marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (Default)
Jenna at The Chronicles of Munchkinland has started a cool reading challenge for 2011 - you can read about it over here.  I'm just doing level one (3 books) because these days I count it as a good year if I manage to read 10 whole books.

For those interested in doing it and looking for a good starting point, I highly recommend The Kid by Dan Savage.  I'm not sure what I'll start with--I've been wanting to buy Lois Malina's The Open Adoption Experience for a while now (I like her Raising Adopted Children quite a lot) so I may go for that, but I'm more in the mood for a memoir at the moment, so maybe I'll look in that direction instead.

If anyone can recommend a book about international open adoption, I'd be delighted--I haven't found one yet. Most adoptions are still one or the other (open or international), seldom both.  Ours isn't technically international but it's not strictly domestic either.
marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (charlie-smile)
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Better question: is there any method I would NOT be likely to consider? I mean, seriously, unless you have been there you cannot imagine how loud the ticking of the biological clock can get, particularly when it's been going TICK TICK TICK in your miserable head for the better part of a decade.  There are plenty of methods I chose not to pursue, but when it comes to consideration, I considered every goddamn thing.  This one time I was walking into The Container Store and a guy parked his car in front of the door and went in for a half a minute to pick up his stuff that they had waiting right inside for him to load, and he left his baby in the back seat of the car. With the windows of the car open, which is better for the baby's temp but also better for carjackers.  Who knows, maybe he even left the keys in the ignition. My second thought was "that guy's wife would KILL THE HELL out of him if she knew he just did that" but my first thought was "hey, free baby!"  It was a facetious thought but it was a thought.  (What I actually did was eyeball the kid protectively from the parking lot until the dude came back out).

I opted not to pursue IVF because I don't see the point in paying 10,000 dollars to feel like shit about myself because I can't get and/or stay pregnant, when I was already getting to feel like shit about myself for free every 21 days (my former cycle was ridic; I do not miss her, may she rest in peace).  Surrogacy frequently is about using your own genetic material, and, uh, well if you know me you know that's a mixed bag.  Plus I have a zillion nieces and nephews, a couple of whom remind me of me in a good way, so I am sufficiently represented already.

So: adoption, because I like nearly everybody, I enjoy every type of temperament, and I love every baby I meet. And I particularly love the baby I ended up with, who is the world's best baby big boy, even when he is throwing a choo-choo at my head.

me and charlie 5

In closing, here's a fist-bump of solidarity and/or a hug, as appropriate, to any of you who are riding or have ridden the fertility's definitely one of the barfiest rides at the carnival.
marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (Default)
The vast majority of people I encounter think that open adoption, particularly the kind with visiting, is weird.  Some of them find it disturbing or are even offended by the concept.

Two groups of people seem to instinctively get what we're doing and think it's the natural and right way to do adoption:  my polyamorous friends and my Muslim friends.

Poly folk tend to approve of honoring love where it appears, rather than putting boxes around it, and I've learned a lot about how to share from paying attention to how my friends manage it (I myself being the possessive type, not naturally one to share). 

As I understand it, in most versions of Islam a child with living family members can't be adopted, but can be placed permanently with foster parents.  So if you're infertile and Muslim, one route to building a family is to raise a friend or family member's child as your own--but they know their origins and keep their original family name.   My friend M has friends who did this--after they had 2 kids, they had a third baby to give to their infertile best friends. Their two kids were boys and the new baby was a girl, and they'd wanted a girl, so they went ahead and placed the baby with their friends and then had a fourth baby, also a girl, who they kept.  They're still best friends and everybody is happy.  So our open adoption seems sensible to him and my other Muslim friend, whereas closed adoptions strike them as weird.
marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (binky)
There is a kid in the neighborhood who is just not getting his head around the concept of Charlie.  This kid, who I'll call X, is 6, and asks about Charlie's arm almost every time he sees him, in particular wanting to know if it's going to "grow back."  He's not a starfish, young man.  Every other kid who hangs out on our end of the block is fond of Charlie, asked once or twice about his arm, and now they just want to play with him and say hi. (X is also the kid who asked if Charlie is a "China boy," as I believe I mentioned, but if I didn't, there you go).  So I'm getting a bit irritated with X.

Today we encountered three kids, two of whom predictably went "Charlie! Hi Charlie, say hi!" and smiled at him. The third kid, X, asked about his frickin arm AGAIN! Mike's brother, who hadn't ridden this ride with X yet, started to give the "that's just how God made him" answer (I tend to give the "he was born like that" variant or the "he's just different" one), but I found myself snapping "you've asked that question about a hundred times, X, you need to stop asking."  Then to take the sting out of it, since all three kids were a little startled (I am not usually peppery with kids) I encouraged Charlie to say hi, and I was smiley.

