along the way you learn life is not black and white…that there’s no redemption without loss, that trust means nothing until there’s pain, that sometimes in order to receive, we must first be emptied of what we have. Last week we celebrated a birthday — and we celebrated redemption, trust, and the gift of receiving.

Maybe God allows broken hearts?

Last night Rob came downstairs holding his cell phone. “I think you should hear this,” he said.

The recorded voice of a friend was telling Rob about a friend of his daughter’s, a teenager, who is pregnant. She wants nothing to do with the father of her child. Her parents are non-supportive. She wants to give the baby up for adoption. Are we interested, the friend asked.

Rob and I looked at each other.

Just that morning I’d visited with my naturopath about once again pursuing pregnancy. Driving home, I asked God to grow our family in whatever way He desires, adoption or pregnancy, or just stopping us now.

Coincidence, this call?

Now this morning, I’m at my computer working on an article for George Fox University about their hybrid learning programs. Suddenly I’m thinking of this young mom, and concern for her builds up inside me, pushing at cellular walls and demanding my attention.

“God,” I start, getting up and pacing the wood floor, “right now, more than pregnancy, I just want to help this girl. I want her to know joy, hope, value…”  Can you understand that feeling of something big and intense swelling inside you? My mind circled back around to what I’d just said, longing filling me. “I want her to know hope; to feel valued.” Things I bet she needs right now. I want to come alongside her, so much.

Then agonies brought on by disappointment the past six years fogged my drive to help someone else. “Just protect my heart,” I begged. If we walk with her, don’t let her change her mind.

My pacing stopped. I’m not so sure protecting my heart is God’s top priority. I sat on the bottom stair. Would I choose to focus on someone else’s need, no guarantees for me? Don’t ask that of me.

That’s when I pulled up WordPress…needed to write.

Words from the prophet Isaiah whispered through my mind…words expressing his purpose in that time and place. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,” this prophet said, “because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…” (Isaiah 61:1).

I remember the first time I felt the weight of those words, writing in the margin of my Bible’s crinkling page: “Not a very impressive audience. ” The poor, the brokenhearted, the captives. An audience God cares about rather deeply…Jesus claimed the same calling; you hear Him quoting Isaiah in Luke 4:14-21.

Isaiah walked with the nation of Israel in desperate times. “…We look for light, but there is darkness! For brightness, but we walk in blackness! We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes; we stumble at noonday as at twilight; we are as dead men in desolate places” (Isaiah 59:9-10).

The brokenhearted people needed hope. They needed to know they were valued. Isaiah brought words they needed.

I’m not a prophet, and I’m not Jesus. But I want to be like them. I want to love people, hands open.

And now I must poke fun at myself, in the midst of this serious, potentially self-edifying post. We have no idea what will happen with this girl. We’ve been in this place before, hearing of a pregnant girl, a friend of a friend. We may never hear more than that one message, and within a week or two of no news, realize, again, that it was a dead end. My declarations of self-sacrificing concern may be nothing more than mere exercise.

Maybe my only role in this girl’s life is to pray for her today. And yes, I’m already in too far to avoid disappointment. Just one voice mail is enough to engender hope. Further involvement could lead to heartbreak.

So — if I have the opportunity to be a healing agent for a brokenhearted girl (if she is), am I willing? Am I willing if it means my own broken heart?

Honestly, ugh. But yes.

God never says my heart won’t break. He just says He’ll heal it; it’s what He does…  “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” Psalm 147:3. Sometimes, I think, my heart must break so God can use me to help heal someone else’s heart. Just as those who have put a balm on my heart in some of my most painful moments are those who understand — because their hearts, too, have been broken.

Writer’s note 6.24.12: I wrote the above post two weeks ago. Since then we learned that the pregnant teen has thrice been talked out of an abortion. Now it has been six days since we heard any news. I ache for the girl. No matter her choice, she will always have questions…and perhaps regrets. Neither abortion nor adoption are pain-free. So I simply pray.


Truly attached?

Last Friday, Madeleine’s story wove just a bit tighter in with mine. She and I sat on the floor of the optometrist’s waiting room, she stacking Legos at the play table, I filling out paperwork.

“Mother,” I wrote for the first time on a line labeled “relation to patient.”

Four pieces of paper asked this same question. Four times I wrote “Mother,” the word snuggling into my heart a bit deeper each time.

We’ve filled out paperwork for Madeleine before — when she was just two days old, in fact, for her first pediatrician appointment. But at that time I felt compelled to write a parenthetical “(adoption not yet finalized)” beside the slots for names of parents.

No parenthesis this time. No caveats.

Today I left Madeleine in the care of a friend and her two young, highly responsible, so-excited-to-babysit daughters. For two hours I sorted and organized donated clothing at the Clothes Closet at our church, which we open once a week for people in the community who need clothing. I knew M would thrive in her time with this family who would dote on her every second I was gone.

As I stepped back through their front door at 2:40, M was on the floor getting a diaper change. She spotted me and grinned, squealing in excitement and performing her signature mermaid kick, pounding the floor by lifting and dropping both legs, together, several times, arms doing the same.

I am loved. I’m in awe that I am loved.

We were gifted with a steady, mellow child. These children don’t scream for hours. Neither do they smile for the first four (five? six?) months. They observe…and even we parents have to work really, really hard to get smiles, sometimes with no success.

I don’t know if mothers who give birth to their children have these questions, but Madeleine’s unflinching, unsmiling gaze left me wondering for many (many, many) months…

Does my child care who is holding her?

Is she just as content with anyone else?

Would she know if I were gone?

Does she even like me?

Would she have picked a different mom if she had the choice?

In this wild card for family-building called adoption, when the warm fuzzies aren’t abundant in those first months of gaining our sea legs, it can make one wonder if the ship is going to run aground somewhere.

All of this revolves around attachment: the unrecognized assumption of every parent…unless you’re adopting. Attachment is a big, big deal in adoption world. We adoptive-parents-from-birth are not exempt. The book Raising Adopted Children says bonding “begins with the biological parent during pregnancy and continues through birth and the first few days of life” (quoted in “Attachment and Bonding in Adoption”).

Madeleine did not hear our voices from conception. She doesn’t know our smell. And this niggling, illogical mommy heart can wonder, “Does she just know I didn’t carry her? Does she accept me as her mommy?”

One Sunday back in the dark land of No Love Returned (~month 4), I’d had no smiles from Madeleine all weekend. We went to church — and a friend made a face at Madeleine and was immediately rewarded with a huge grin.

I’ll reveal my childishness to you. That was painful. I was jealous, envious, and resentful. I did not want to cuddle and feed Madeleine in that moment…or even that morning. I wanted to stomp my feet and yell.

Apparently withholding smiles from your primary caregiver is not just about adoption. A friend who gave birth to her daughter commiserated with me, saying her daughter went through seasons of just smiling at her husband, or just smiling at her — or just smiling at my friend’s mom. “That was tough,” she said. I still felt snubbed by my 4-mn-old, but logic attempted to inform the feeling.

