Tag Archives: adoption

The general state of things, finding her sister and a few words about adoption.

With the little bit of time this season– this odd season of slowing down but commercial madness, the time the season allows a working mom, I am slowly unpacking all that has been jammed in over the past many weeks– both emotions-wise and activity-wise.

Until a week ago, I had been working at a fevered pitch– too-long hours again.  Things never slowed until the Friday before Christmas day.  In much of November and the first 2/3 of December I was leaving at office often at 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m.  Some nights I walked out at 8:00.  Twice I managed to pick my daughter up at the end of aftercare and the couple of days I left at 5:30 felt like a full day’s vacation.  I missed my daughter’s school “Peace Concert” which I had never missed before.  I hadn’t gotten around to reading the school email update that announced it.

The legislation I have worked on since I walked into my office the first week of February, passed on December 18.  I am deeply satisfied with the work I have done and with what I have learned in this job over the course of almost a year.  I found skills, endurance, speed and political savvy I didn’t know I had– or didn’t have previously.

But I am still often sad with the hours and days that keep passing when I am not home after school or home to supervise homework or free to drive my daughter to Hebrew school.  I miss the kinds of talks that happen in the car, especially in winter, when it gets dark early.  I am sad about the volleyball games I missed which will never be seen again.  I miss talking about my daughter’s day with her while it is still fresh.  I know she misses me.

Thursday, December 13 was the start of the next phase of our expanding family.  We left the house at 7:15 a.m., took my daughter up the block to our neighbor/ one of our closest friends for them to feed her breakfast and bring her to school.  Then my partner and I got in the car and drove north two hours on the main highway, the main artery here where we live– to meet– my daughter’s sister’s mother.  The sister she has not met yet and we have not met yet.  We met at a rest stop– this one a very nice, clean newish rest stop with a Starbucks.  Until that day the mom and I had emailed but never spoken.  She made contact with us and we did a  lot of sharing and all our planning by email.  We decided that the adults should meet first before planning a meeting for the children.

We spoke to one another for the very first time when we were ten minutes drive from our meeting place.  She called on my cell phone (we had exchanged phone numbers before this trip)– saying she was there already asking if she could order coffee for us.

She laughed and I laughed– warmly– happily– when we heard each other’s voices on that call.  We had broken the barrier of the abstraction of virtual communication with live voices on two ends of one phone call.  When we arrived exactly ten minutes later, we couldn’t find her at first and then found her– in line waiting for our three coffees to be delivered by the barista.  We hugged each other– all three of us and she cried hard and I cried too.  I like all that in a woman– her open laugh when we heard each other’s voices and her tears and hug when we met.

We gathered our coffees and found the most private place we could.  She took us in when we sat down and she said, “We’re family, we’re family.”  I agree and am glad she that she is the kind of woman for whom that is a given fact– not a question.

We sat next to a window, and it was a gloriously sunny, warm winter day.  We, all three, took each other in and we took out our photos and talked for an hour and a half.  Our daughters, these two sisters, look a lot alike– both brown-skinned with pitch dark beautiful expressive eyes, both with very dark, brown hair and wide, round faces.  Their own faces, but faces very much alike.

We talked about deep things–and we talked honestly.  We talked about the things parents often don’t share easily– what we worry about, what we most want for our children in the biggest sense– in terms of connection, now and in their lives forever–after we, their parents are gone.  We talked about the adults and other young people in our worlds who are the deepest connections for our daughters.  We talked about our daughters as Latinas and as Jews and about identity and what we have figured out about giving them a sense of place in their worlds.  We talked about our own real experiences and what is hard and what we have loved about being a single parent (she) and a lesbian couple (we).

We did not talk about the kinds of things that parents sometimes talk about–things that matter too– but that can easily slide into a conversation driven by competition or insecurity.  We didn’t talk about our daughters’ grades or ease or lack thereof in school; we didn’t really talk about their activities.  I have no idea if my daughter’s sister is a swimmer or piano player or the best singer in a choir or whether is in the girl scouts or loves animals or likes princess clothes.

We laughed easily and there were more tears in the conversation. She cried easily and tears welled up for me too.  My partner was the calm, warm, direct anchor that she is– with less rattling around right at the surface.  It was a good, good start.  I think we could have sat for hours and hours and hours.  And I liked her.   She is a Jewish woman, like me in many ways.  I felt hopeful, like I and we are not only on the path to my daughter’s sister, but to a close alliance as Jewish women, Jewish moms raising Latina, Jewish daughters.  There are things that need to happen and then the children will meet.  The sun shone through the big rest stop window and on our drive back.

