Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Adoption Prejudices

I used to be very judgmental about people who would not adopt a black child. I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around it. But then I realized that I have prejudices too, just different ones. I am ashamed of this but we said we would not accept a child with severe non-correctable medical issues or who had been exposed to a lot of drugs during the pregnancy.

At one adoption workshop that Lil Sweetie and I attended as part of the adoptive parents panel, another couple was there with their baby who had been exposed to drugs and alcohol during the pregnancy. Afterwards, they came up to me and told me how brave they thought I was for adopting a black child. I told them I thought they were the brave ones—that we had not been willing to accept a child that was drug-exposed. They were shocked and defensive and more than a little offended, I think.

Now I think that God puts those fears or prejudices in our hearts to get the right babies to the right people. I was meant to be Lil Sweetie’s mom and those other people were meant to parent their little man. If I had been willing to adopt a drug-exposed infant and they had been willing to adopt a black child, things might not have worked out the way that they did, the way that they were meant to.

I also think that if you don’t think you can parent a black child, then you have no business trying. As much as it upsets me, I now thank God that people are willing to be honest about what they are willing to take on in an adopted child. As a friend who is also an adoptive parent told me, a sense of obligation is a poor substitute for love.

Am I making excuses, explaining away my own and other’s bad behavior? Probably. These are things I am still working through.

Friday, April 24, 2009

How I Became a Mom - Part 7

The baby I drove home that day was our dear Lil Sweetie. She came home in a borrowed car seat because we had no time to buy our own. She came home with no crib to sleep in and only two pieces of clothing to her name. Within hours, my cousin had come over with the cradle her children had used, a dear family friend brought over a huge sack of infant clothes that his daughter had outgrown...love and support and other necessities just flowed to us. We no sooner realized we needed something than friends or family was knocking on the door to deliver it. My in-laws drove 4 hours round-trip to bring a crib and high chair and presents and hugs. I have a friend who says “People are just no damn good.” Well, I’m here to tell you he is WRONG.
Mr. Sweetie was still on his business trip in North Carolina and would not be home for another three days, so my mom moved in to help with the baby. My dad built Lil Sweetie a website so that Mr. Sweetie could see his daughter from halfway across the country.

I won’t lie, the first few days were ROUGH! I was overwhelmed. And I had no idea what I was doing. The first diaper I ever changed was Lil Sweetie’s that first night I first met her in the hospital! Plus, Lil Sweetie seemed to have her days and nights confused. She would cry and cry all night long, then want to sleep all day. Don’t get me wrong, I was deliriously happy, but I was also tired, stressed, and overwhelmed.

I have heard some adoptive parents say that they didn’t bond with their child right away, but from the day I brought Lil Sweetie home, I adored her. I thought she was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. I could not believe that she was mine. And actually, she wasn’t. Her birthmom, Ashley, would not terminate her parental rights for another three weeks. And the birthdad’s rights were not terminated until months later. We had to sign papers stating that if the birth parents changed their mind before terminating their rights, we would return Lil Sweetie to the adoption agency within 24 hours. I told Mr. Sweetie that I would sign their little paper but I was NOT giving Lil Sweetie back. He gulped and imagined Lil Sweetie and I in Mexico; himself sitting in a jail cell. If it had really happened, I’m sure I would have done the right thing but I am just as certain that it would have killed me.
Mr. Sweetie came home 3 days after Lil Sweetie did. It is a powerful thing to get to just sit back and watch your honey meet his child for the first time. Lil Sweetie seemed to bond with him immediately and liked sleeping on his chest much better than anywhere else in the world. He is awful cuddly!
The same day that Mr. Sweetie came home, I had this amazing conversation with my boss:

Mr. J: Hello?
Sweetie Pie: Um, Mr. J? You know how I am supposed to come back to work tomorrow? Um, yeah, I would like to talk to you about that because...um, well, you know, we’ve been trying to adopt and um, well, we have a baby and um...
Mr. J: WHAT?! Oh my goodness! I’m so excited for you! Is it a boy or a girl? How old? Height? Weight? Are you excited? What do you need? Tell me the whole story! Start at the beginning!...
[30 minutes later]
Mr. J: So, I guess you will want some time off. Let’s talk about the work on your desk and how we will handle it...