We all know parents cannot look to their children to reassure them in their parental roles. Way too big a burden to place on a child. And yet…and yet, we long to know they love us. Long to know they want us around.

“To be honest,” my sister-in-law told me on a walk over Christmas break, “when our children were babies, we loved them, but I felt bonded to them when they began running to me as toddlers, arms thrown wide, yelling, ‘Mommy!’ It’s when they’re able to start giving back…when it becomes a two-way street…that the bonding really happens.”

Sometime around month 7, I began to think that maybe Madeleine needs me — wants me — after all. About this time, Rob’s mom began caring for M two Mondays a month, to give me days to write. I figured not only would my bucket be filled by alone- and writing-time, but M’s would be filled up with lots of Grandma love.

Yet once Madeleine and I were home again in the evening, she was so very, very fussy. Crying at this, crying at that; nothing satisfies but to be held and walked. Terribly frustrating.

Happened again the next time. Great at Grandma’s, crabby at home.

The second time around, I began to wonder. Could it be she misses me? Despite being happy with Grandma, is she a little put-out that I’ve been absent all day? My heart did a little skip, and I was no longer frustrated at her whimpering.

If your whimpering, my little Madeleine, is baby code for “I want you. I need you,” I’m first in line to hold you and love on you. I’m still waiting for that first chubby hug, but for now your smiles will do — and will do quite well.


Foot-in-mouth disease

I was 31 when I married. As a girl with Midwest roots, where marrying age is 18-22 and woe be unto you if you complete college without a wedding ring, by 31 a thick layer of dust had settled on me during my time on the shelf.

My shelf life gave ample opportunity for entries in my yet unpublished book, Stupid Things People Say to Single People. Now that I’m married, the passion for publishing this tome has waned — but let me know if I need to get cracking on it for you.

Five months of engagement lent themselves to the second book in my unpublished series: Stupid Things People Say to Engaged Girls. Once I was married…yes; you’re catching the trend here. But honestly — we all have entries for these stage-of-life books. And we’ve all contributed our share of entries to others’ books, as well. We know we, too, say stupid things…if we’re self-aware enough to realize it.

Here’s a tawdry for-instance from my own experience:

Two years ago we knew we were headed for adoption, and were open to adopting a child of a different race. One day two men in a pickup truck stopped at the farm where I worked to ask if the owner was home. The younger one was obviously Latino, with dark skin; he owned the farm next field over. The older one had quite light skin, with ample age spots. During the conversation, the younger one introduced the other as his grandpa. “Really?” I asked, my tone implying I did not believe him. “You don’t look anything like him.”

Two things were happening in my brain at that moment:

  1. I wasn’t sure if he was making a joke. Their skin tones looked very different to me. And because I don’t like falling for jokes, I did not want to appear gullible.
  2. At the exact same time, I’m thinking, Maybe he’s adopted! Maybe he loves being Latino and adopted into a family that doesn’t look like him. Maybe we can adopt a child of a different race and still raise a happy, well-adjusted, successful adult.

But I’m horrified at how it may have come across. First of all, everyone knows people within the same biological family can have very different skin tones. Duh. Second, in an area where Latinos may be seen as lower-class, might he have taken my question/comment as an insult?

Though my embarrassment mounted immediately, my brain could not process quickly enough to explain before we went opposite directions. My face burned for weeks. All I could do is pray that my stupidity would not be a thorn in his flesh, pricking him in a tender spot. I’ve never seen him again — though I looked every time I was at the farm after that — nor had the opportunity to doubly-embarrass myself by apologizing for a comment he may not remember.

Naturally miscarriage, infertility and adoption offer an open invitation for such entries from folks who know nothing of them. Most comments, I’m sure, were meant to be helpful. None were meant to harm. Here are a few that come to mind…

  • Have you tried the position of <I won’t get graphic here>?
  • If you adopt, you’re sure to get pregnant. If this happened to work, what will I tell our adopted child when she asks why we adopted her? “Well, honey, we just wanted to get pregnant with your sister.”
  • Just be glad for extra time with your husband, without children. The equivalent does not help singles — when they desperately want to be married, it’s difficult to enjoy being single. And I hope no one would suggest to a new widow that she be grateful to have alone-time now that her husband has died…miscarriage is a death, as well (and the pain of that death is exacerbated by infertility).
  • Adoption is the easy way to have children. Don’t get me started on this one. Rewarding, yes. Easy, no.

OK, so what’s to be done? Saying stupid things is a plight common to humanity. People in every category could publish their own “Stupid Things…” volume. People who are heavy, people who are skinny. People with nose rings. Generally speaking, anyone in any kind of minority situation (whether temporary or permanent) is bound to have practice at giving grace in the face of unintentional unkindness. I say “minority situation” because usually the misguided comments come from the greater population with no experience in the situation of the lesser population. Make sense?

If you are speaking to someone in a situation you have not experienced — and you are particularly susceptible if you are attempting to comfort someone — here is what I suggest:

  1. Sincere humility opens doors. Admit you’ve never been there, and your understanding is limited.
  2. Disclaimers give great mileage. A friend said to me once, “I’ve never been through infertility, so I may be way off…I was just trying to imagine what it must be like, and wondered if it’s like this….”
  3. Requests for feedback = permission for honesty. Ask your friend if your words caused pain. Would she prefer that you don’t bring up the topic, or is she glad for someone to talk to? If you truly want to be helpful to a friend, I suspect you’re willing to learn how you’ll be most helpful.
  4. Grace heals. The longer someone has been in a painful situation, the more likely she is to be tender (read “thin-skinned” if you feel spiteful), and the more likely her grace bucket is already drained. Something you never dreamed would hurt may slice her deeply — and she may have no grace left to give you. This is your chance to pour from your bucket into hers.

The worst thing we can do is decide how much pain a person is allowed to feel. Even if I have been through the exact same experience as another woman, it will not be the same — my personality and hers are different. Our families are different. Our histories are different. Words can heal; don’t be afraid to use words. Just be open to learning how you can put salve on a wound, rather than open the wound further.

Now for those of us smarting in our painful places, I have a few words as well:

  1. Remember your own stupid comments, to give you grace for others. If you can’t think of any time you’ve said something foolish, no matter how inadvertently, ask God to open your eyes.
  2. Gently communicate to friends who hurt you. Disclaimers can help us, as well: “I know you want to help me; would you like to know how your words affected me?”
  3. Choose who is worth the communication. You’ll only wear yourself out trying to help everyone understand why their words hurt. Some people will be defensive because they feel you should simply appreciate their gesture of friendship. It’s OK to accept that some friendships are not meant to meet you in your painful place.

Words are such a gift. They can loosen the binds around one’s heart and allow you to breathe again. They can allow you to weep in the relief that someone understands. Or they can empty and dismantle your bucket. Choose words carefully.