At home at night, talking this over with my daughter, things were not so sunny.  When my daughter found out about her brother, she was nothing but smiles, and when we told her– several weeks earlier that her sister’s mom was ready for them to meet, she was thrilled.  But when we came home from that first meeting, sadness welled up.  Losses welled up.  She cried that her brother and sister don’t live with her and she cried that we have not added another child to our family– that what she wants is a sibling here at home.

I thought about the losses of adoption in ways I have not thought in a little while.  I feel grateful to have had chances to do a lot of the emotional work that leaves me grounded and not insecure about any of her expressions of loss.  Much of the time I can listen and not argue with any feeling she has.  I can understand that feelings of loss have nothing to do with the unfailing permanence of her love and attachment to us.

Some parents whose children came to them by adoption think, “it was meant to be, it could have been no other way than that this child became my child”.  I don’t think I think that way.  I don’t think that any child was meant to be left by birth family, or to be raised in another country or culture.  I do think that even though harsh circumstance shapes our lives– all of our lives, that good can and often does come.  It is nothing but good that we three are family– and it is nothing but good that her younger brother and younger sister are with their respective families.

She is fully and undeniably my daughter, my partner’s daughter.   It’s mine and my partner’s to help her through rough waters and I feel a sense of great happiness that I know she knows that.  We are hers forever and she is ours forever and that is indisputable.  Whatever twists and turns brought her to us, she is ours and we are hers and that is that.

A Birthday, An Adoption, A Yahrzeit

In that order.  I won’t look back right now, but I think I write virtually the same post at this time every year.  Maybe you haven’t read this blog for long, or maybe you haven’t remembered enough for me to be embarrassed for the repetition.  Or maybe, with things in life, like birth and death and adoption, it’s ok to repeat oneself.

May is a big month for me.  A month of no particular significance in my life until after I was 40 years old– but a big, huge month for me now.  On Sunday, my daughter, born in 2001, will be 11 years old.  I am already thinking a lot about that age and what it means– to her and to me and to us.  I am thinking about her and what I’d like to write about her and what I want to wish for her in the coming year.

Her birth and her adoption were obviously two different events– and I was there for one and not the other.  It is still unfolding year by year and I am still learning –as is she– what these facts mean to her– and what they mean to me.   In some ways the facts of her beginnings and then the facts of the family she got– have given her an interesting and broad perspective.  I know she loves the family she got and we so love her.   This year it was also more open and visible than in the past, that this part of her story– adoption– is a hard thing to carry with her.  I don’t think I’ve written them– but there were two different nights this year when I came home to find my daughter laying on the bed, crying and crying, openly and brokenheartedly– with my partner laying next to her, just tender and listening as she cried about her birth mother never having chosen to meet her.

Nine years ago today just three days before my daughter’s second birthday, my father, who was quite ill but not expected to die, died very suddenly and unexpectedly.  I was already grieving about him, because he was so ill.  But he when he died  I had not said goodbye and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.  But I did.  I had to.  So we have a yahrzeit today and a birthday later this week.   I am full of so many feelings and I am at work and doing my regular things and at home a candle is burning and I do very much, miss my father.

Adoption Nation– another look, keep reading.

I have posted my review, and walked to the post office in the gray drizzling rain this morning to send off the two free books to my two readers who won the lottery for the books.  It was very satisfying to read Adoption Nation, and write the review.  And something about mailing out the two books was especially satisfying.  I put my mind back on my writing and posted a shorter piece this morning about my perspective on my daughter’s emerging perspective on the world.

With all that done, I turned my attention to reading some of my favorite bloggers again. I see that over at Mama C and the Boys there is another review of Adoption Nation, which includes an interview with the author, Adam Pertman. I was glad to see the review, liked the Q & A (they offered this to me too and I wanted to do it, but couldn’t get that set with the publicist) and wanted to let you all know it is out there, if you are interested.  Thanks, Mama C. for the thoughtful questions and the insightful review.  I, like you, was amazed in particular, by the scope of the book.

Book review and give-away: Adoption Nation

When I decided to become a mother, I tried to get pregnant.  I read a lot during that time.  I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting; I read Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions and a bunch of other new-mothering books.