HOW LUCKY AM I? To this day, I get misty-eyed thinking about how great Mr. J was about the whole thing. I ended up taking the equivalent of 12 weeks of leave, but I worked 1 day a week while Mr. Sweetie stayed home with the baby. (His boss was also great...his employer was not even subject to the FMLA and they still gave him 1 day off a week for something like 15 weeks!) And this arrangement was so great for us in other ways. I loved having that intellectual stimulation of going to work 1 day a week and talking about big people things and getting to eat lunch while it was still hot and getting to go to the bathroom without holding someone on my lap. Also, I can be a little, shall we say, UPTIGHT. I really had to learn to let loose and let Mr. Sweetie do things his way on his day home with the baby. I figured if I got home and everyone was still alive and well, things hadn’t been done “wrong” even if they had not been done the way I would do them. Ahh, that was an important life lesson right there.

So that’s basically the story of how I became a mom. We still had some hoops to jump through—visits with the adoption agency, still more paperwork, etc. But on December 17th, our adoption became final and we were finally and forever a family.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

How I Became a Mom - Part 6

After leaving the hospital, my mom and dad took me to dinner because in all the rush and hustle, I hadn’t eaten all day. During dinner, we all decided that it was pretty certain that Ashley was changing her mind and would be parenting her child herself. There were just numerous things that she said throughout our conversation that pointed that direction. Still, we decided that the smart thing to do would be to be prepared for anything.

So Mom and I dropped Dad off and then did a midnight, whirlwind tour of Walmart’s baby department. If I had had months to prepare for being a mom, I would have driven myself silly researching exactly the right diaper, the right bottle, the right formula. Instead, I was racing through Walmart thinking, “Um...we’re going to need diapers! And um...formula! And um...oh yeah, bottles!” and just throwing things in the cart. We also threw several large storage containers into the cart because remember, we were not expecting this would happen until Fall and our “nursery” was currently the “junk room.”

The rest of the night was spent cleaning the house and decluttering the junk room so that you could at least see the “bones” of a nursery there. I remember about 3 a.m., feeling so tired and worrying that all this work would be for naught, and finding a little sign I had purchased at a craft show that said “God is in control. Trust him.” I took it as a little nudge from God that things were happening exactly as they should.

When I finally got to sleep, I had dreams the whole night that I could hear a baby crying.

The next morning, we had arranged for me to go to the hospital while my mother went to unlock my house for the social worker to do the home study. I remember telling my mother that the dogs were up-to-date on their shots and that I could provide documentation if they needed it, and showing her where we kept the fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Mom said, “Don’t be ridiculous! The social worker isn’t going to ask stuff like that!” But sure enough, she did!

Meanwhile, I was at the hospital, in Ashley’s room, playing with the baby, holding the baby, being given directions by the nurse on how to take care of the baby, and all the while Ashley was there. Awkward! It’s just so weird to be in such close proximity to someone for whom the same event that is bringing you great joy and happiness is bringing them sorrow and tears. Anyway, the social worker that was doing our home study called Lori and said that we passed and that the hospital could release the baby to me. Ashley started crying. I was trying really hard not to cry. I asked Ashley whether she was sure about her decision. I told her that I could not build my family and my happiness on her regrets and I had to be certain that she was certain. Through her tears, she told me that she loved her baby but that every time she saw her, she was reminded of a very traumatic time in her life and she didn’t think she could be a good mother under those circumstances. That was good enough for me. I remember trying to hug Ashley without dropping the baby and saying goodbye while Ashley sobbed, then bursting into tears myself in the elevator. I told Lori I just couldn’t take Ashley’s baby with her crying like that. Lori told me I had to trust that Ashley was making the right choice for her and the baby, which was exactly the right thing to say. Still, it felt very much like I was stealing. In fact, all the way home, I kept looking in my rearview mirror for flashing lights and listening for the sound of sirens.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

How I Became a Mom - Part 5

So, there I was racing across town in a cab, trying to get someone on the phone to let the birth mom know I was on my way, but I didn’t know the last name of the social worker from Local Adoption Agency (LAA)! And of course, I didn’t know the birth mom’s name either. And my cell phone was dying! Bless the cab driver’s heart, he saw how frantic I was and handed over his cell phone for me to use.