Just for fun, I researched “stupid things people say” online. Join me in my ongoing education:

Stupid things people say to single moms – I laughed out loud. And took notes. Well said.

Three stupid things you may be saying – from a single gal


10 best things about adoption

In the midst of the natural challenges surrounding adoption, here are a few of the perks:

  1. Adoption is the one way my husband and I get to be “pregnant” together.
  2. My body doesn’t have to get back in shape once the baby is born. (This says nothing of the shape I’m in, for the record.)
  3. Daddy gets to bond from the very beginning, sharing in the middle-of-the-night bottle feedings. Many daddies, including my husband, honestly treasure this.
  4. The hope that, because my child is not of my genetics, I’ll actually help her discover who she is, rather than expect her to emulate me. How cool that we get to be wonder-filled together at the giftings she has.
  5. My daughter doesn’t get to blame my genetics for her body’s perceived flaws.
  6. A child who can tan. (This from my white-skinned, freckled husband.)
  7. We get to know a lot of cool people who also adopted…who we may not know so well if we had not joined this slice of society.
  8. Through cross-cultural or cross-racial adoption, my horizons are broadened beyond where they ever would have been otherwise.
  9. I get to practice gracious responses to inane, inaccurate, and insensitive comments. (OK, so this one’s a little tongue-in-cheek…or maybe plain cynical. Still, practice is good.)
  10. Though difficult at times, I have the privilege (and I mean that) of leaning in close to a specific kind of pain in our world — and the opportunity to put a bit of salve on the wound.

What do you think? If you’ve experienced adoption on some level, what would you add?


Mealtime mayhem

Post bottle, Madeleine sleeps with hands on face

Madeleine in her first month of life, hands left on face after bottle is removed.

Since birth, Madeleine has amused us with her artistry during meals. While we hold her bottle, she strokes her face or conducts an air orchestra. Before the bottle’s end, both hands have covered her eyes as she sinks into the bliss of her milk stupor. Well, that’s how it used to be.

Amusement dwindled when she began holding the bottle. She still attempts to conduct the orchestra. Hold the bottle with one hand, direct the oboes with the other. The one-handed drinking is actually rather impressive. Not so impressive is her penchant for removing the bottle to play with the nipple. Or look out the window. Or find a nearby toy. Meanwhile, she spills milk over herself, the floor, or anyone holding her.

As for solid foods, we feed her. Though not interested in holding her own spoon, she is interested in whatever is over there to the left. Or right. Or above. Sudden head movements smear squash across her cheeks, chin, and eyebrows. And let’s not forget the air orchestra.

We’ve entered the era of mealtime mayhem, and I hear it gets messier — much, much messier — before it gets better.

Madeleine feeding, covering face with one handWhen I have an hour with nothing else to do, my patience abounds and she’s adorable. When we have other things in our day, I’m frustrated with the mess and delay. And though I don’t cry over spilled milk, I do grind my teeth. Then I start to glare. And then wiping her face becomes a brusque display of my displeasure, rather than a loving touch.

Madeleine moving arms while drinking from bottleI dislike my impatience. I dislike what Madeleine sees in my eyes when I glare at her. And I dislike the guilty writhing of my soul at night, agonizing over my failures as a parent to a mere baby.

Yesterday was such a day, and last night such a night. I can just hear parents of teens saying to me, “Honey, you’ve gotta get yourself over that writhing now — or it’s gonna be a loooong road.” But truly…do we ever get past writhing over our confounded inadequacies?

Madeleine throws an arm over her eyes while she feedsAs my mind unwound last night, God stilled my squirming and reminded me, “I do still love you. I can help. You’ve hit another learning curve with Madeleine, so step back and figure out how to handle it moving forward.”

In the calm I formed a plan. The next day was a new day. I felt good about this. Hopeful. In the haze of possibilities, I scripted my greeting for Madeleine:

Madeleine covers eyes with hand“Good morning, Sweetheart. You’re my daughter, and I love you. And today, God has promised to help me be patient with you during meals.”

Then came the morning. Opening the nursery door, the smell of urine-saturated-everything assaulted my nostrils. Daddy had missed the memo about which diapers not to use at night. Ammonia permeated sleeper, sleep sack, sheet, the very air I breathed.

Skip the godly words. Instead I grinned back at her soaked-and-smiling-anyway-little-self and asked, “How about a bath?”

After that it was just time to eat. No time for my patience-at-meals speech, but I did implement my plan. Here’s the flowchart of my brain:

Do I have patience in this moment?
Yes –> Let Madeleine feed herself.
No –> I’ll hold the bottle.

Pretty simple, really. And works beautifully. My answer today was “yes.” I put Madeleine on the floor, handed her the bottle. Whoops — she craned around to look out the window, and milk is dripping from the bottle held upside down above her face. OK, move her to a spot away from distractions. Try again.

This time she’s s thrilled with the gift, and begins eating immediately. Meanwhile, rather than sit and watch (why test my patience?), I put away her clean clothes and load laundry in the washer. When I hear her squeal, I peek in at her. With the bottle on the floor a foot west of her head, I assume she’s saying, “Finished!”

The “real food” mealtimes require my involvement. Frankly, all I can do is make space for them. Not try to feed AND…. Just feed. As her focus dwindles, I assume she’s filling up. If she isn’t eating as much as I expect her to…well, maybe I’m wrong about how much she needs.

Being a parent calls for learning to teach. Teaching takes patience…and my own coping mechanisms <grin>. This is what I signed up for, whether or not I knew the fine print.


Mommy moments

The more I learn about my daughter, the more fun it is to be her mom. Here are a few moments caught with my phone camera.

She likes doing laundry…if that’s where I am, anyway.

Madeleine, sitting in a basket of clean laundry.

Or…she’ll just sit and watch the clothes go ’round.

Madeleine stars at a dryer in motion

Though Daddy’s the main baby-bather, I give her the quick sink bath when she awakens from naps soaked all the way through. Looks pretty tough on her….

Madeleine sitting in sink, taking a bath.

She’s a trooper with grocery shopping…though even she has her limits.

Madeleine exploring in shopping cart

Madeleine lounging in shopping cart

Madeleine getting antsy in shopping cart


Two ends of a silver thread

We hold two ends of the same thread, our birth mom and I. The thread of the silver lining in our storm clouds, if you will. Hers the result of an unwanted pregnancy, mine the outcome of no pregnancy at all.

Madeleine is that silver thread — something neither of us would have if life had gone according to plan, something that will forever connect us. If one of us slackens our hold or gains a tighter grip, the other one feels it. And as Madeleine grows older, she’ll feel it most of all.

Our birth mom is nothing of what we hoped she wouldn’t be.

The inverse (and concise) — that she is everything we hoped she would be — is far too simply put. We hoped she would be healthy. We hoped she was motivated…in school? job? life?…and could make good decisions. But even “good decisions” gets a wee bit murky: Good for who? And who’s to define “good”?