Time went on, I wasn’t pregnant, and we started planning an adoption.  A lot of other things and emotions happened, but that is the short version.  It wasn’t an easy transition, there were tears and very hard days, but we made the transition.  My reading list changed.  I subscribed to Adoptive Families Magazine (to which I still subscribe) and I read and read and read books.  I read to learn and I read to fill the space in my heart that was there because I had thought I was already going to be a mother by then.  And I read for the joy of it.  As a woman in a lesbian relationship, who had been part of a lesbian community for many years– I loved the part of our lesbian culture that was about making new ways out of old ways of being.  Making community, family, culture out of whole cloth–figuring things out.  What is a family?  What do I love, care about–that I want to pass on to a child?  What kind of home will we make with a baby?

It didn’t take me long to notice that many of the people who wrote about adoption were (not always, but often) also thinking about very fundamental questions about family and kinship and closeness in a fresh way.  They were thinking about race and racism and about culture– the one you are born into and the one you grow up with.  They were thinking about the deep question of what is it that binds us together, as humans, in love, that has nothing to do with genetic lineage.  They were trying to figure out some things about what young people actually need.  I got more and more excited and I kept reading.  And reading.

On my shelves today I count 36 books related to adoption.  Because we are long out of shelf space for books, I have many books in boxes and at least two of those boxes are full of more books about adoption.  I probably own about 100 books about adoption and there are many more out there than the ones I own.

Until last week I not read Adam Pertman’s Adoption Nation.  The book was first released in 2000 and was just re-issued with updates and revisions.  I have mostly been drawn to very personal accounts of adoption.  Adoption Nation is indeed a different book than my usual reads.  But I am very glad I read it and very glad Adam Pertman wrote it.  It provides something we don’t have so much of, but should– which is actual data and comparative discussion of laws surrounding adoption.  It tracks actual history of adoption practice, both domestic and international.  We need to know these things in order to inform decisions and policies about adoption practice as we move forward and to understand what we are a part of as individual adoptive families.

I think Adam Pertman and I have much in common.  He is an adoptive parent; he clearly adores his children; he is Jewish and he cares very passionately about adoption.  And like myself, he wasn’t content just to parent two children who came to his family by adoption (a big enough job)– he wanted to know and to think more and deeper about adoption.

Adoption Nation is long and not a quick read.  It is divided into three sections; one called “Don’t Whisper, Don’t Lie– It’s Not a Secret Anymore” about the long history of adoption in U.S. culture as a practice rife with secrets and lies– to birthmothers and to those people who were adopted out of their birth families and into a new family.  The section does a great job of detailing some of the history of international adoption and the role of the Hague Adoption Convention.  The middle section of the book, “Sensitive Issues, Lifelong Process” discusses issues affecting each of the members of the adoption triad; birth mothers, adoptive parents and adoptees.  He does not shy away from discussion of the many abuses that arise in the context of adoption, nor does he trivialize these abuses.

In matters like adoption, where those of us who are touched by adoption have such deeply personal experiences and views, there is so much that is important, but that we actually know so little about— or worse, that we think we know, but where our “knowledge” is based solely on personal experience– which is important, but not enough.

I hope Adoption Nation becomes just one of what I hope will be a growing body of more comprehensive work on adoption.  We need discussion of adoption as he provides, not just as it plays out for individual families, but in the context of the whole of the societies affected.  Adam Pertman is knowledgeable and writes about a much bigger picture than just that of his personal experience– which is depth that I think we need.

I learned a lot and I am sure I will open it again in the future as a reference for information I will want and need as I continue to think and write about adoption.  It is quite a feat to have compiled so much useful data, considered adoption from the standpoint of each member of the triad and discussed a wide array of state laws regarding adoption, international adoption law and practice as well as practices that are not codified anywhere.

My criticism of the book is not in what it is, but in what is missing.  Throughout the book, Adam Pertman talks a great deal about birth mothers and about the data regarding race– who adopts, who is adopted.  There is a lot of discussion about the increase in transracial adoption and many aspects of that shift.  But he does not ultimately place his discussion of adoption directly in the context of two of the larger social issues which I believe are at the very heart of why adoption, as we know it in the U.S., is what it is.

