Miracle Monday: Letter from a Birth Mom

Today at The R House I came across this letter from a birthmother to her child, explaining the way she came to decide on adoption. Mrs.R’s post “Another Reason I Love Open Adoption” is a compelling one. And I wanted to pass it along in case you’re interested in reading about open adoption. (I believe Mrs. R is a foster-adoptive mother.)

Bottom line: The birth mom in this letter had a loving, supportive friend made it possible for her to weigh her options — all her options — completely and without judgment.  You can read the story here.

Like many young moms, she started out vascillating between motherhood and abortion. Only gradually, as she learned more about adoption and realized how unprepared she and the child’s father were for parenthood, did she find the courage to reconsider her original position.

It’s not often you find such selfless courage. May God bless her for it.

A Mother’s Pain

teresa_avila_berniniToday is the feast day of Teresa of Avila, one of my very favorite saints. This sixteenth-century Spanish noblewoman is patroness of writers and migraine sufferers, perhaps best known to us for three things: reforming the Carmelites, writing The Interior Castle, and her cheeky retort to being summarily dumped in a stream by her horse. Looking up to heaven, she cried, “If this is how you treat your friends, Lord, no wonder you have so few of them.”

Oh, yes, and her poetry. In Spanish, of course.

Let nothing trouble you,
let nothing frighten you.
All things pass away, but God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
She who possesses God, wants for nothing.
God alone suffices. 

Sometimes motherhood hurts. Sooner or later, we all get knocked on our butts in the proverbial stream of life.

For some women, the labor of motherhood begins even before the first labor pang — especially for those who are “reproductively challenged.” The examinations. The tests. The failures. The ache of longing unfulfilled. The burn of impertinent questions. The regret of the empty cradle.

With adoption, we mothers experience many of the same joys other mothers experience — the thrill of childhood milestones, the warmth of a child’s affection, the satisfaction of occupied arms and hearts. However, there are times when we also experience unique challenges, and even heartache.

This week two dear friends reminded me of the silent struggles of adoption, the secret misgivings. The self-doubt. The anxieties. However much we love our children, there are certain parts of our children’s lives — set in motion by their first parents — that we cannot overcome through sheer force of will. We can love them. We can guide them. We can encourage them. We can correct them. But we cannot change who they are at the most primal level. Not with a million specialists. We cannot turn back the hands of time.

But the thing is . . . it’s okay. The God of the universe, who set those wheels in motion, who created that little life with all the gifts and challenges that are unique to them, loves our children even more than we can. His plans for them far outstretch our own. And when we come to the end of ourselves, and wonder if our best efforts will in the end be good enough, we can echo the words of that great Carmelite . . .

“God alone suffices.”

Montana Supreme Court Hands Parental Rights of Woman

Today at CatholicExchange.com I came across this sad story, in which a woman who had left the lesbian lifestyle to marry and raise her children was forced to relinquish custody of her adopted children to her former lover.

At every level, this makes no sense — the woman who was granted sole custody was not the legal parent of the children.  Nor was it in the children’s best interest, as they have now been denied not only their mother but their best chance to have a father as well.

Please pray for this family. These poor kids are going to need all the prayers they can get!

Montana Supreme Court Hands Parental Rights of Woman’s Adopted Children to Former Lesbian Lover

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Weekend Ponderings: How Blessed Are You?

jesus and the womenOne of the shortest Gospel readings is this weekend, from Mark 11:

While Jesus was speaking,
a woman from the crowd called out and said to him,
“Blessed is the womb that carried you
and the breasts at which you nursed.”
He replied, “Rather, blessed are those
who hear the word of God and observe it.”

There are times in Scripture — and this is one of them — when the Lord refers to his blood relations (in this case, the Blessed Mother) in a manner that to our ears sounds overly casual, if not outright dismissive.

“Yes, okay, my mother is blessed for having given me life …. but how much more is the one who understand the spiritual significance of my physical presence in the world. How much more the blessing abounds in the life of THIS person (of whom no doubt the Blessed Virgin Mary was one.)

This Gospel passage offers a strange kind of comfort for those whose spiritual well-being has been compromised by physical realities: the infertile, the sick, the lonely, the grieving, the suffering. Some of us have had to relinquish our own dreams and plans, in order that God would be able to fill our hands with something better. To each of us, He whispers,

“Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

What is God asking you to do today?