No, the fearful side is much more telling and precise.

We hoped our birth mom would not be on drugs. We hoped she would not try to co-parent or expect a visit every month. We hoped she would not insist upon choosing a name for the baby. If she wanted to name the child, our adoption agency strongly urged, we should keep that name.

The importance of honoring the birth mother vied with the desire to know our child is truly ours, while the unknowns of becoming a parent were only magnified and multiplied by the potential needs and wants of another mom — and indeed, of another entire family.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser speaks to this beautifully in her article “Wedding Guests” in the Fall 2011 issue of Brain,Child. Not to the question of naming a child, but to the beauty, awkwardness, and pain of taking her adopted-since-birth, not-quite-two-year-old daughter to the wedding of her birth mother’s sister. Of Sarah’s hope and disappointment wrapped around who the birth mom is, because who she is will affect the precious daughter.

Before we ever knew of the woman who would be our birth mom, a friend who worked with adoptions for a number of years said to me as we hiked the steep hills of my neighborhood, “If a birth mom wants to name her child, she’s probably not the birth mom for you.” If she wants that connection, my friend said, quite likely she would want more interaction than I felt able to give in other areas. “Best to be honest,” she said, “because it’s all going to come out at some point. Be honest up front and you’ll find a good fit.”

In the end, like I said, our birth mom is nothing of what we hoped she wouldn’t be — including the name thing.

The second time we met with our birth mom, the caseworker asked what names we were considering. Both Rob and I silently caught our breath. He, out of fear that the birth mom would dislike all the names and reconsider choosing us. I, because I had to let go of my right to hold this secret.

We’d not decided upon any name yet, but had made a list of names that worked for both Spanish and English, as we knew our child was Latino. In our top five was “Madeleine.”

“Madeleine?!” our birth mom interrupted. “I was just thinking of that name yesterday. I don’t know why…maybe I think I’m having a girl. But I thought ‘Madeleine Sophia’ was such a pretty name.”

Had we hated the name, this would not have been such a fun story. But we thought it beautiful; and we look forward to telling Madeleine one day that her birth mom helped choose her name.

So much of what I feared never came to be. Sleepless nights, wasted. The places where pain has pierced, I never saw coming and could not have prepared…and any “preparation” (read, sleepless nights), only would have made it worse. What we most wanted for our daughter remains true: Madeleine can be proud of who her birth mom is.

We don’t yet know what our or Madeleine’s relationship with her birth mom will look like in years to come. She has visited our home once since the birth, and the afternoon brought joy and pain, a tightening and release. A realization that we hold opposite ends of the same rope…that her life will necessarily affect mine, and mine hers. Yet it’s our silver lining, and worth learning how to hold.


Adoption postpartum depression?

Giving Madeleine her first bath, at the hospital

Something I would not have experienced, had I given birth to Madeleine: Bathing her the very first time, right there in the hospital nursery sink.

My new baby was in my arms. I think. To be honest, I can’t remember the people configuration as we left the hospital on June 23. I do know Madeleine Sophia was with us. And I know I didn’t feel the way I wanted to feel. It only got worse.

Mom called soon after our arrival home. “You must be so excited!” she said.

My honesty got me in trouble yet again. “No Mom, I’m not excited. I left a woman sobbing in the hospital. I feel like I’ve stolen a baby.”

Mom called back the next day. “Are you excited now?”

“Mom…it just has to be OK that I’m not excited. You’ll know when I am.”

She was worried. I was frustrated. This is why I’d insisted to her months earlier that adoption is not “the easy way to go.” Physically, she meant. And she was right; my body had not been stretched or cut. I’d not pushed for 10+ hours and begged for drugs.

No — instead, I’d watched my husband tumble into immediate, irrevocable love with a tiny person I could not produce for him. The next day I’d handed my(?) new baby to the woman who gave birth to her, my emotions warring between agony for her as she gave up her child, and irritation that she was deciding my baby’s needs: “Where’s her bottle? She’s hungry.” I knew I’d just fed the baby until she’d turned away from the bottle, but I silently produced what Madeleine’s birth mom requested. And when the birth mom cried over Madeleine…oh, when she cried over the girl she was giving to us…what right did I have? How could I possibly be the mommy?

We came home. I began cooking our meals and putting the nursery in order. My body was fine, after all. I kept doing what I’d always done: Take care of things. I couldn’t expect Rob to take care of me…my body was fine.

Rob cuddled Madeleine.

I sobbed. Rob tried to understand.

I don’t know that “postpartum depression” quite covers it. Try anger, guilt, panic, disappointment, envy, loss.

Yes, my body was fine. But my heart had no place to moor. While my husband nestled with his long-awaited child, I felt I’d not only not gained a daughter — but lost my husband. This wasn’t what I’d imagined…I’d planned to fall in love, too. I longed to be part of the cozy threesome, not the third wheel.

Ten days later I headed back to work, full-time-plus. My replacement was starting; I needed to train her; and our annual conference was in three weeks. Thankfully, Rob could take paternity leave.

I was glad to coordinate the conference one last time, and glad for a chance to wrap up work. Yet I desperately wanted to be home, feeling like a mom.

It helped when a friend could reflect back to me, “Rob had basically the same experience he would have if you’d given birth. He was in the room for the birth. He held Madeleine in the nursery. And he gets to bond by feeding her. But you’ve had none of the experience you would have if you’d given birth.” None of the agony; none of the exultation.

Her words gave form to the darkness of my grief that was shapeless and sharp all at the same time.

I felt insecure as the mom. No other dad vied for the father spot in Madeleine’s heart. But Madeleine will grow up knowing another mom; what will that be like? During the first several months the birth mom seemed much more the mom than I, regardless of the paperwork.

I felt horribly, terribly sad for our birth mom. What was that mom going through now, returning home with that throbbing void inside? Pain for her capsized my joy. I could only hope things would get better…for her and for me…like taking time to learn a new job, or acclimate to marriage. “Adjustment,” they call it. “Crap,” I say.

While wary of sounding like (or being?) the whiny adoptive mom (or whiny choose-a-label), I equally fear tying up a blog post with a soft, pink, sitcom bow. The hard stuff is true. But so is the good stuff, and here it is:

The ship did not sink. Nor did I feel that level of dismay every day. I had beautiful moments with Madeleine, beautiful moments with Rob. His involvement as a father is an invaluable gift to both of us girls in his life.

And yes, I am falling in love with Madeleine — have been and am more and more every day. While Rob had the uncomplicated tumble into loving fatherhood, I’ve had the slower creeping along, sorting my way through layers of real emotion and emotional reality. Madeleine is 7 months now, and she’s mine. I’ve believed that since somewhere in our third month together.