He does not write directly about racism nor does he write directly about sexism.  The omission of this overall context is most significant in the third and final section of the book, “Tough Challenges in a Promising Future” in which he discusses the public adoption/ foster care system and also offers a frank discussion of the role that money does and should or should not play in adoption.  Yet all of this would be a fuller, more meaningful discussion if placed in the context of the larger social forces that are at play in all of these issues.

I think it is inescapable that the conditions that give rise to the placement of so many children of color in the U.S. and throughout the world are utterly connected to racism.  I am neither pointing a finger at any one person or family nor blaming adoptive families in the slightest.  But I am saying I can’t fully understand my wonderful daughter’s life story, without understanding racism and its effect on her Chicano people.  We all, individual families and policy-makers alike, need to look at this bigger context as we look at adoption.

Likewise, I believe that any real discussion of adoption history and practice must be at least in part, a direct discussion of sexism.  By this I mean discussion of adoption must include discussion of the sexism facing young women and single women, women in marriages and the level of control and economic autonomy that women do or don’t have.  Adoption in inextricably bound with the conditions facing birth mothers, all of whom are women.

The individual reasons that any individual woman or family chooses an adoption plan for a child, or abandons a child are as myriad as the individual birth parents who make such plans.  And yet all women’s lives, and especially our economic, reproductive and child-rearing lives, are circumscribed by sexism.  Sexism isn’t the reason for every adoption, but no adoption happens outside of a world in which sexism has a profound effect on the lives of birth mothers as well as adoptive mothers.

Nonetheless I am glad this big book exists, and very glad to add it to my collection.  I am glad the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which Adam Pertman directs, and which may be the only institute dedicated solely to adoption research, exists.  I hope I’ll meet Adam Pertman one day, and I hope to continue to play a small or perhaps even a bigger role as our thinking and the understanding of adoption continues to grow.  There is certainly room and a need for many minds at work on this important issue in our world and in our families.

Last of all, if you read through to the end–this is your last chance to participate in my first Blog Book Giveaway!!  If you’d like a new copy of the book, please email me your name and address at laurawrites1  at verizon dot net no later than Saturday and I’ll do a drawing and send off two copies of Adoption Nation.

Saying goodbye.

I am full of more and more thoughts, memories, ideas.  This little family that we made and the family history we are making day by day.  Now that she is nine, some of the memories seem long ago and far away.  And some seem like they happened just this morning.  There is a reason for the clichés– it all does seem like just the blink of an eye ago.

This is a very little story, told, of course, from mine and not my daughter’s perspective.  Although I talked and talked to her in the hours after we met her, this is about what was actually my first deep conversation with her.  She was 12 days old and had known me for only a few hours.  I had this conversation with her because it seemed so obvious that adoption is tied to a loss, a large disruption for the young person.  When it was time for her to say goodbye, I knew my young person was no exception.

The day we met our daughter, June 1, 2001 was a very long day, filled with many emotions.  She was 12 days old and had been with her foster mother for 10 of her 12 days.  She had spent her first 48 hours of life in the hospital but as I understand it she hadn’t had any contact, with her mother (who is now called her birth mother, but was her only mother then) after being born.

Our daughter’s foster mom was (is) an interesting, dynamic woman, a married-with-two-sons professional woman, who was at the time, the executive director of a large non-profit which provided respite care to children whose parents were on the brink.  She also served as the foster mother for many of the babies placed for adoption by our agency, just because she loved to be with newborns.

We chose to have the placement happen at her home.  We spent far longer with her and her husband than I suspect any adoptive parent ever had or ever has since.  We stayed for many hours after the papers were signed, photos taken and the agency people had gone back to work (or home).    We felt we we owed it to our daughter to get to know her on her home turf before taking her to a new home and new family.  We had a wonderful afternoon and my partner and Stephanie and my daughter and I walked to a great restaurant for dinner.

After nearly five hours together, it was time for us to pack up and take our new baby back to our hotel.  As bags and the car were being packed up by others, I found myself alone, for the first time, with my baby girl.  I was holding her on my lap in the living room.

Since we had arrived she had looked and looked, listened and listened–but she had barely cried at all for the hours and hours we had been together.  I was alone with her.  I suddenly felt that clearly my job as her mother was to tell her what was to come next and I thought about what was coming as best I could, from her point of view.

