Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How I Became a Mom - Part 2

So, we were in the midst of this roller coaster of medical procedures and temperature charting and ovulation-inducing drugs, when I developed a cyst on one of my ovaries. This was in August 2001. The doc said we couldn’t continue with the drugs that month but needed to take a month or two off and let the cyst dissolve (or whatever cysts do when they take their toys and go home). What a relief! It was wonderful to be off that roller coaster. That damn roller coaster that had been beating the hell out of us and making our stomachs drop with every rise and fall of our fortunes on the baby-making trail, had finally stopped. Blessed peace! I felt sane for the first time in years.

Then 9/11 happened. And I felt crazy again. I cried and felt scared and thought, “How can I bring a child into this horrible world, where people would do such things?” I wallowed in that thought for days and then, finally, the lightbulb went on. God whispered in my ear and said, “You dear sweet dodo, there are kids born every day who need good homes! You don’t have to bring a child into this world, you can provide a home to a child that is here.”

We still had all the misconceptions about adoption, but somewhere along the way, we convinced ourselves that international adoption was the answer. We chose Guatemala because many of the children adopted from there are raised in foster families rather than orphanages. We started filling out paperwork and getting documents together. But we just couldn’t get it together. It just wasn’t happening. We just weren’t feeling it.

We struggled for months, getting fingerprinted for the background check, getting statements from our doctors that we were healthy and relatively sane, preparing financial statements of our assets and debts. Still, it just didn’t feel right. I didn’t expect it to be easy, but I didn’t expect it to be so hard, either.

Then one day in May 2002, a coworker said, “Why are you adopting from another country? Why aren’t you adopting a kid here?” And I told her all our (wrong) reasons and she said, “Call [Local Adoption Agency]. They have babies running out their ears and they don’t have enough adoptive parents for them all.” So I did. We were able to get our application together very quickly, since we already had a lot of the info together for the now-abandoned Guatemalan adoption.

In mid-May, 2002, I turned in our application to the Local Adoption Agency (LAA). Almost immediately, LAA called and asked us to submit some photos for them to show to women who were considering placing their children for adoption. (In adoption here in the good ol’ USA, birthmoms typically choose the adoptive parents from scrapbooks and “Dear Birthmother” letters submitted by couples wishing to adopt.) LAA told us that they had several birthmoms expecting black or biracial children, and not a lot of prospective adoptive parents open to adopting non-white children. So, even though LAA requested photos knowing we hadn’t had time to put together a scrapbook, I worked until the dawn’s early light to throw together a scrapbook to take to LAA. I wanted to put our best foot forward.

The “Dear Birthmom” letter was hard! What do you say to someone you know nothing about? So many letters I had seen on the internet were presumptuous or condescending or both, and I sure wanted to avoid that! Even harder was filling out the application for the adoption agency—one part of the form asks what race of child you are willing to accept, whether you will accept a child with a correctable medical condition, a non-correctable medical condition, a child conceived by rape or incest, a child whose birthmother used drugs and/or alcohol throughout her pregnancy, and on and on and on. It’s a horrible thing to admit to yourself that you are unwilling to accept a child under certain conditions, particularly when you have waited and wanted so long to have a child. But to have to admit that on paper, in writing, to relative strangers? Ouch. Not easy.

At the end of that month, we attended a two-day adoptive parents seminar. The seminar covered all sorts of things, like the legal aspects of adoption and some basic parenting skills, but the highlights were a panel of birthmoms and a panel of adoptive parents that came in and spoke to us. There also was a compatibility test we had to take, where we each answered certain questions for ourselves, then answered as we thought the other would answer. I guess they were checking to see how well we knew each other. Finally, we had a private interview with one of the adoption counselors. I remember being told that our adoption would probably happen very quickly because we were willing to accept a child of any race. Based on that statement, I was hopeful that we would have a baby by the Fall.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Proud Parent of a Terrific Kid

You know those obnoxious moms with the bumper stickers that say, "Proud Parent of a Terrific Kid"? Yep, that's me! I promised myself I would never be "that mom"...how quickly things change!