A tiny part of me feels bad, because natural curiosity blah blah blah.  But a much bigger part of me thinks that if you don't understand something after the first couple of times you've asked about it, you need to just shut the hell up about it, even if you are only 6, because DUDE. 
marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (charlie-animals)
I knew, adopting transracially, that my family would be conspicuous and strangers would ask me a lot of stuff, and tell me a lot of stuff, ranging from opinions to stories of their cousin who adopted a baby who blah blah blah.  Doubly true when parenting a child with a limb difference or other physical difference, as it turns out.  That's all fine, and not surprising.  And I generally enjoy hearing people's stories, as long as they aren't the kind of stories that haunt me.

One kind of story that haunts me? Is any story in which a child comes to serious harm.  So when someone meets Charlie, (who did not lose his arm but rather never had it), and immediately launches into telling me how a child they know came to lose a limb, I am sympathetic but on the inside I am also very much OMG AAAAH Stop Telling Me I Don't Even Know You.  It's only happened a couple of times so far but I am coming to understand that it will go on happening until Charlie is grown up, and will happen to him even more often than it happens to me  (Once he's grown up I assume we'll mainly hear people's tales of adults losing limbs, which do not haunt me like the child ones do, although of course I feel for those folks quite a bit, too).

Of course it's never people who have actually lost a limb themselves who do this.  They just want to pat him on the head and swap prosthetics and adaptation stories.  I think perhaps NOT asking "what happened?" is the secret disability/disability-allies handshake. 
marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (Charlie)
I'm thinking today about the way we measure ourselves as mothers.  I suppose we all have a set of mothers in our heads--the ideal one we think we should be;  the bad one we strive not to be and maybe fear being.  Maybe we were raised by a version of one of those archetypes, and are measuring ourselves against our memories and hopes.  If we adopted our children, we may be measuring ourselves against the sorrow that brought our children to us--trying to be a good enough mother to make up for the child's loss of his first mother, and her loss of him.  If our children are disabled, troubled, medically fragile, that's another measurement: can I mother away pain, illness, limitations? Can I make up for all the hurts of the world?  Even those of us with supposedly-uncomplicated little ones, and supposedly-simple family relationships, have a thousand ways to fail to measure up.  Breasts that don't make enough milk, minds that create anxiety instead of bliss, kids who will only eat bananas and crackers, kids who just don't feel like sleeping or doing their homework.  Moms who stay at home with their kids are expected to raise their own food in the back yard and knit their own diaper covers and read edifying literature during naptime; moms who do office work are expected to be there for every school event and doctor's visit, and make a home-cooked meal every night.

The way I keep my sanity in the face of the Yardstick of Motherhood is to sometimes whimsically measure myself against a totally different ideal--the Yardstick of Old-Fashioned TV Fatherhood.  Unlike real fatherhood, Old-Fashioned TV Fatherhood seems to involve not much more than showing up for dinner, talking to the kids about their minor problems with their paper route or half-hearted bullies, and then having my spouse tell me how great and wise I am.  On the weekends, there is ball playing and lawn mowing, generally resulting in shenanigans.  The Yardstick of Old-Fashioned TV Fatherhood is awesome!  It's particularly well-aligned with my cooking skills, which are Mike-Brady like. I recommend this to every mother who ever feels bad about herself as a parent--just say, "would TV Pa Ingalls be able to do what I'm doing right now?" and unless your mothering style is all about splitting wood, you know that you measure up just fine, because that dude never did a goddamn thing, really, except talk pretty.

Or, better yet, put the yardstick away for a while.  Because you measure up just fine, dear Mothers.

Happy Mothers Day.

[edited to clarify which Pa Ingalls I'm impugning]
marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (stork)
A few days ago, we mailed a letter to Chinese Children Adoption International, requesting that they and the central adoption authority in China close our file.  We sent our initial application in February of 2006, and finished our dossier 9 months later.  We got got an official log-in-date (LID) in China of 12-11-2006, which was our 7-year wedding anniversary, as it happened.  We took that as a good omen.  At the time we started our process the wait time for a referral from China had crept up to 9 months from an all-time-low in 2005 of 6 months.

In December of 2007 we still didn't have a referral--in the China process, they go in strict date order, matching a batch of LID dates once a month, with everyone who shares a LID getting referrals in the same month, and by the end of 2007 they were only doing a few LID days each month, for a variety of reasons.  People were still getting matches but the wait time had grown to 24 months and the agencies kept saying that "the CCAA was saying they don't intend to let the wait get to 36 months if they can help it."  Which is another way of saying they expect the wait to approach 36 months.  We activated plan B and went back into the home study process, this time for a domestic adoption, since we always wanted at least 2 kids.  We kept the China file open and figured we'd wait and see what happened.