She was looking at me and I was looking into her eyes and I said something like this:  We are your moms and we already love you so much.  I love you.  In just a little bit we are going to say goodbye to Stephanie and John and you aren’t going to live with them anymore ever again.  We are going to take you with us and you will live with us.  You don’t know us very well and I know it will be hard, but I can promise you it will be ok.  You’ll be ok.  And I also promise you that this is the end of the line, the last time this will ever happen to you.  We will never leave you and you will never have to leave us or move to a new family again.  We will always be with you and you will always be with us and you will be ok– I promise.

Think what you will, that it was gas or whatever other things people say to disprove the obvious emotion, the intelligence of new babies.  But as soon as I said that she was going to say goodbye to John and Stephanie, she started to cry.  That kind of in-it-for-the-duration kind of newborn cry that gathered steam as it went.  She cried as I sat with her and as we packed the car and she cried harder as we drove over a small mountain pass to the other side of town and harder still as we went up in the elevator to our room.  She cried in our arms on the bed until her eyes drooped then closed and she slept– her first night with her new family.  She had started to cry around 8:00 and cried until around 9:30 or 9:45.  For the next six or eight weeks, she cried again– sometimes shorter, sometimes longer–sometimes tiredly, and sometimes fiercely, but every night, always starting at about 8:00 p.m.  And that is how we started.

Adoptive Mama. Blogging.

As I write I realized that when I hit publish on this, it will be my 100th post on this blog.  So it is fitting that I return here to a long ramble about being an adoptive mama.

I am lucky to have made the virtual acquaintance of several wonderful, smart, writing moms through this blogging world.  Sarah, author of Standing in the Shadows, honored me by linking laura writes– to her blog the other day– referring to me as someone who writes about adoption. So after weeks of writing only about the important events in Wisconsin, I take this time to think and write specifically about being a mom whose daughter came to us by adoption.

The fact that my daughter came into our family through adoption is on the one hand irrelevant to me as a parent and on the other hand, completely central and significant.  It is not something about which I am explicit in my writing all that often.  I write more about the things I see and learn as a Jewish mom, lesbian mom and as the white mom of a child of color.  In our case, being a transracial family arose in the context of adoption.

Adoption is irrelevant in my parenting life in these ways;  I am my daughter’s mom.  My partner is her mom.  I could not love her more or be closer to her if she had been born from my womb.  She is a blessing, a pleasure, a miracle and a person– full of life and full of challenges and I love being her mom.  Figuring out the big issues, like how to be close, what kind of education she should get, playdates, activities, setting limits, getting healthy food on the table, sleep at night, and keeping order in the house, but not too much order–those are the same big issues that any parent  wrestles with every day and I am thoroughly bonded to my sisters in motherhood, adoptive or biological motherhood– in all of those efforts.

What is not at all irrelevant is that my daughter’s adoption was a radical event in her life– which shapes her world view, her fears, her sense of belonging and lack thereof, her sense of her friendships, her sense of herself in the world.  And my job as a parent is to listen, to understand that, to not deny her experience, but to hear her out and to think for myself and to help her face what she needs to face, help her make sense of that radical event and help her to heal, now and throughout her life, from the hurts and losses and confusions that were part of this package for her.

First and foremost, my daughter had a life before she came to land with us.  She was 12 days old when we met and she came “home” with us (first to an Embassy Suites hotel in the city in Texas where she was born).  She was only four days old when we were identified as the family who would soon adopt her– and we talked to her foster mom every day for the eight days between when we were “matched” with each other and we actually took her in our arms, said goodbye to her foster family and began our lives together.  (We actually didn’t say goodbye to her foster family as abruptly as many adoptive parents do– but that story is for another post.)

Our adoption and her situation, by choice of her birth mother– is that hers was a closed adoption and we have no contact and have never had any contact with her birth mother or birth father.  This was not our choice, nor would it have been our preference.  I went to some extraordinary length to ensure that we could get a copy of her original birth certificate, which we now have so that she can, whenever she asks or when she becomes an adult even if she does not ask– have the chance to decide at different times in her life, about whether to try to contact her birth mother.

But in my world view, twelve days old or younger isn’t too young for the life she had and the heritage she was born into– to matter.  Nor is it too young for the loss of those specific relationships and of that heritage, to be a loss.  In her life, the fact that she was adopted rather than born into her family matters.  And so it has to matter in my life as a mother.

I will say a few other things; one that I have written about and a couple that I have not.  My daughter is one of six children (as far as I know).  She has three siblings who are being raised by her birth mother and two siblings younger than she.  Each of her two younger siblings was placed for adoption after she was– not with us and not with each other.  The family of her younger brother, when they learned of us, chose, as did we, contact with us.  The other family has chosen, at least so far, not to have contact with us.