“Adjustment” is a euphemism, at least when you’re one who goes through life feeling all the bumps (rather than looking back years later and musing, “Yah; I guess that was kinda rough.”). But I can recognize the true weight of that word, and know that, still, “adjustment” is a transitory word. “Daughter,” on the other hand, is permanent.


Our 10-10-10 decision — 8 months later

Eight months since I last posted here. Even longer since I’ve added to the handwritten journal at my bedside. The last entry there is April 10, 2011. An entry about the sibling group we never met.

So now you know — that is, if you aren’t among our personal acquaintances who met Madeleine Sophia long ago, our baby girl who turned 7 months yesterday. We chose a beautiful Latina…and so began our adventure in parenting.

The last electronic installment of our journey detailed the agony of choosing a route toward parenthood. We’d seen a photo and read the bio of an adorable sibling group ages 2, 3, and 4.

Every parent is wondering what we were thinking. We figured, Sure it will be a little crazy…but it’s an instant family! But when we needed to make a decision about a Hispanic baby — not knowing the sex, not knowing anything about the birth father but liking the birth mother — we knew it was a long shot to the siblings. The baby was a sure thing.

The friends who sat with us the afternoon of our decision asked us this question from Suzy Welch’s book 10-10-10: “What will you think of your decision in 10 minutes, 10 months, 10 years?”

If we waited to see if we would be chosen for the sibling group, we’d lose the Latina baby. And at best, we had a 33% chance for the siblings.

If we chose the Latina baby and later found out we were a contender for the siblings…well, we figured,

  • In 10 minutes we’d feel a little regret, losing the children we’d bonded with via photo and bio.
  • In 10 months, we’d be desperately in love (and have our hands full) with our little Latina baby, wondering what ever compelled us to think we could handle three small children arriving all at once.
  • In 10 years, we’ll hopefully have several children, and would have to re-read our blog to remember this sibling group.

We chose the Latina baby. We made the call of acceptance. And two weeks later, our caseworker was able to confirm that we were not chosen for the sibling group.

And that began the 7 months of emotional storm that finally abated sometime this past December. Now here I am, end of January, remembering what it is to blog. Details of the storm will surface in posts to come. For now, I’ll point you to our friends and family blog if you’d like to get caught up on Miss Madeleine Sophia:


The Agony of Options

This is supposed to be “our secret thoughts,” right? I can only hope posting them does not come back to haunt me.

After months of no news and several “adoption miscarriages,” we suddenly were inundated with options, all within two weeks:

  • A coworker of Rob’s led us to a distant, pregnant relative in California.
  • Another coworker mentioned an acquaintance pregnant with twins.
  • A Kansas attorney contacted us to say a client had us in her final three options and wanted to interview us.
  • An Oregon mother chose us for her final three.
  • Another Oregon mom was an option, if we wanted her to see our album.
  • A door that had closed re: a sibling group in the state system re-opened.

e-Harmony-esque awkwardness of adoption

How many times now have I said adoption is like e-Harmony for want-to-be parents? It’s awkward. It’s surface (healthy? any drugs or alcohol? ethnicity? how “open” do the birth parents want the adoption to be?). It’s emotional and exhausting.

We put our caseworker in touch with the California mom, who never got back to us. This was a relief more than a disappointment, all things considered.

Rob put the brakes on following up with the twins; he didn’t want my brain to explode, and I acquiesced.

After much walking and discussing one evening, we declined to be an option for the second Oregon mom, who struggled with schizophrenia…despite finding out through research that schizophrenia generally is situational, not genetic. Frankly, this was one way to make our options manageable.

Did I mention the awkwardness of this process? It feels like we’re making judgments on what is acceptable and unacceptable. Anyone who has not gone through the process may quickly say this is so. Those who have gone through it tell stories of mysteriously just knowing “it was right.” Maybe through a photo. Maybe through bonding immediately with the birth mom. The stories absolved some of our guilt and boosted our courage.

Our last non-Mom’s Day?

A week ago yesterday, we knew a baby was ours if we would accept it; the Oregon mom chose us out of a number of potential parents. The Kansas mother awaited her interview with us to make a decision…would we be deciding between babies?

And we knew the caseworker for the sibling group in the state system had shown interest in us, asking that our home study be sent to her again. We knew she would be choosing three families that week to “go to committee.” The committee would choose a family for the children.

Of these three options, one was Caucasian/Chinese, one Caucasian, and one Hispanic. All were healthy, free of drugs and alcohol. All were beautiful choices.

But the siblings had come to our attention first. Unlike the other choices, we could see a photo and read a little about their personalities. Bringing three young children into our home would be hectic beyond our imagination — but the very craziness of it appealed to our “sense of story.” Their ages fit well with the ages of our friends’ children, and we wouldn’t feel like such old parents as we would with a newborn. And they were potty trained; can’t miss the blessing in that.

The Kansas baby gave an emotional tug on my heart because that’s my homeland. I love Kansas and her people.

The Oregon baby was “a sure thing” (as sure as any adoption is before papers are signed); we could be parents very soon. And the birth mom’s story, told through our caseworker, spoke to us of a sweet young woman who beckoned to our compassion.

Trusting in the face of no news for months on end takes patience. Trusting that God will lead us to the right decision amidst various options, using our own human logic and emotion, takes courage.

So as we escaped the Mother’s Day crush, we had three options to discuss. This could be our last non-Mom’s Day, or in a week we could be back at square one.

The Kansas mom withdrew her request for an interview when she learned another mom had chosen us. One option down, two to go. Mingling disappointment and relief.

Our caseworker gave us the week to hear from the siblings’ caseworker. Even if chosen for committee, we had only a 33% chance of becoming parents to these children. We could decline the baby…and “lose” the siblings, as well. No matter what we chose, we’d bonded enough with each option to experience loss for the one we did not choose.

Choice in the void of news

We waited. No word.

Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday.

Friday. The siblings’ caseworker left on vacation. We’d received no word and were told to assume a “not chosen.” We had the weekend to determine our next step.

We agonized. Did we trust the lack of news? Or would we let go of a beautiful, healthy baby (we assume certain things about maybe-babies; potential parents are allowed this) on the possibility that we stood a chance for the siblings?

Sunday I cried in exhaustion. We processed with friends about the immediate and longterm ramifications of our options. I took a nap. Rob and I walked and talked in the park.

Monday morning Rob asked me if we still agreed upon our decision. He would call our caseworker and let her know. “Yes,” I said, and kissed him goodbye. Then I opened my Bible to Psalm 116, where I had last left off reading. Verse 7 settled into the nooks and crannies of my soul:

Return to your rest, O my soul
For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

I knew we had made the right choice. Perhaps the choice itself did not even matter. My soul could rest.


Awkward conversations

The conversation began early this year, via e-mail: What to do about Christmas gifts.

I confess I began the conversation. You see, the family created the tradition of exchanging stocking stuffers only. Children are the exception; they get the “tree” gifts, as well. And it’s three stocking stuffers per person — could be as small as chapstick or travel hand lotion — so long as we gather three gifts for every person.