As most of you know, in June of 2008 Charlie happened, yay!  Just before that, in May of 2008, China introduced a lot of new restrictions on future applications, designed to reduce the number of people applying to adopt, and they made some changes to simplify special-needs adoption, so people with LIDs in the non-special-needs program could switch.  The pace of referrals has held steady since then at about 3 LID days per month, with a recent jump up to 6 LID days per month. At the 6-LID-days rate, we can expect a referral in 2013 or so.

The slowdown is good news for Chinese babies and families.  It's always better, I (and various others) think, if the needs of a child can be met by their home country, and their birth family if possible.  The switch in emphasis onto special-needs adoption is smart and can provide good outcomes for kids who would have limited opportunities at home, where attitudes and economics still are evolving.  But there is a tremendous pressure created by so many waiting LID families, so many people with the $5000 orphanage fee ready, and such a long-standing "good adoption program" reputation for the CCAA to uphold.  Whenever there's a supply & demand imbalance in adoption, there's a risk of trafficking, and we feel that the risk will grow in the next few years, particularly when it comes to the perfectly-healthy-girl we originally requested.  By now we're old hands at SN, but being old hands at it means knowing the resources we would need to raise two SN kids, and we don't think we'd be the best choice for a second SN baby.

So, we closed our file.  One small pressure point in the system, released, and one more of our dream babies fading back into nothingness. Giving up this dream baby was harder than all of the rest put together, although there have been many, starting with my adolescent dreams of a someday-baby who looked like me, and ending with the 4 babies whose mothers reviewed our file, during our domestic process.

Today I put my real baby in the car with me and went and donated all of the clothes and toys I'd been saving for our theoretical China baby.  We had applied for a girl so I had a lot of girl stuff--dresses handed down from my nieces, Asian dolls, pink sports toys, etc--and I couldn't bear giving it to anyone I know.  I'd packed it all up already when we started the domestic process, so I didn't have to look through it all again, although I did peek. I headed to the Salvation Army drop trailer thingy to give it away, but the one near me was full up, and the actual Salvation Army store near my MIL was closed (as on every Sunday, apparently), but I ended up finding an AmVets donation center instead.   This pleased me because while I am in favor of all thrift stores, I'd rather support an organization that focuses on getting medical care for vets than one that focuses on Jesusing people into sobriety...all things being equal.  Anyway, having Charlie along for this errand made it really not bad; I like my life and my family the way that they are, and I count my blessings every day.  And while from one angle our China adoption attempt was a failure, from another angle we did our China adoption without having to get on an airplane.  Today, at least, I'm choosing to see it from the latter angle, and not dwell on a child who, however precious, only existed in my imagination.

(Charlie playing on a bouncy thing at our town gymnastics center)
marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (mama)
So, there's this thing called the Hague Convention:

And these are the countries that are part of it:

If you adopt a child from a Hague country, the adoption must follow the rules of the Hague convention.  The convention establishes things like...children should be adopted in their home country first, and only placed internationally if they can't be adopted domestically.  And that adoptions have to be handled on both ends by accredited agencies.   These are rules designed to cut down on child trafficking, adoption of not-really-legally-orphans, and giving US adopters preferential treatment over in-country adopters.  It's not perfect...China is a Hague country and has problems with all of those things.  But it's a step in the right direction.

Haiti is not a Hague country, and the earthquake swept away most of their own internal systems for clearing orphans for international adoption.  The initial group of orphans who were allowed to enter the US without paperwork were children whose legal orphan status* had been established before the earthquake, who had paperwork in process in the now-destroyed Port Au Prince Hall of Justice, and who had already been matched with US parents.

This thing where a bunch of people grabbed a bunch of kids to take them, supposedly, to a safe haven in the Dominican Republic is not part of any proper adoption proceeding, and is interfering with Haiti's sovereignty as well as interfering with the personal rights of those children and their families. 

Anyway, good rules of thumb for ethical adoption:  1. adopt from a Hague country, if possible, rather than a non-Hague country  2. whether Hague or non-Hague, scrutinize how well the law is being followed and what circumstances are used to justify exceptions.  3. don't adopt "disaster orphans" because it's very difficult to establish that they are really orphans, legally or actually.*  4. ignore the intentions of people in the process and focus instead on their compliance with the law and with accepted adoption ethics.