We learned about the two younger siblings many years after each younger child was born and many years after I had started asking our adoption agency whether there had been younger siblings born to her birth mother.  The ethics of the agency’s decision about the separate placement of each of these three siblings and the complexity of all of our feelings about all of this, are also subjects for another time.  None of this is simple emotionally.  But I know that all three children are in good, healthy, loving homes and the rest is history; is what happened.

Our deep and growing relationship with her brother and his wonderful family is not without effort–trying to blend distance, busy schedules, differences in priorities and all the rest.

But the thing is this.  I can see that her life is different; it is better now that she has her younger brother than it was before.  I see very clearly that having the chance to locate herself in her own mind, as a person in the world who was born to someone like every other human being, and who has biological family, like every other human being– seems to have given her a larger anchor– greater confidence and ease in herself and her world.  I have read  several accounts about girls adopted from China into white families, whose parents also felt their daughters gained this sense of place, of anchor– after a long return visit to/ stay in China.

I know that every child who loses one family and gains another through adoption is different, one from another.  I know of many young people who feel longings for their birth parents, their birth mothers in particular.  My daughter has never expressed that longing, though we have always talked openly and I think very lovingly about her being adopted and about her birth family.  We have talked a lot about her birth mother (about whom I know quite a lot, though we’ve never had contact) and birth father who was less forthcoming with our agency and so about whom we know less.  She has asked several times to see a picture of her birth mother (which I do not have), but she has hedged and changed the subject — when asked if she would want to meet her.

It was when she was about five, that I felt she had enough grounding in biological reproduction and how that all works, and I felt she understood enough about adoption for real, that I told her for the first time that she had three older siblings.  All being parented by her birth mother.  These kin, she longed for.  She learned what we knew of them; their first names.  Their ages.  She spoke of them.  She asked about them.  She asked if she could meet them.  If strangers asked her if she had brothers and sisters she would say that she did, she had three, but they didn’t live with her.

One day, weeks after I told her about her older siblings for the first time, she brought them up while we were walking home one summer night, from a playdate at the home of a good friend of hers, also adopted.  She asked me things about her siblings and their home with her birth mother that didn’t seem to me to be terribly heavy for her, but were important to her as she continued to try to have a picture of her complex, spread-out family.  I answered what I knew and told her I didn’t know the rest.

I asked her gently– a little gingerly, but directly, if she ever wondered why she didn’t also live in their household with them.  I wanted her to be able to tell me this, even if she didn’t know how to ask it.  She smiled a big, knowing smile at me– a look she gives me still when she thinks I am overthinking something.

And her words to me, with a very knowing and final tone, at five, were “Let’s not go there, Mama.”  We have gone there from time to time.  But more than she seems interested in reconstructing the why of how she left her birth family and landed in this one, more than that, she wants peoplefamily— a big moving wave of people– her two moms, her brother and his moms,  her aunt in particular, four of the cousins she has in our two families (my partner’s and mine),  our neighbor up the street and her three sisters, the son of one of my closest friends here and the son of my friend in Wisconsin, whom she refers to as her cousins, our very close Mexican immigrant friends and their two daughters, and their extended family, my friend L. and her husband and their two teenage daughters who we also consider her cousins and our nieces, her two grandmothers, and others.

Do I think she has some big struggles related to adoption?  I do.  But what she seems to have done with adoption and being part of a lesbian family is to say, “I go with this… I can choose who is mine and I choose a lot of you.”  There are big tears at different times.  She has said “you’re not my real mom” while crying hard about something that I  or my partner did that hurt her feelings.  When she is most deeply scared and upset she will cry and cry “I want to go home”.  This is heartbreaking for me and also a gift– I assume she carries a deep feeling of having lost her home and that is one of the things she tries to bring up to the light and heal at different times.

I assume I will continue to understand and to learn more about the places of loss and heartbreak.  I hope I will be not just loving but helpful.  But she has a great mind and has used adoption and our lesbian family as the model for some things we could all use to learn about.  And my guess is she will most likely build a family someday, that hopefully I will get to be a big part of; a family that looks like none you or I have ever quite seen before.