And…with 10 family members to buy for this year X 3 stuffers each, plus one tree gift for each of the four children, that’s 34 gifts for us to give — to one of our families. Then there’s the other side of the family.

I like to start early. Better on the budget, better on my sanity.

And so I began the conversation last week with this question: Are we mailing gifts to those not gathered together (i.e., are we buying gifts for those we don’t see at Christmas)?

The conversation morphed when sister 1 raised the question about having quite so many gifts. Was it necessary? Can we find that many gifts without either a) spending a lot of money, or b) ending up with cheap trinkets in the stockings?

That’s when I made it awkward. Without consulting my husband, I threw this comment into the mix:

The main idea with the stockings, if I remember correctly, is that we directed most of our Christmas budget toward a family get-together. If our current plan isn’t accomplishing this, it’s good to look at it again. One thing that was interesting for Rob & me to hear last year during Christmas was that [our siblings, parents of the four children], held back on buying much in the way of gifts for their kids, because the kids received so many gifts from others.  Which means Rob & I purchased a total of 16 gifts for kids…and parents of kids bought far fewer for that generation. It’s an odd conundrum for us.

I wanted to say “ironic conundrum,” with our infertility in mind, but left it at “odd.”

In the void of no responses from anyone, I feel small and mean.

I sigh, kick myself, and don’t feel like much of a Christian. And I wonder, can it not be awkward to express inequity and pain? Is it possible to say I’m holding the short end of the stick — and not feel (or be?) small and mean? I’m honestly not sure.

The same question about gift-giving came up several years ago on the other side of our family, where we are also the last couple to have children — by many years. Six nieces/nephews in this family. Frankly, it frustrated me that the parents expected gifts for their children. It stunk when no one asked, “Is it hard to buy gifts for our kids when you know you won’t watch your own children open gifts? Does it feel unfair that you and Rob buy gifts for so many kids…and receive one gift in return, from the sibling gift exchange?”

My mom, bless her — a grandma, of course — was baffled that I may not want to buy a dozen gifts for children. I love my siblings’ offspring; I really, really do. But gift-giving is hard work…and takes creativity to not be expensive.

And so it remains awkward. I want to say, “Do you know we spent $11,000 out-of-pocket on infertility medical expenses last year? Do you know adoption expenses will be $17,000? This is the cost of our child before child-rearing costs kick in. And because we don’t have children — and buy gifts for all the nieces and nephews — we also have the most gifts to buy at Christmas.”

Sigh…again.

There really is no way to show myself kind or loving or generous in this post. Perhaps, in the end, it is a confession.

A confession that Christmas highlights so much that is unfair in the infertility journey.

A confession that I wish I were bigger than my idea of fair…big enough that “fair” didn’t matter.

A confession that I wish we were allowed to say, “Hey, this hurts me” without fearing judgment.

A confession that I wish I knew better how to say, “Hey, this hurts me” without passing judgment on others.


Perennial problem of Mother’s Day

We’ve found a way to enjoy — not just tolerate, but enjoy — Mother’s Day.

  1. Skip church.
  2. Skip restaurants at lunch — even fast food joints hand out carnations to moms.
  3. Find something great to do.

Though many churches are now more aware of childlessness within their walls on Mother’s Day, it’s still a favorite day for child dedications — and I’d spend the entire morning braced for reminders of what we don’t have. Churches should celebrate motherhood. It is good and right. I would be sad to take that away from all the hard-working moms. This is their one day of the year.

Rob & Kimberly in foreground, coastline and ocean in background

May 9, 2009: Mother's Day at Cascade Head

I simply do not need to be in the celebration at this point. So we ditch the day, and go play.

Two years ago we had the most fabulous Mother’s Day to date. Picnics in our packs, we hiked Cascade Head on the Oregon coast. Few people. No families of laughing parents and children. Sunshine. Soaring birds. I felt deeply loved by God and Rob; completely content.

Another year we stopped at the Tillamook Air Museum. While Rob ogled (OK; “read about” sounds more Rob-like, if not as literarily interesting) the blimps and antique aircraft, I blogged. We both had a good day.

So what about the rest of the family — like our moms?

We’re fortunate. Our moms know this is a painful day for us, and don’t expect us to grit our teeth and bare it. Although honestly, celebrating with either of our moms is not painful. It gets painful when our generation is present and we’re the only ones without children.

One funny-now story happened several years ago.

By February I was dreading Mother’s Day. Finally during an afternoon of shopping with Rob’s mom several weeks prior to the holiday, I worked up my courage, swallowed several times, and managed something like, “So, um, now that Amy has a baby and they’ll be there for Mother’s Day…I’m just wondering…not that we don’t love all of you very much, but it’s so painful…would you be hurt if we did not celebrate Mother’s Day with you?”

She was so gracious and loving. I was reassured. That would be fine, she said.

Two days later she left a voice mail on my phone: “How about if we all get together on Saturday — siblings, an aunt, Grandma — to celebrate, so you two may do whatever you like on Mother’s Day?” Of the many women present, I would be the only non-mom.

I had to call and explain that it was not the specific day, but the celebration, that was difficult. Again, she was gracious. We’ve celebrated Mother’s Day with Rob’s parents every year. Just not on the day, and not surrounded by other moms.

Columbia Gorge HotelThis year we’re off to the Columbia Gorge Hotel. We bought into the Groupon deal back in November, and my brilliant husband had the idea of using our stay on Mother’s Day. We’ll hike along the Gorge on our way out…bring a picnic lunch…and arrive at the hotel after the flurry of Mother’s Day brunchers and lunchers have departed.

Enjoy dinner…spend the night…and have a leisurely Monday, using vacation time from work.

And before that day arrives, I’ll take a little time to pull out some cards and write a few notes. One to my friend who has had four or five miscarriages, but has never held her child in her arms or tucked one into bed. And to my friend who discovered after testing that, barring a miracle, she will never carry a child. One to my mom — not just because she’s my mom, but because this is her first Mother’s Day without her mom.

Mother’s Day will be great. We’ll thrive in the joy of being together. We’ll wonder about the future. And we’ll rest in the present.


Letter to our adopted child

Sometimes I worry.

I worry that our future adopted child will stumble across my journals or blog posts or an article or my yet-to-be-written book What Adoptive Parents Wish You Knew — and think we didn’t want him. Or her. I fear that he, she, or they will witness our pain in retrospect, and think they’re “just Plan B.”

So from where I sit now, with infertility creeping ever further into the background yet still in the present, with adoption seemingly far away while we wait for “the call” that feels more myth than reality, the one that says, “You’re parents!”…from here, I write this letter:

Hey Kiddo,

I imagine you’ve reached that age when you desperately need to know we love you…and you aren’t always sure we do. In fact, sometimes you’re next-to-certain we don’t. I don’t know your name right now, or what nickname we’ll have for you — but “kiddo” will probably fit in there somewhere, sometime.