I'm generally a fan of international adoption even though I ended up adopting domestically (I'm also a fan of domestic adoption)--I think unethical adoptions happen all over the world, in huge numbers, both internationally and domestically, and therefore engaging as ethically as possible with whatever process you choose is the key thing, rather than only doing one sort of adoption.

*generally, a child who does not have a relative willing to claim them is a legal orphan, even if their biological parents are alive.  Children relinquished to orphanages by living parents are sometimes legal orphans and sometimes not--in developing nations, parents may relinquish children temporarily to keep them alive, and retrieve them once they are able to feed them.
marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (mama)
I am discovering that people who take non-standard routes to become parents fall into two groups, when it comes to solidarity.

1. You are becoming, or have become, a parent by some means other than a fertile, heterosexual, & monogamous marriage? Hey, me too; we are alike. Nice to know there are other families like mine.

2. I am becoming, or have become, a parent by a means that, while not simple, is on the right & "normal" side of an invisible line. You are a crazy freak who is doing something unnatural and creepy.

marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (charlie2)
You know how certain parenting behaviors and beliefs kinda go together?  Like, moms who are into babywearing often also tend to be into breastfeeding, as well as sometimes co-sleeping and attachment parenting.  I enjoy reading about all of those things, although I don't practice them, except occasional babywearing back when my baby could reasonably be "worn," instead of "hauled."  So my blog reading on that front has been enjoyable, even though much of it doesn't apply to me.

In the land of special-needs parenting blogs, I don't encounter a lot of parents whose kids have the same specific needs as mine, but I do encounter an attitude I like, particularly among parents of kids with developmental delays and emotional challenges.  There's a lot of focus on the unique situation of each child, and a very strong emphasis on communication and reasoning--at least in the blogs I read.  So, yay that; another blog environment where nothing really makes me go "guh?" except the very occasional anti-vaccination thing.

Unfortunately, in the land of transracial adoption and toddler/orphan adoption, there is often a correlation with an authoritarian ideal of parenting, and a control-based approach to solving all problems of behavior and attachment, up to and including forced eye contact, holding, and so forth.  Which is a style of parenting that bothers me a lot, particularly when applied to children who have already been through trauma and/or abuse.  A lot of adoptive parents are also very religious, which sometimes intersects with either authoritarian parenting or racial "colorblindness."  It's not impossible to find adoptive-parent blogs that feature non-authoritarian parenting & racial awareness in a single package, but sifting through the other ones can be....unpleasant.

Is there something you're passionate about, that seems to often go hand-in-hand with something you're passionately against?  (Despite the serious topic of this entry, feel free to provide facetious and/or silly answers to this question :)
marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (Charlie)
So, we have at last managed to make some necessary decisions about a second child.

1. We will not adopt another child in the next year; probably not in the next two
2. We will not adopt another newborn

Both of these are because we are still exhausted from this past year of parenting Charlie and don't think we have the energy/time to give the same to another baby while still giving Charlie everything he needs, right now anyway.   Admittedly, he was a more-than-usually difficult baby in many ways, with chronic ear infections, severe eczema, reactive airway, and allergies to entire botanical families of foods.  A second baby might be easier...but might not be.  Charlie's "official" special needs have really not been a problem; all the other stuff is just normal baby stuff, but turned up to 11.

However, we do want another child, despite all of the logic mice in our heads whispering sensible things to us, so...

3. We will remain in the China program for the time being.

Our dossier has been logged in since December of 06 and we are approved to adopt a girl up to 14 months old.  At current rates of placement, we can expect a referral in 2012 or 2013.  In order to actually complete that adoption, we'll need to do a new home study and immigration/visa process starting about 18 months before a referral is expected.

4. Over the course of the next two years, we'll either pay down our debts and make certain noticeable improvements in our health, particularly mine & Charlie's, or we won't.
5. If we improve the health & the debt, we'll go ahead with the new home study and adopt a second child; most likely a toddler girl from China, but possibly an infant or toddler here in the US (if the China program closes, for instance, or if it becomes too expensive for us).
6. If we do not make improvement to the health & the debt, or if we decide that we just don't have the energy, or if we decide that Charlie needs an exclusive lock on us as parents, or if this feeling of wanting a larger family wears off, we will not adopt another child, and that will be okay.

In support of these decisions, we have asked our social worker to close out our foster-parent license (which allows us to adopt domestically).  And after setting aside all of Charlie's baby clothes that I want to save out of sentiment, and the few that are unisex and sized for a toddler, I have packed up the rest and sent them off to a tribe member who is expecting a baby boy.  For some reason, having posession of Charlie's baby clothes, knowing there won't be another newborn here to use them, was filling me with a terrible sorrow--like his things became the focus of my grief over my infertility.  I'm very grateful to know that they will be enjoyed by someone I care about, and going through them one last time and packing them up became a joy for me instead of a burden.  (I tend to cast my emotions into objects rather a lot, yes.)