Tomorrow, last year and open adoption

This is in the category of material that I do not yet know how to write about.  In the adoption world, for perfectly fine reasons, the idea of open adoption centers very primarily around open-ness between birthmother or both birthparents and adoptive family and child.  In our family, our daughter’s adoption was “closed” supposedly at the behest of her birthmother, about whom I know quite a bit– but who I have never met, nor have we ever seen pictures.  We would have welcomed the chance to figure out a relationship with her and I think we still would, though my daughter would now have a say in the matter and I do now know exactly what she would say at this moment in her life.  We have sent letters and pictures and a special necklace early on.   I have this woman, this wonderful woman who gave birth to my daughter and who I know has struggled– often in my mind’s eye.  I believe I would like to know her, woman to woman.  I am a woman who has struggled too.  I think we would have important things in common. 

I know, through the agency that worked with all of us, that my daughter’s birthmother has received and read most of what we have sent.  I say it was closed “supposedly” at the behest of our daughter’s birthmother, because there are things I have learned since that have called into question the reliability of information we were given, but be that as it may, no direct communication between her and our family is hers and our circumstance, whoever chose it or for whatever reason.

Last year, tomorrow, I believe, is the anniversary of when we got another phone call, years after the call that a child was born and she would be our daughter.  In that call, a year ago, we learned that my daughter has two younger siblings who were both placed for adoption right after birth with other families– families three and four (let’s call us family two and birthmother’s family, family one).  We, my partner and I, were devastated that we had not been offered the opportunity to adopt and parent her siblings.  And we said without hesitation when we learned this news, that we wanted our family to know the other two families if they were willing.  One of the two families was also wanting and willing and we were all together within 4 weeks of learning this news.  The family of her younger brother, has welcomed us and we them, into a bigger family.  It has been hard to fathom what my daughter actually feels about the loss of the chance to grow up with her siblings, but it appears to go something like our feelings.  Great loss and an unbelievably wonderful find– her brother.  My daughter’s relationship with her brother who is seven– got off to a remarkable start.  I easily say that yes, they are in love with each other, yes they do look alike in many ways, yes they have many things, temperamentally speaking, in common– and yes both she and he have known from the very start that they are brother and sister and their relationship looks like brothers and sisters look.  I have been fairly out of touch and the children haven’t gotten to see each other for several months– but I plan to rectify that soon, and I hope that on their end, this recent lack of contact is, as it is for us, almost entirely a reflection of a life that moves way too fast and a bit of a reflection tha we all moved fast to get to know each other.  We spent two long visits and three holiday weekends all together in the time between last April 28 and the new year this year.  Maybe our adult hearts (not the children’s for sure) needed this time to catch up with what has happened to us– our immediate family, suddenly grown.

There is great complexity here.  But yes, we have an open adoption too.  I love the brother of my daughter and his two moms (he, by interesting coincidence has two moms).  I need to pick up the phone and call all three of them and get us together.

So I write to no one in particular, but to myself and my own reflection– and to my daughter and her brother and my partner and his two moms,  happy anniversary of this open adoption.


We had a wonderful spring break.  We went to NYC and although we have two wonderful boyfriends who are happy to have us stay with them in their apartment in Manhattan almost any time, we spent two of the nights in a hotel, with our Lauren and her daughter, Harriet and then later her husband, Sasha and daughter Ida  joined us– in NYC from San Francisco.  New York is so exhilarating, and exhausting.  We went to In the Heights,   a Broadway musical, perhaps only the 3rd of my life and my daughter’s first.  We all loved it.  I bought the soundtrack a couple of days after we returned and my daughter has wanted to go to sleep to the music and wake up to the music every day.  Fortunately I love it too, because we are all singing it and hearing it in our heads, all the time. 

Broadway musicals are created to be compelling and fun and catchy– and though it is the only show she has ever seen on Broadway, I don’t think it is a coincidence that this musical, about the multi- ethnic, Dominican and other Latino immigrant neighborhood of Washington Heights, New York–captured my daughter’s imagination.  The show is about the very complex and different longings– for home, for success, to keep family and culture intact, to assimilate.  It made a big impression on her and on me.  When I asked her if she liked seeing a show, she said yes! (This is not a sure thing with her– she has fears of dark theaters and sudden, loud noise, so live performance doesn’t always work so well for her.)  And when I asked her did she think she would like to see another show like that sometime, she said– “I want to see that one again!”.  I am the same way, reading a poem over and over and over, carrying certain essays and stories with me whenever I travel.  Repetition does not bore me– it reveals and brings depth and richness. 