Finally, I got to the hospital and the information desk eventually figured out who I was there to see and had the LAA social worker, Lori, meet me at the elevator. All the way up to the room, I was telling myself, “Now don’t be rude. Be sure and acknowledge the birth mom and ask her how she is feeling, don’t just make over the baby and ignore her.” So, I walked into the room and there in the hospital bed was a young African American woman holding a small beige baby. Lori introduced us and I asked the young woman how she was doing and she looked at me like I was nuts and said, “Don’t you want to hold your baby?” Why of course, I’m so glad you asked!

So for the next two hours or so, I sat there and visited with the birth mom, Ashley, and held the baby. I even got to change one of the baby’s poopy diapers (pee-u!). My mom and dad came up there to give me a ride home and Ashley graciously allowed them to come in the room and see and hold the baby as well. We took a bazillion photos, with Ashley’s permission.

It is traditional to bring the birth mom a small gift. I hadn’t really had time to pick up anything seeing as how I had known I would need one for only about 12 hours and I had spent most of that time traveling. But my mom came through for me and brought a dozen roses and a teddy bear for Ashley. At first, I thought the teddy bear was sort of a weird gift, but it gave her something to hold while we held the baby. Which she wanted us to do, but still I think her arms might have felt awful empty without that teddy to hold.

Lori had warned me that Ashley might come across as sullen but that it really was a mixture of shyness and grief. I found Ashley to be a very sweet, shy young lady with a beautiful smile, who was very proud of her baby but also seemed determined not to bond with her. I found it so interesting that when she would hold the baby, she would hold her out from her body, rather than snuggling her close.

After about 2 hours, I was sure that Ashley must be exhausted. I knew I was and I hadn’t even given birth 24 hours before like she had! Plus, I had a lot to do...we hadn’t had our home study yet, and it had to be completed before we could bring the baby home from the hospital. I had cleaning to do!

We said goodbye, and I asked Ashley whether she wanted me to have the nurses come get the baby so she could rest and she said no, she would rather keep the baby in the room with her. And I thought, Uh-oh.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How I Became a Mom - Part 4

So the next morning, June 13th, 2002, Mr. Sweetie woke up and went downstairs at our hotel to eat breakfast. I was puttering around, taking my time getting ready when Mr. Sweetie’s cell phone started ringing. Ordinarily, I would never answer his phone but thinking that it might be LAA, I did. And it was.

Keira told me that the baby had been born the previous night, that it was a healthy baby girl, African-American, and then she started giving me stats, height, weight, etc. I was thinking to myself, “Gee, I’m happy for the birth mom but this is kind of mean for Keira to go on and on like this about a baby that is not going to be ours.” (I was still thinking that the reason they hadn’t called the night before was because the birthmom had changed her mind.) Keira has the patience of a saint because she finally got it through my thick head that we needed to come home and MEET OUR BABY!

I was so confused. My mind just couldn’t comprehend—this was happening so fast. I still was convinced that the birth mom would change her mind so I would let myself get excited, then come crashing back down. When Mr. Sweetie came back upstairs from breakfast, I was running around throwing things into suitcases, and I quickly let him know what was going on.

After more consultation with Keira, we decided that I would fly home and Mr. Sweetie would follow later in the car. (Part of our vacation was business for him, so we decided it made sense for him to go on and conduct the business portion of our trip while I went to meet the birth mom and the baby.) We rushed downstairs to the hotel’s “business center” to get on the internet and find out what airlines flew out of Durham’s airport.