So now there is a clear path, and in a couple of years when it branches, those branches will be clear, too, and both outcomes will be ones I can be happy with.   I can't express how much of a relief that is.
marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (Charlie)
This week is International Blog Against Racism Week - go over here to read a pile of awesome stuff.

My contribution is scatterbrained--motherhood has been kicking my ass recently. But here is some stuff I can share.

A few thoughts for white people who are not adoptive parents: 

1. Some babies who are ethnically Chinese are actually born in America! It's amazing but it's true.  Stop being so startled.

My son Charlie, a gentleman and a patriot.

2. Chinese children come in "boy" as well as "girl" versions, even the ones who are adopted. Stop being so startled.

3. Asian children in America are of multiple different ethnicities and nationalities, including the ones who are adopted.  Stop saying Ni Hao to random Asian kids.

4. You are seriously going to tell my my son "doesn't look Chinese?" What the hell do you think Chinese people look like?  This?

5. Black birth mothers who place infants for adoption generally do so because they cannot afford to add a child to their family, not because they don't care about their baby.  Stop talking shit about them.

6. The law is unfair to black people.  And poverty, with its associated ills, disproportionately affects black people.  Black parents who lose custody of their children are not necessarily bad parents.  Stop talking shit about them.

6. Oh hey I know, how about you just stop talking shit about  ALL black people? 

And thoughts for my fellow white interracially-adoptive parents:

1. Black mothers do stuff with their daughters' hair. Look here, here, here, here.  If you have a black daughter, for God's sake, do some stuff with her hair. Your average black mom would no more send her daughter to school with her hair in a mess than she would send her son in without a shirt.

2. Your child loses something of value when they are placed in a family that doesn't share their race. You can and should take steps to mitigate that loss and help them to develop as healthy of a racial identity as possible, so they don't feel like a fraud. But don't kid yourself that they haven't lost anything.

3. Chinese people in America do not, actually, stick their kids in adorable tiny silk outfits with frog closures at every fucking opportunity. 

4. Know your ethnic slurs! Do not, for example, put your Asian child in a shirt with bananas on it, like I did once upon a time. If you are white and have a black son, notice that monkeys are ubiquitous on boys' clothing, and then NEVER BUY ANY OF THAT SHIT. 

5. Be aware that many proper names have ethnic or racial baggage attached.  "Charlie" is such a name (Charlie Chan, 5 o'clock Charlie...).  If you're naming your child (as opposed to keeping their birth name) (which is what we opted to do), make sure you vet their name thoroughly before settling on it (You should probably check their birth name too, just in case there's baggage their birth parents are unaware of).

6. That "red thread" saying is not about adoption. Please stop repeating it. Also? Most adoptions involve some level of personal tragedy for the birth parents, and also for the child. Chinese adoptions in particular involve quite a lot of pressure on the birth parents.  Sentimentalizing that as "destiny" denies your child the truth of their story.

7. Did you know that Hinduism is an actual religion, where they revere their gods and stuff, and probably don't like blasphemy any more than other religious people? IKR? If you put your Indian kid in a Siva/Shiva tee shirt  because "he's my little destroyer--he's in the terrible twos and he destroys EVERYTHING!" I hope someone is very rude to you.  (ETA: Not because it's bad to put your kid in a Shiva tee shirt, but because if you do it you should be able to explain who Shiva is for real, and not be glib and reductive about it).

8. If you name your kid "Martin Luther King Smith" people will know that MLK is the only black person you've ever heard of.

9. If your home is going to be a safe space for your child--and it really, really should be--you are going to have to work hard to fight racism, and to overcome your own prejudices, and to understand and check your own privilege--EVERY SINGLE DAY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. 

10. People of color who are against interracial adoption often have good reasons based in sociology, history, and personal experience, and are worth listening to even if you don't agree.  White people who are against interracial adoption often have a bunch of dumbass bullshit reasons based on racial biases.

11. In cases where a child is actually "saved" from poverty or oppression by being adopted, the credit and gratitude for that should go to their birth parents, who made an excruciating personal sacrifice in order to give the child a better life.