Instant Gratification

If you want some instant gratification in the green thumb area, Lil Sweetie and I can highly recommend wheat grass. This stuff was seed 6 days ago! In three days it had sprouted and now it's 3-4 inches high. We got the seed at the health food store. I understand some people like to make smoothies out of it. We'll just look at it and pet it, thank you very much!

Friday, March 27, 2009

How I Became a Mom - Part 1

When I was a little girl, I, like most little girls, had dreams. Big dreams. I wanted a palomino pony and white cowgirl boots with gold eagles, I wanted to be Cinderella, and I wanted to be a mommy. As I grew up, a lot of my dreams changed...I outgrew the pony thing, and I learned to my dismay that "Cinderella" is not an occupation. But I stayed true to my childhood dream of becoming a mommy.

Now, as a little girl, I didn't know much about how one became a mommy. I knew it required a "mommy" and a "daddy," but beyond that, I didn't really know how it happened. I never dreamed it might require a referral from an OB-GYN, a Reproductive Endocrinologist, hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of ovulation predictor kits and co-pays, what feels like thousands of fights with the HMO, two years and counting of basal body temperature (BBT) charts, and still my dream remained unfulfilled. Over two years of waiting. And hoping. And praying. Did I mention the waiting?

Well-meaning friends said, "Relax, it will happen when you least expect it." How could I? The doctor recommended that every morning, before I got up, or spoke, or did anything, that I take my temperature with a special thermometer that allowed me to make little charts to show the doctor to determine whether I was ovulating and whether my husband and I were having sex at the appropriate time. Thus, my first thought and first act of each and every day was a reminder that I am infertile.

Other friends said, "Well, at least you are having fun trying!" Nothing could have been further from the truth. Imagine having your sex life assessed by perfect strangers. Having the doctor peruse your BBT charts only to announce that you completely missed the boat and did not have sex at the appropriate time is bad enough. Imagine the embarrassment of the post-coital test. Yep. The. Post. Coital. Test. Wherein you pee on little sticks every morning until one changes colors, then your doctor tells you when to have sex and when to come in to the office, where he swabs out your cervix to see how you and your sweetie's juices mingle. Or don't mingle, as the case may be. I guess things could have been worse...we were never asked to take a test during actual coitus. I can picture it now—“Dammit, smile at the judges, honey! We get extra points for showmanship!”

Picture a Saturday morning. I’ve peed on an ovulation predictor stick and it has turned the appropriate color. I’ve called the doc, and he has agreed to meet us at his office. We get there, and there is another couple waiting there, refusing to make eye contact. I figured they were there for the same thing and felt like we should do a little cheer (B-A-B-Y, you will get one if you try! Goooooo, team!), or say a prayer together, or at least whisper “good luck”. But we didn’t. And they didn’t.

What happened was Mr. Sweetie was taken back to the Big Room of Porn to make his contribution to the project. I thought, “Oh gosh, I hope he doesn’t take too long...that would be embarrassing! What if they have to call me back there to help?” Then I thought, “Oh no, what if it doesn’t take him any time at all? What if he is back here in 3 minutes flat? Which would be more embarrassing?” That’s a question to which you won’t find an answer in the etiquette books—what is the appropriate length of time to take jacking off at the doctor’s office?

Eventually, in an unembarrassing amount of time, Mr. Sweetie was back and we had breakfast while they did something with his swimmers. (What were they doing? I’m not sure but I remember the doc said there was spinning involved. Maybe it was a special spinning exercise class for swimmers? I don’t know.) Then we went back and I got intimate with a high-tech turkey baster and that was that. Thhhppppptttt. Nada.

So yeah, a lot of tests. Fun times. I have given quarts of blood, peed on a bazillion sticks (and of course, my hand every damn time), and had dye squirted up places that, trust me, should not be dyed. One doc painfully squeezed the girls to see whether he could get me to spontaneously lactate. Or so he said. I think he hated women and boobies and just made that up.

Then, there are the results of the tests. Let me tell you, nothing can make a girl feel more hostile than being told that she has "hostile cervical mucus." I told the doc, that ain’t the only hostile thing about me. By that point I was pretty much hostile from stem to stern.