You’ve known, from before you could understand, that you’re adopted. You slowly learned what that meant, but it was no big deal. Usually, anyway. You’ve grown up with other kids who are adopted, and it all seemed pretty normal.

But now you’re starting to understand that once upon a time, we really wanted to be pregnant. We really wanted to give birth to a child. So where does that leave you? You wouldn’t be here, you figure, if we’d gotten what we wanted.

Part of me aches for you. I wish this didn’t have to be one of your questions, because I know it hurts. Another part of me just kinda smiles and shakes my head…because I, as a child born to my parents, was pretty sure at times that they didn’t want me, either.

But you’re right: If we’d given birth to the children we prayed for, we probably wouldn’t have you. And even without knowing you, that thought could make me cry. Because before I know anything about you, I know this:

I’m going to fall madly in love with you.

So much in love with you that I’m going to try to snuggle with you when you’re done with snuggling. I’m going to kiss and hug you in public when you wish I wouldn’t. I’m going to worry if you aren’t home when you say you will be, and I’ll be angry if you do something that endangers your life.

Because I love you. Because God knew what He was doing when He took away one dream…so He could give me another.

So about this business of wanting to be pregnant. (Me, I mean; if we’re talking about you & pregnant, we Need. To. Talk.) Remember when we were planning to go to Disney Land, and had to cancel that trip and instead took a road trip to Glacier National Park? No? Don’t remember? Well, it seems like a good example at the moment, so work with me. Rather than seeing a human-size plastic mouse posing for pictures, you saw bison up close. And rather than nearly wetting your pants on a roller-coaster, you got your pants wet hiking on glaciers. And in the end, you said it was the best vacation ever.

Not that you wouldn’t have it all if you could. And you absolutely had a right to be disappointed at first; who wouldn’t? But considering you had no control over your summer vacation, you think the way it turned out is actually pretty great.

You mean a lot more to me than a vacation. And maybe it’s too simplistic to compare children to large plastic mice.

I guess my point is this: It’s really normal for a kid to want to go to Disney Land. What could be better, right? But then you see the mountains jutting into the sky, you walk on ice, you sense the power of animals larger than anything you’ve seen before up close…and you’re really glad you didn’t miss out on Glacier. In fact, you can’t imagine not seeing Glacier.

The more complicated part of your story and my story is that we wouldn’t have each other if life were perfect. In the perfect life, where my body is healthy, I would have given birth to children. And in the perfect life where your birth mom is healthy and had you at the right time, you would have grown up with her — because that would have been the right place for you.

So in other words, we would not have each other if we both had not lost something precious.

Sometimes I’m scared because I don’t know how I’ll help you work through the pain of your birth parents giving you up. But then I hope. I hope that, because I know the pain of not having the kind of family others have, maybe I’ll do a good job of sitting with you in your pain.

By the time you’re working through that kind of pain, by the time you’re reading this letter, I’m so deeply, madly in love with you that I can’t imagine having any kid but you.

You, on the other hand, are right now having to work through accepting your loss in a new way, as you realize what that loss means to you…and as you grapple with what my loss meant to me, years ago.

I promise you: I don’t want the plastic mouse. I want what God created, and He created me to be with you. No other kid, no other story. Just you.

Love,

Mom


First step’s a dousy

No easy choice, this thing called adoption.

At least, not for those of us who did not always plan to adopt.

For some, the choice is relatively easy. Several couples I know always planned to adopt. So after giving birth to one or more children, they pursued adoption. Others skipped pregnancy entirely and chose adoption for reasons of age, not wanting to pass along unhealthy genes, or because adoption was one way to help a small part of the world be a better place.

Two friends of mine assumed they would adopt after having biological children. When they did not easily get pregnant, they bridged the gap to adoption earlier than they’d originally planned, investing their time, finances, and emotions outside of their own genes rather than into fertility treatments.

Then there are those who, after years of miscarriages and/or infertility, turn to adoption in their deep desire to parent. We fall into this last scenario.

***

Back in the pre-marriage, getting-more-serious stage, Rob and I talked about children. Do we want them? How many? We fit in the “older singles” category and had friends who were unable to conceive. So adoption entered the discussion.

Rob grew up playing with cousins adopted from Korea. They were cousins, just like all the others. He was all for adoption. I was open to the idea, but had no plans that direction.

Hypothetical, we discovered, is different from reality.

One year into marriage, we lost a child through miscarriage. We were sad, yet hopeful another baby would soon follow. But months and years of physical pain, humiliating doctor appointments, tests and surgeries — with no further pregnancy in sight — dredged our hope from the deepest crevices and exposed it to unrelenting disappointment.

My aching heart that had so briefly tasted motherhood broached adoption.

We found that I now sought hope through action — something I could do, such as start the adoption process. Rob nurtured hope by waiting, trying yet another month. And so we had swapped positions re: adoption. Neither of our hearts took the paths we would have predicted.

What I hope you hear is this: The choice of adoption is individual, unpredictable, and can be complex.

Application: Take care how, when, and if you prod people toward adoption.

Russell D. Moore makes good points in his book, Adopted for Life — I’ll likely return to points I agree with during upcoming posts — but I land in opposition to his encouragement to suggest adoption to couples.

Moore says he would never counsel someone to “suggest adoption with a virtual shrug of your shoulder, as though this would render the infertility no crisis at all.” But, he says,

…there’s nothing wrong — and much right — with suggesting to a couple grieving through infertility that perhaps they should explore whether God is calling them to adoption [p 104].

One of my friends who thought she’d get pregnant and then adopt, but instead switched to adoption when pregnancy did not quickly happen, thought well of the quote.

As someone who did not already have the desire to adopt, I read the quote and can think of no good time to suggest adoption to a couple grieving infertility. Moore sets out a good ideal of not making the suggestion with “a virtual shrug of your shoulder.” I doubt this is possible.

My friends without children were among the first to suggest adoption to us. They wanted us to be happy, and adoption seemed a reasonable solution.

In my hope to help them understand the emotional tangle, I gave this analogy:

Imagine you are engaged or married. Your fiancé/husband dies. How quickly would you open an e-Harmony account to look for someone new? Can and will you love someone else one day? Hopefully “yes” and “yes.” But in the meantime, the suggestion that you begin dating hurts.

Or consider a couple giving birth to and raising a child. The child dies. Do you immediately suggest adoption to them?

Adoption will never be a novel option for childless couples. They’re just as aware of this opportunity as a widow is aware that other men exist.

So how does a concerned friend tip-toe ’round this topic?