12. Going to a poor country to adopt a child and then complaing about all the poverty?  Makes you an asshole.  If you return from a poor country and say "the building where they finalized our adoption was so run-down, it was like something you would see in the projects!" you are an asshole and also very obtuse.  If you complain that the child you brought home from a poor country had diarrhea for a whole month OMG, when the people from the orphanage swore he was healthy, you are an asshole.  If you refer to your adopted daughter's home village as "pretty much the armpit of India," you are an asshole.  (I met all of these people in my adoption training; they were giving us advice about how to be parents. I also met awesome adoptive parents who do stuff like take their son to visit his birth mom in prison--it seems like it was 50/50 assholes/not assholes.  Kinda like humanity in general.)

Feel free to ask questions or add your own advice in comments (screened & lightly moderated)!

marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (Default)
...and how I learned them. Yes, this is a story of white enlightenment, and also an account of my racist dipshit behavior.   And I do enjoy cookies.  But I'm writing this as an exercise in Racism 101, passing along what I've learned, not as a confessional, and I'll attempt to avoid being a racist dipshit in the course of writing it.  (When I say "you" in the lesson bits I am addressing white people in general, in case that's not obvious.  I am not addressing any specific white person, in case that needs saying too.) 
Cut for Length )
marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (Charlie)
I find that I'm sometimes uncomfortable when I talk to other adoptive parents, and this was true even before I actually was a parent--I'd meet people in training, and I would feel alienated by their attitude.  Not all of them, but lots of them.  I'm finally beginning to understand why.

We're not better people than Charlie's birth parents.  I don't mean that in an abstract way.  We met them, we're getting to know them through regular emails, and they're really good people. 

Adoption is not about better or worse parents: it's about resources.  Money, education, time, family support, culture, civil rights, confidence, even love -- these are resources, and some people have enough of them for a child (or for a particular child), some people don't.  And sometimes people who do have enough resources think they don't, and end up helplessly regretting their decision; sometimes people who don't have enough resources think they do, and the child is the one who suffers.  Adoption is not about justice, or deserving.  Every day of my life, I'm so happy that I'm Charlie's mother.  And every day, I'm sad for him and for his birth parents because they couldn't be a family in the way they would have been, if the world was just a little different.

Some of the adoptive parents I've met, and also some people that I talk to about our adoption, believe that children are adopted by the families that they "really belong to," and they don't have a good opinion of birth parents, except for maybe praising them for "doing the right thing." Like God goes around depositing babies into families that don't deserve them and can't raise them, and then sends the deserving parents to take them away.  And the only bad part is if the undeserving birth parents mess up the process by, like, taking time to consider their choice, or hoping to maintain a connection to the child.  Like being unable or unready to parent makes you a bad person.   Even in situations where someone has a child taken from them because of abuse, the outcomes are so different for rich abusers than for poor abusers.  If you're poor, nobody helps you to turn away from the precipice. 

A lot of kids need to be adopted; a lot of infants need to be adopted.  And that's a tragedy, borne of injustice. I have met some adoptive parents who realize this. I wish we all did.
marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (charlie-smile)
[ profile] neutronjockey asked an interesting question over here, and I think I should answer it in a new post, since other folks on my flist are adopting too, and may be interested.

So, here is how we prepared for people's assorted reactions to interracial families and/or disability:

1. First, our social worker had us do a buttload of training including international adoption, interracial adoption, prenatal drug exposure, and some other stuff.  I think we'd racked up 40 hours of training by the time we got Charlie.  There's an online class offered by Adoption Learning Partners called "Conspicuous families" if you don't have an in-person class you can go to.

2. Mike and I both have family members with disabilities; from the time I was 6 years old my (much) older sister has walked with a pronounced limp and has very limited use of her right hand.  So I've seen her answer the "what's wrong with you" question a lot of times.  We also had a family friend who was blind and another who was in a wheelchair, and since I was a child around them I asked all the questions a child does, and learned various things from how they answered (more on that below).

3. I spent a lot of time talking to and learning from my POC friends about racism, white privilege, and what the world feels like for people of color. I also solicited opinions from all my friends, POC or white, about interracial adoption.   And I read a crapload of books and blogs about race and interracial adoption.

4. I grew up good friends with a family that had a mix of bio-kids and interracially-adopted kids, and we all talked about race together from an early age.

5. I got picked on mercilessly when I was a kid, because I looked like one of those kids you can pick on.  I won't elaborate but if you were one of those kids you know what I mean and what some of the likely causes were.

Sooo....from all that I've come up with some rules for how I handle Charlie's conspicuousness, with kids and with adults.

1. I make sure he always looks as cute as possible

2. I make sure he looks well tended--clean clothes, multiple layers, everything matching, etc.  This doesn't have to cost a lot although I'm fortunate to be able to afford some nice things for him.  But I know people who dress their kids entirely in 2d hand stuff and you would never know it.