As invasive and horrible as the tests and procedures we underwent were, we didn’t take advantage of half of the technology available to us. We tried ovulation inducing drugs and artificial insemination (to get the swimmers past the hostile cervical mucus) but never got to IVF and the really high-tech stuff.

Every month, I would grieve so when I got my period. It was like a little death every month. The death of the dream that this would be the month, that this procedure would be the one that “took.” I would be inconsolable for days. Mr. Sweetie, God love him, always knew what to do when I was in the throes of this grief—make some soothing sounds, then go to the store and purchase $20 worth of magazines and chocolate and lay them at my feet. See why I love him so?

In the midst of this roller coaster, we were very clear that if we ever got to the point where the doctor started talking IVF, we were moving on to adoption. We figured we only had one wad of cash with which to bet, and adoption gave us the best odds. My cousin, who Mr. Sweetie knew in college way before he met me, has a son who was adopted so our family had already had a positive experience with adoption. It just seemed right. Honestly, if we hadn’t had so many misconceptions (ha!) about it, we would have chosen adoption far earlier. We were told there were no white babies, and a black birth mom wouldn’t pick a white family to parent her child so there were no black babies either. We were told it would cost tens of thousands of dollars. We were told it would take six years. We were told we would pay a lot of expenses for a birth mom who would end up changing her mind and we would be left with no money and no baby. We were idiots.

I Could Just Cry

Lil Sweetie told me that she wished she had white skin like mine. I told her that I wished I had brown skin like her. She said, "I wish I could take my skin off and put it on you and you could take your skin off and put it on me." And my heart went ker-thunk. I pointed out that she is a lot smaller than me and if we traded skins, there would be a lot of me left over "nekkid." We laughed, even though I was crying on the inside.

I know it is not unusual for a brown kid with white parents to wish that she were white too. I know that it doesn't mean that Lil Sweetie is rejecting herself or her race, that it is likely that she just wishes that we all looked alike, that the facts of how we became a family were not so visible. I know that she is beautiful, and that she knows she is beautiful. I know all that intellectually. But emotionally, I'm raw.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Racial Nuggetry

A boy in Lil Sweetie's class told her she wasn't invited to his birthday party because she has brown skin. When she told me, I handled it very maturely. I blurted out that the boy was a bigot. Of course, Lil Sweetie was not familiar with that word--she went to school and told the boy that he was a nugget.

Aunt Nell

"Have you ever seen anything so beautiful in your life?", she asked,
Admiring a yellow onion in the afternoon light--
all the colors of Autumn in a single orb.
I looked at her dimpled, dentured smile
and hair dyed Lucy-red to hide its snowy whiteness
and said "No, Ma'am.
No Ma'am, I have not."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Lil Sweetie's Tribute to Dr. Seuss


When the baby won't stop crying,
And the bills are still unpaid,
And the roof, it won't stop leaking,
And the beds are still unmade,
Somewhere in the world,
The moon shines silver
On a calm, still lake,
And I love you.

When you oversleep,
And you're late to work,
And your desk is a mess,
And your boss is a jerk,
Somewhere in the world,
Someone lights a candle
And sits in silent prayer,
And I love you.

When the world is at war,
And the stock market drops,
And you're to-the-bone tired,
And your balloon mortgage pops,
Somewhere in the world,
The sun shines,
And rivers flow,
And flowers bloom,
And grass grows,
And I love you.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Parenting Children of Color

Mr. Sweetie and I attended a transracial parenting workshop last weekend. (We are white; our daughter, Lil Sweetie, is black.) The workshop was great in many ways—it was wonderful to sit in a room full of other parents whose families look much like ours—but it was also sobering. Parenting any child is a huge responsibility, but then add in the need to help the child develop a strong, positive racial identity when you don’t share her race...it’s daunting.

I struggle daily with how to best serve my daughter. I’m not black and can’t ever know what it is to be her, to be a black child, a black girl. Of course, I talk to her about her experiences and how she sees the world. And I try to educate myself on black issues, by doing things like reading Essence magazine and contributing to the NAACP. But how much is enough? And how much is too much? Am I trying to be black by doing these things? Where is that line between educating myself and trying to make my daughter’s story my own?