While Mr. Sweetie was looking that up, I called my mom at her work and blurted out that I needed a ride from the airport to the hospital to meet (what we hoped would be) our baby and her birthmom. Later, she told me that after our conversation, she hung up the phone, stood up at her desk and screamed, “Everybody! Everybody! I need your attention! I may be a grandma!” Isn’t that cute?

After much stress and haggling with the airline, Mr. Sweetie got me booked on a $400 round-trip ticket back to Oklahoma, rather than a $800 one-way ticket (how does that make sense?) and I was on my way. I don’t remember much about my flight from Durham to Dallas-Ft. Worth, except that I was frantically reading the book Inside Transracial Adoption. (Great resource, by the way.) When we got to DFW, it was pouring down rain and there was terrible thunder and lightening. I was so nervous that I wouldn’t get to the hospital in Oklahoma in time and that the birth mom would think I didn’t care and change her mind! Finally, they allowed us to run out to the plane in the pouring rain, run up the steps and board the plane. The rain was blowing in to the plane something terrible. Not surprisingly, FAA won’t let you fly with water standing on the floor of the cockpit so we had to wait for someone to come and mop it up. Further delays. More nerves. Agh!

We finally got airborne and eventually landed in Oklahoma City at the time that I was supposed to be across town at the hospital meeting the birth mom and baby. My mom and dad were waiting for me at the airport, and told me they would wait for my bag while I grabbed a cab and hightailed it to the hospital. So that’s what I did.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Happy Easter!

This is me and my little friend, Booger Boy, at my very first job, circa 1977.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

How I Became a Mom - Part 3

After the adoption workshop in May, we began preparing for our vacation—a whirlwind tour through the South. Our plan was to start in Memphis, then detour to see Shiloh National Military Park (a Mr. Sweetie thing), then up the Natchez Trace Parkway to Nashville, then to Asheville, then Durham (Go Bulls!), then Pinehurst, then home. Our plan was to have our fun, then spend the rest of the summer turning our spare bedroom into a nursery and waiting for baby.

I’m sure God had a good long laugh over our plans.

Fast forward to June 12th, 2002. Mr. Sweetie and I had just arrived at our hotel in Durham and were lying on the bed cooling off under the a/c when Mr. Sweetie’s cell phone rang. It was Keira from Local Adoption Agency (LAA), calling to tell us that a birth mother had chosen us. We were so excited! Then, Keira said, “...and she is in labor right now.” WHAT?!?!?!?!

Turns out that LAA was pretty convinced that the birth mom would change her mind, so they had not told us that we had been chosen. Keira said that because the birth mom was in labor and because she still was insisting that she was placing the baby with us, they felt like they probably ought to let us know. I can’t remember if Keira cautioned us that the birth mom still could change her mind or whether we decided that was a good possibility because of what Keira said. Anyway, Keira promised to call us when the baby was born and we hung up.

Wow. Just wow. Nothing in the world can prepare you for that phone call. Mr. Sweetie just laid on the bed and looked dazed. I went into list-making mode. It’s how I organize my thoughts when the world seems especially spinny.

We went ahead with our plans to attend a Durham Bulls baseball game that night. On the way to the stadium, Mr. Sweetie and I started talking about names. We long ago had picked out a name for a boy (William Ryne, and yes, I know that no one likes it but us so shut up), but had never been able to agree on a girl’s name. I looked at Mr. Sweetie and said, “We need to come up with a name for a girl. I just know that it’s a girl.” Mr. Sweetie replied, “Oh, it’s definitely a girl.” Please note that not even the birth mom knew the sex of the baby.

So, we tried to enjoy the game while sitting with our cell phones in our laps so that we wouldn’t miss “the call.” We actually had a pretty good time...it’s difficult to have a bad time having a beer and a dog with your sweetie at a ball game on a perfect summer evening. But still, there was an undercurrent of anxiety and excitement to the whole evening that had nothing to do with baseball.

The game finally ended, we finally went back to the hotel, and no call. No call on either of our cell phones, no messages waiting at the hotel, nothing. We decided that the birth mom must have taken one look at the baby and decided to parent rather than place the baby for adoption. Sigh.