Image Credit: Artist is Daniel O’Connell (d.1976). Website with his art may be accessed here.

Weekend Ponderings: Pope says children of divorce and cohabitation “the new orphans”

In this recent interview on CNS, Pope Benedict is quoted during a meeting with Brazilian bishops.

He said as divorces increase and cohabitation is on the rise, the children in these situations are “deprived of their parents’ support and become victims of malaise and abandonment, thus spreading social disorder.”

Children need concrete fixed points of reference such as having one set of parents who will always be united as a family, the pope said.

He said divorce is sabotaging the traditional sense of an extended family by creating too many “parents,” such as stepmothers and stepfathers.

I can’t help but wonder whether this “too many parents” problem could extend to adoptive families in which birth parents are involved early on in the child’s life. Only time will tell whether the “open adoption” trend will have the same effect as the presence of step-parents in families in which the parents are divorced (as opposed to widowed).

Miracle Mondays: “The Fiery Gift”

peek babyToday on Sarah’s FB page was a link to this article in America magazine that compares childbirth and prayer. One paragraph in particular caught my attention:

“All the adorable clothes for infants, jokes about pickles and ice cream, and debates about appropriate names for children occupy the expectant woman’s mind like sitting-room company sharing a pleasant tea—until labor begins. In a flash, your visitors leave, their cooling teacups half-empty. Alone, or with a trusted companion, you may wait out the beginning contractions by reading a book or watching a movie, but you know as you have never known in your life what the main event is. Birth is the rock of motherhood. It does not easily allow diversions; it is more glorious and messy, more trying and transformative than a person might suspect. Basically, it is a lot like prayer.”

For adoptive and foster parents, this “glorious and messy, trying and transformative” encounter with new life (well, new to your family) takes place when the child arrives in your family. It can be painful. It’s almost always messy. It can leave you wondering if you’ll ever want to embark on a similar adventure (or recommend it to someone else) ever again. Not only is it hard work — but it actually involves actual prayer.

Choosing to love the creature who is, at that moment, most unloveable is perhaps the best example of loving as God loves, of becoming truly Christ-like.

How will you embrace your fiery gift today?

Miracle Monday: Between the Dreaming and the Coming True

numeroffYesterday I opened a comment from a reader, Mei-Ling (who if memory serves is an adult adoptee, can’t remember from which country), who writes:

Since you didn’t allow commentary on the other post, and I’m just too lazy to e-mail you, here goes: “Should we adoptive parents just go away quietly to lick our wounds, and wait for our child to make up his mind about who is “real” parents are?” Why can’t both sets be real in their own ways, -beyond- the birth roles (for biological parents)?”

“Why can’t …”  Like so many questions where families are concerned, there is always the dreaming, and the coming true (what the rest of us refer to as “reality.”)  In the world adoption, it is indeed possible for the Normal Rockwell scenario to work out (Patricia Dischler describes it very well in her book).

It’s also likely that it won’t. That the child will grow up and be unable to contact his or her parents — or, upon meeting them, discover that the reunification creates more questions and hardships than it resolves. Either way, as one social worker (who was herself both an adoptee and birthmother) explained it to me, “Knowing doesn’t resolve anything. It just changes the landscape.” Sooner or later, those dreams have to be exchanged for reality, as part of the maturing process. And how much, or how well, each side of the triad interacts as the years go on varies so much from one family to the next that there needs to be some safeguards in place to protect the needs and rights of all concerned.

“Why can’t …?” Today in the paper I noticed that one of my favorite children’s book authors, Laura Numeroff (of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” fame) is coming out with two new books, one of which is called, “Would I Trade My Parents?”  This question is not the sole property of adopted children, incidentally.

We all have the Rockwellian dream where everyone gathers around the Thanksgiving spread, sweet-smelling and full of scintilating conversation and not the teensiest hint of negativity. No secrets, no confrontations, no irritations, only total happiness. (This quest for Norman Rockwellville for many years caused some of us to avoid family get-togethers entirely.)  In the ideal world, everyone gets along. In the ideal world, there are no issues of anxiety or regret or bitterness. Everyone acts like a grown-up, without unreasonable expectations or extraordinary neediness.