Although it was Broadway and the things that happen in the show; things that represent very difficult things in real life, are neatly sewn up by the end– I cannot stop thinking about the themes in the musical.  Migration and immigration, the complex questions about home, where is a person at home when you come from a people who have migrated from somewhere  to somewhere else?  Whether the somewhere else is another neighborhood, another city, another country, another language or culture. 

Lately I have thought a lot about the life I have and about the fact of my own family’s migration as Jews, from Europe to the U.S. and then from the Jewish neighborhoods in several different places in the U.S. to a more assimilated lifestyle.  Middle class values tend to teach us that this migration and assimilation are the stuff of happy endings– if the migration is in the direction of being more middle class, better and more able consumers, more assimilated.  I have been thinking about  what was lost.  To me personally.  What would my life be like if my family had stayed in a Jewish neighborhood in Chicago where I grew up, rather than migrating to the suburbs?  What would my current life be like if I had stayed close to my family– and not migrated to the east of the U.S., far from what I still call home?  All those things happened, so it’s what I have to work with but it is still useful to take in that there were important things lost.  When the character Nina, from In the Heights, drops out of Stanford and returns home– I know the momentum of the show was to see if she could somehow return to school– but I found myself rooting for her to come back to the neighborhood– the barrio– and go to school right there in New York City– to go ahead and get that education she wanted, but not get any further from home.  

I am thinking about all of this in relation to adoption, which is, after all, a major migration.  For the young person at the very least, it is a migration from one real family to another.  From one place that was or would have been home and one group of people– however poor or sick or oppressed or unable to parent– a group of people who were, after all, family– to a new group of people who are family.  In our case, the choice made for our daughter required her to leave behind a Chicano family with three older siblings, for this Jewish family of two white mothers where she is the only child.  A Spanish-speaking home for this English-speaking one; a neighborhood full of Chicanas and Chicanos.  For many young people the migration is from one part of the world to another, leaving behind a whole way of life, national history, language, culture– all of it. 

I never quite know how to say what I really think about all this in all its complexity.  There are odd, but too-common ways of thinking about all this, like the many people who tell me she is so lucky to have us.  I hope that as she grows older she will feel wonderful about this family that she happened to get, that is hers forever– as we already feel about her and have, every day since we met her.  But those who are trying to do a calculation of whether our children who were adopted are better off with us than they would have been–mostly , I think it’s really the wrong question.  It is.  She is with us; and like any parent, if we do a good job, that is definitely a good thing; our relationships are real and rich and enormous and messy and interesting and deep and full of successes and mistakes and definitely lifelong.  

In our family, I think, (though time will tell) we are incredibly close and I feel fortunate to have been able to figure that out.  I don’t stop thinking about the fact that these circumstances and what was left behind do matter a great deal to my daughter and to all our children who were adopted– whatever they do or don’t have to say about the whole thing.  These circumstances shape how she sees the world and her circumstances are part of the fabric of the deepest feelings she carries inside of her.  About home, about comings and goings, about connection and permanence and what for each of them is beautiful or interesting or real.  About race and class.  About all kinds of things I am not even thinking of and perhaps cannot think of– things that I hope later she will continue to teach me about her experience.  As I begin to unravel the threads of what migration meant to my Jewish family I cannot help but think about my daughter’s migration into our family.  Her migration away from her neighborhood, language, long history, culture, older siblings and immediate and extended birth family.  

She is wonderful, whole, intact, exuberant, funny and with it– but hers, like that of many peoples of the world, is a big, huge story to have.  With big losses as well as enormous love and a real family– us.  And her story is also my story– as a parent whose job it is to love her and to think about her and the whole of who she is, her history and her present time and the slant of  her particular circumstances.  Regardless of what she does or does not express about her own migrant history.

When I listen to the music (as I am doing right now, more than once a day) from In the Heights I am especially touched by a couple of lines sung by the main character, Usnavi, in the song It Won’t Be Long Now.  He sings about his love interest, Vanessa– “I’m runnin’ to make it home and home’s what Vanessa’s runnin’ away from, I’m runnin’ to make it home and home’s what Vanessa’s runnin’ away from.”    There is terrible loss as well as the creation of new and interesting relationships, communities and love in migration.  The longing and sadness about the past is there to be felt, figured out, thought about, respected and honored, as is the sadness but also the sweetness of the present day.