3. When I introduce him to children, I point out his arm to them before they can notice it for themselves.  Then they aren't startled by it, just fascinated, so they ask some direct questions and maybe point out that they have *both* hands. Then move on to saying how cute he is.  I also do this with adults, if they're going to be around him again.

4. I invite children to touch his arm and I show them the little nubbin on the end that would have been a finger and explain that the arm didn't grow, which reassures them that this won't happen to them.

5. When talking to children, and to some adults, we refer to his future prosthetic arm as his "Robot arm," because robots are cool.  And nowadays, prosthetics are often also robotic.

6. When people come up and peer at him, I always say hi and I generally also say "This is Charlie, say hi, Charlie," and pick up his hand and wave at them. 

7. He is in a large daycare full of a diverse group of children.  There are plenty of downsides to daycare, but daycare kids tend to have strong social skills.

8. We let everydamnbody touch him.

9. We explain what we know about his disability to pretty much everyone who asks.  "it might be a mutation, it might be what they call a 'spontaneous event,' we're doing medical tests to determine if he has any other problems.  But he's doing great, he's a wonderful baby, he sleeps right through the night..." 

The net effect of all of this seems to be that everyone who meets him--friend or stranger--feels comfortable with him very quickly.  The children in the neighborhood really like him and enjoy being around him, partly because they get to pet him and touch him, which gives them a sense of ownership.  (Note: this policy will change as he gets older and starts to care about being touched or not.  But for now it is helping his neighbors to bond with him)  Because I talk directly to strangers who see him, and I tell them his name, they ask me questions about him instead of whispering to each other behind my back.  Also, once they've asked about the ways in which he is unlike other babies they start asking about what he eats, does he have teeth, how does he sleep--they move him into the category of "normal baby" and they pretty much forget about his differences, because their curiosity has been satisfied. I think that people are powerfully curious, more than they are cruel or hostile.

And the main thing is that we're doing everything we can to give him a sense of security and strong sense of self, and a lot of love and affirmation, so that when he encounters someone who thinks there's something wrong with him, his gut will tell him "that person is weird!" instead of internalizing that person's negative stuff. 

For me, the bottom line is that I enjoy being conspicuous, most days, and what I focus on is how we can be conspicuous in the most positive way possible.   I want Charlie to be an ambassador for other kids like him.

It helps that he is the world's cutest baby, of course:

marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (Charlie)
Yay.  Because Charlie's a special-needs baby* we are allowed to finalize his adoption in Indiana (his birth state), without having to get a second laywer here in Illinois or pay extra crossing-state-lines fees.  We also don't actually have to travel--our lawyer will phone us from the courtroom for the proceedings.   Easy-peasy-Japanesey.  Well, Chinesey in our case.

I didn't get a chance to buy a special outfit for the day, because he's growing so darn fast.  And maybe there will be a delay, if some of our followup paperwork hasn't made it into the hands of the court.  But if all goes well, as of tomorrow, the social workers step out of the picture and Charlie will be ours forever.  Eep! Joy.

*feh. He's absurdly easy.

Edited:  Woo!  All done!  The lawyer's office will call us later to dun us for fees, but the court has decided and we are permanent parents.  YAY
marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (Charlie)
A truth that continually weighs on me, concerning adoption, is that it's always, at some level, a matter of resources.  In every case, the adoptive parents have a resource that the biological parents don't have.  Love is very seldom what's lacking.  Money, a stable partnership, a supportive family, a flexible job, physical health, mental health, energy, time, age, independence, desire, certainty...any of these can play a part.  Usually money is the bottom line, of course.  Before adopting Charlie I would have said that money is always the bottom line.

Adopting across cultural lines is complicated.  Adopting across national and cultural lines is even more complicated.  And cross-cultural, international open adoption?  Boy howdy.  I'm overwhelmed just trying to get my head around it.  There are resources that I have, that I never even thought about as resources.  Charlie's birth parents love him so much, but they don't have the same resources as me.  So I'm in this place of feeling completely unentitled to this perfect child, at the same time as truly believing (as they do) that he'll have a better life with us. This is the unjust world we live in. 
marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (Charlie)
I've never been crushed by the pain of being's been more of an ache. I have a lot of nieces and nephews, so my genetic gifts are sufficiently represented in the next generation without my own contribution. And my relationship with my body is one of mutual disdain, most of the time, so I'm mostly ok with missing out on the pregnancy/childbirth thing, although I'm a little sad about it.