  1. If you are not a close friend, don’t suggest adoption. Gently (and frankly) I say this: it is not your business. If you want to show you care, respect the couple’s privacy. Exceptions do always shadow suggestions, and I can imagine one exception: If you are an expert in adoption and want to be available (“available” means a listening ear, not your business card), you may find a gentle way of saying, “Call me if and when I can be helpful.”
  2. At least the first five times, ignore the urge to ask. Keep count of how many times you think of asking, “So, have you thought about adoption?” Assume it’s too soon to ask at least the first five times it comes to mind. Remember you aren’t sharing anything new; they’ve already thought of it.
  3. Disclaimers do a world of good. Starting off with the acknowledgment that this may not be the right time — and may not be your business anyway — offers a friend permission and space to not answer your question. A few examples: “Please don’t feel that you have to talk about this; I was was just wondering….” “If this is a hurtful question, please tell me so….”
  4. Whatever you do, don’t suggest they’ll get pregnant as soon as they adopt. I don’t care how many stories you’ve heard. This suggestion is offensive on a number of levels: a) It suggests they “just need to relax.” Forget it. b) It holds out promise and hope for something you cannot promise…and most infertile couples have experienced enough disappointed hope. c) It belittles the value of the adopted child, who needs to be adopted for her sake — not so that her newly adopted parents can get pregnant.

You are important to your friend’s journey toward adoption. I hope that’s why you’re reading this post — because you care. Being patient with someone else’s process is one of the hardest, and one of the most loving, things we can do.

Your friend heading toward adoption needs you. So hold your tongue when it comes to advice, loose your tongue when it comes to compassion, and hang in there.


That hardest conversation

“Can we talk?”

Of course. I’d love to connect with you.

But I anticipated the conversation with mixed feelings. I feared I was about to betray her sacred trust.

She knew my story: Miscarriage, infertility.  And I knew her story. But I didn’t know her story. No one but her husband and doctor knew the details. She’s faced challenges — tougher than any marathon you could run, more endless than any ocean you may float upon — for many years. This I knew. Four miscarriages…this I did not know.

Ooooohhhhhh. Oh, my sweet friend. “I’m so sorry” doesn’t cover it.

We cried, and I answered questions. About adoption, about anger at God, about anything I suspect may have led to my successful, if unexpected, pregnancy. Then I had to tell her.

“You need to know…I’m pregnant again. I’m sorry. This isn’t what you need to hear right now. I’m so sorry. We’ll probably announce it here at the retreat — I don’t want to catch you by surprise in front of everyone; I’d hate for you to hear it that way. We didn’t expect it…we weren’t planning this….”

Yep, that’s my announcement

Showing the baby bump at 17 weeksFor readers not connected to me on Facebook, now you know. The woman who began a blog to vent her spleen about the agony of infertility, to relieve pressure built up from the stupid things people say, to educate people who care about the awkwardness and challenges of adoption — I’m pregnant for the second time since adopting Madeleine four years ago.

We were surprised. Very. Not even a year prior, we’d made the first car purchase of our marriage (I brought a 1994 Subaru into our marriage; Rob brought a 1999 Subaru, and we were content with our old cars) — but our family of four was a little scrunched in my Legacy sedan, so we traded it for our newest car ever: a 2012 Ford Escape. A mini-SUV. Something to grow in for the next 20 years.

I’d passed on all of my maternity clothes, and donated our infant equipment as Natalie outgrew it. We were finished. Done. I eagerly reclaimed space in our house.

Now I need maternity clothes again. And the Escape does not fit three car seats in the back row, even if one is a booster. So much for reclaiming space.

We were looking forward to family hikes and road trips. Almost there, nearly to a new stage of freedom and experiences for our young family. Now we’re knuckling down for one more round of diapers and potty training, sleepless nights…and a 19-month-old who will be none too happy about sharing Mama’s lap.

But you just don’t say that to someone still longing for children.

Except that I did. In my clumsy attempt at honesty, and feeling that my pregnancy betrayed this dear friend’s trust…. Yes, even one who has been through the agony and angst of the stupid things people say — even one who documents that angst — struggles to know what to say when suddenly…

…suddenly I’ve moved from the “have nots” to the “haves.”

Because, frankly, one pregnancy could be forgiven. I’d earned my stripes, as one friend said, responding with grace to my first pregnancy while still infertile herself. She knew I knew the pain, and yes — that makes it easier to be glad for the gift given to someone else.

But a second pregnancy, “out of the blue”? That’s doing it a bit too brown.

I told my friend that we are, of course, excited; just…adjusting. She jokingly offered to take this unexpected child off my hands; precisely what I would have said in her shoes. Yet in her pain she was pleased for me, begrudging me nothing.

We were at 12 weeks at that time. When we reached 16 weeks and the pregnancy showed all signs of stability…and my girth was thickening and I really didn’t want folks assuming middle age was settling in…it was time for the Facebook announcement. But I had a call to make first.

When announcements go awry

This call was to another friend, whose footsteps I followed with infertility and adoption, until my path veered and Natalie was born. She had comforted me and understood me and encouraged me through seven years of longing to be pregnant, through the unknown undercurrents of adoption. And then she gave me the gift of her excitement when I was pregnant.

This friend I called. Asked how she was. Then I listened as she trusted me with a renewed pain that struggled against her true contentment.

She is an adoptive mother who fell deeply in love with her babies when they were placed in her arms. And yet. Oh, sometimes something happens, a chance comment or event, and the pain reawakens. The “why not me?” question. The longing to feel a little one growing inside…to give birth…to nurse.

Just as one’s remaining children cannot “just be enough” for parents who lose a child, adoptive children do not necessarily erase the longing to procreate. It’s a different, separate compartment in our hearts. A pain we learn to live with and often forget, yet can be reopened, renewed.

My announcement to her went unannounced. Facebook could wait.

Finding a way

Yet it was time. Our parents were eager to tell the news of their latest surprise grandchild, and knew our Facebook post would be the signal that the masking tape was removed from their mouths. But Facebook could not be the way my friend learned of our pregnancy.

A week or two after our phone conversation, she emailed to say she was doing better. And I emailed with our news, thus giving her space to respond when she was able. To not have to superimpose a smile in her voice if she’d rather weep.

She once again gave me a priceless gift, expressing not only acceptance, but joy. And beyond that, entering into the emotions of my own mental adjustments. A Facebook announcement soon followed.

Baby due soon

Daughters 1 & 2, excited about baby brotherAll of this was months ago. We expect to meet our son soon after Christmas. While still bewildered at how we’ll manage three children, we’re grateful. Grateful, and deeply aware of the grace given to us after so much longing.

Once I felt separated from others’ good fortune in my land of the “have nots.” Now I’ve awkwardly but fully entered the realm of the “haves.” Not because I figured out how, or found a way to deserve it. I’m here just because.

We all have a story to live, a story to tell. We do not choose our stories. Though some may argue that point with me, I hold fast that one day each of us will realize — with significant chagrin — we have less control than we think. That’s when we choose how we will walk out the steps of our stories, finding the grace given to each of us within the tales we have to tell.