Sadly, all too often this is not the world we live in. The world we live in is fully of damaged souls, who see things through their own expectations, needs, wishes, and experiences. I came across an example of this as I was opening Mei-Ling’s e-mail. A shadow fell across my computer screen, and I turned to find a neighborhood girl standing behind me, red-eyed and dressed far more provocatively than her thirteen-year-old self could quite carry off. She had brought her little brother to visit my son for the last time — it turns out her parents are finally calling it quits.

For as long as we’ve known this family, they have been “on the edge” — the kids have turned up here, clearly looking for a safe place to hang out. The things they say and do fall in that uncomfortable area: not quite bad enough that I need to call social services, but bad enough that I can’t allow my kids play with them unsupervised.  Bad enough that in my selfish moments, I wish with all my heart that the whole family would just go away. Now I was getting my wish, and I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty that it had worked out the way I’d wanted.

Sadly, as I looked into that young girl’s eyes, I realized that her nightmare was just beginning. “It’s just for a while,” she tells me, sticking her chin out a bit. “Mom needs to find a place to feel safe, and think things through.” I’ve seen that look of defiance before — on my niece, as she told me about what it was like to find out her birth father had been most unequivocal about not wanting to see her. “I still have my real dad,” she said.

And so we’re back to that word again. “Real.” Not what we wish the past was, or what the future might be. What is, right now. Basing our life, our choices, and our energies on what we know, what we have — rather than what we wish could be. Some wishes and dreams, if we give them too much power but don’t ourselves have the power to make them come true, can be our undoing.

We all go through it, though the details vary widely. When I got married, I wished with all my heart that my in-laws, who lived 20 minutes away, would welcome me into the circle and make a place for me there. I wished my new mother would invite me to tea, or invite the kids on play dates, or offer to take them overnight so Craig and I could sleep in one Saturday morning without getting our eyeballs poked. The reality, God bless them, is very different. And so I had to choose: accept the reality, or waste a great deal of emotional energy on what I clearly could never have.

“Why can’t …?” It’s a wistful question, full of yearning. It’s a good one, and sometimes the answer to that question is “It can.” But not always. And when the answer is, “It just can’t,” well . . . part of growing up is learning to accept that reality as well. To accept that, as much as we love them, our family is going to disappoint us. And to recognize that sometimes the best revenge we can possibly have on the painful aspects of our past, is to live in such a way that this pain ends with us, and will not be passed on to our own children.

Make no mistake, they will feel pain. I know this, and have done what I can to give them tools to express it and release it, so the toxic anger doesn’t poison their little hearts. I pray a lot, asking their angels to safeguard their dreams. Only time will tell if that’s enough.

Today at “Mommy Monsters”: *sigh*

Every once in a while I notice some incoming activity or link from a site that — to put it mildly — doesn’t think much about EMN, or the National Council for Adoption, or anyone who believes that there could be circumstances when a birth mother ought to have a say in whether she wants to be reunited with her child decades after placing him or her for adoption.

Usually, I just ignore these links, and I don’t bother to read them. My blog, my rules — their blog, their rules, and I’m pretty sure we’re both set enough in our positions that there isn’t much point to continuing the dialogue. Agree to disagree, and all that.

But over the past few days, I’ve been simmering on the topic of adoptive parenthood. In particular, does being an adoptive parent (as opposed to a birth parent or adult adoptee) by definition mean that I “can’t understand” — and therefore my opinion on the subject is irrelevant? Should we adoptive parents just go away quietly to lick our wounds, and wait for our child to make up his mind about who is “real” parents are?

Some would — some HAVE — said yes. I don’t think so. I write about it here.

This is one I’m not interested in discussing further (surprise). If you want to respond privately, feel free. (Flamers will be summarily tossed in my trashbin.) I’ve turned off comments in both places. This time, I just want you to listen.

Who’s My “Real Mom”?

velveteenTonight I was reading to Christopher from one of my all-time favorite stories, The Velveteen Rabbit. Recently the subject of “real mother” has come up, as it almost inevitably does with adopted children. Something in one passage struck a chord, and comforted me. I hope it does the same for you.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they [he and the wise Skin Horse] were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Reading this, I couldn’t help but wonder if Margery Williams was herself an adoptive parent. She certainly seems to understand the adoptive parent’s heart!

Image from Image Posters.

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