Being childless has been painful, but that, too, is something that hits some people harder than it hit me. I have so many happy childfree friends that I've been able to consciously move past the default raised-catholic idea of "life without children is meainingless." For myself, I had to do some serious thinking about what would give my life meaning if I never had kids. And I've spent the past couple of years seriously focusing on those ambitions, and I plan to go on that way now that I'm a mom, time allowing. He's going to grow up and move away eventually, after all, and people who live vicariously through their kids are a real pain to have as parents.

Which isn't to say I haven't yearned to be a mom. I have and have and have, and the journey to get here has sucked a lot. But all of the pain of that journey is melting away now; I really don't care about the pieces I've missed out on, because everything that matters to me is here with me now. [I almost said "in my arms," good lord, mommy hormones or something are inspiring me to write sweet, cloying prose! Thank god my brain said "no he's not, you can't type with a baby in your arms, you moron, and who do you think you are, anyway, L.M. Montgomery?"]

The pain of endometriosis, on the other hand, does NOT melt away. Normally I take flexiril for my godawful, debilitating cramps, but it makes me too sleepy to care for a baby, so today I'm just taking huge amounts of advil and thanking the gods that my new baby is snoozy and that his daddy has mostly figured out how to keep him dry during diaper changes so I don't have to do them all. Ohhh I miss my couch. With luck we can go home tomorrow.
marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (Baby)
Our new son Charlie was born on Saturday! He is Chinese, born here in America--his birth parents chose us partly because of our involvement in the China adoption process. All of the reasons we initially chose Chinese international adoption ended up making us a perfect fit for this little guy. This is a fully open adoption--we spent an emotional hour with his extremely wonderful birth parents getting to know them before they made the difficult choice to place him with us. His name Charlie comes from his birth parents; I believe it's an approximate homophone of his Chinese name, Jialin.

Charlie is perfect in our eyes, but he was born without his left forearm. For this reason we've given him the middle name Nelson, after Admiral Nelson, our favorite one-armed hero. (Apparently there's a Transformer with a gun for an arm but I vetoed his new daddy's request to name him Shockwave).

This opportunity came to us the day after I returned home from 4th Street Fantasy Con, severely lacking in sleep and high on days of writerly bliss. When we got the call saying to come to Indianapolis, we flew around the house packing like crazy and going "oh my god oh my god!" I was so excited I carelessly packed the checkbook in the wrong bag, and since agency and lawyer fees would be due at placement we couldn't leave until I found it. "Lawyers, Guns and Money" got played in the car a lot on the way down (thank you, PNH, for playing it at 4th Street and giving me the right earworm for the event). But ultimately everything worked out perfectly.

Introducing Charles Nelson Jialin Dell - our Charlie:

Photoset Here
marydell: My hand holding a medusa head sculpture (by me) that's missing its snakes (Default)
I'm a blues man. A blues man is a prisoner of hope, and hope is a qualitatively different category than optimism. Optimism is a secular construct, a calculation of probability. --Cornell West, Rolling Stone, November 15, 2007

I'm having a hell of a hard time right now, walking the line between hope and optimism, at least as it relates to adopting a baby. In my case, the optimism is there...but the hope is going, going, gone. Two days ago we got a call about being shown to a potential birth mom. Today I got the call that she chose a different couple. This has already happened a couple of times, and it's going to happen a LOT more times, and it kills me every time. I'm not mad about it--when we pray about this, we pray that the baby gets what he or she needs, so that prayer is always answered. When we pray for ourselves, our prayer is that we have the strength to see this through, and the strength to go on hoping.

Right now I know I have the strength to see this through...but I don't know if I can go on hoping. I'm optimistic, actually. Our prospects are very good. We'll be shown to various people, and we'll be a match for somebody, and we'll be parents and it'll all be good. That's what my brain tells me. But I don't *believe* it. Because I've been watching too much Discovery Health Channel, I'm starting to think of it this way: that hope is produced by a gland of some sort, and mine has been damaged by an autoimmune disorder, and is no longer able to replenish the hope that is leaking out of my soul from a tiny pinhole in my mastoid bone. (I repeat: I watch way too much Discovery Health Channel. Also, I am weird).

The silver lining, I guess, is that hope I don't have is hope that can't be crushed. And if I lean on my optimism instead, I'll be able to keep hobbling onward until I reach my goal. The big steely grey cloud inside the silver lining is this: every time someone looks at our profile and doesn't pick us, I blame myself. Fiercely and comprehensively. So I have to find ways of keeping my spirits up, and I must not ruminate.

I have noticed that the process of subbing stories and getting rejections, which used to make me a little blue, now seems like a complete piece of cake. After all, they're rejecting my writing, not rejecting *me,* and I can improve my writing. Probably I'm just numb now, but it seems like a good time to polish some stories and submit them to some places, if only for something fresh to focus on.

April 2013

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