Sunday, November 30, 2014

Promoting Adoption in an Anti-Adoption Culture

Did you know that since 1990, the month of November has been designated as National Adoption Month?  I have a feeling most people in America do not know that and until a couple of years ago, I certainly didn't know either.

If you read this blog, you know that my husband and I have an adopted child and that we are hoping to adopt again.   As with so many couples who struggle with infertility, adoption has always been our best chance of ever having a child and today, adoption is likely our only chance of ever having more. Without the hope of adoption, we would have no hope at all of ever growing our family.  So, it probably goes without saying why I am a huge supporter of adoption.

There is also another, less obvious reason why I am a big fan of adoption and it is a reason every bit as personal as being an adoptive mother myself.  It is because if someone hadn't chosen adoption for my grandmother and for my great-grandmother decades ago, I would not be here.  I would not exist.

My great-grandmother was adopted at the age of five and my grandmother was adopted around the age of twelve.  Because of difficult circumstances, their biological families could not adequately care for them and so they were placed in adoptive homes. I am indebted to the families who opened their hearts and gave those two little girls a chance at a better life.   Because by doing so, they gave me a chance.

How many of us, if we looked at our family tree, would have similar stories?   Probably a lot of us.

Yet, so often, we hear only the negative stories surrounding adoption.  In a society that generally believes that a child is better off not being born than being born and then placed for adoption, it is no surprise that adoption gets very little marketing and positive press within our mainstream culture.

About this time last year, I was speaking to a fellow Catholic and she was telling me about a great movie she'd seen recently.   I had not seen it, so she proceeded to tell me what it was about.   She said it was a story about a young woman in Ireland who got pregnant and was forced to give her little boy to an orphanage run by Catholic nuns.  She said that the young mother loved her boy so much, but the nuns gave the baby to another family without the young mother's knowledge and consent, and instead of telling the mother the truth, the nuns told her that her baby boy had died.   Later, the mother learned the truth and the movie was about how she spent years trying to find her son.

And this was supposedly a "great" movie?   One that my Catholic friend was promoting?  I wanted to ask her, "What part was so great? The part where they made adoption look so terrible and perpetuated the stereotype that babies are taken against their mother's will or the part that made the Catholic Church, particularly the nuns who ran the orphanages, look so evil?"

I, for one, am especially thankful that the Catholic Church has historically served an important role in caring for children and in finding them homes and families when nobody else could or would care for them.   Decades ago, many of those children would've been forced into servitude, or left begging on the streets had they not been adopted.   While certainly not idyllic (no institutionalized care usually is), the orphanages established by Catholic religious communities saved a lot of children; they saved my grandmother and her brothers and sister. Indirectly, they saved me.

Needless to say, I skipped seeing the movie.

Now, all this is not to say that I doubt this story is true.  I do not deny that evil acts have been committed in the name of adoption, both then and now.    For example, today, in America, there is very high demand for domestic babies because the number of couples waiting to adopt is much higher than the number of babies available.  As anyone knows, high demand coupled with low supply can set the stage for corruption and unethical practices, and there is no doubt that some adoption agencies, waiting couples, and birth parents have taken advantage of this fact for their own personal benefit.  Thankfully, states and countries often review their adoption laws and processes to ensure that all the parties involved are treated fairly and ethically to avoid any adoption feeling forced or being shrouded in secrecy.  Still, there are loopholes, and birth parents today can shop around for agencies that offer them the "best deal".  Adoptive parents can feel like they are "owed" something if they help financially support a birth parent or pay thousands of dollars for an adoption placement. Such situations can create pressure on all the parties involved that could result in a sad adoption situation. And when it does, those are the stories that you can bet will be on all the major media outlets and newsfeeds.  Even if those stories aren't the norm.  And they aren't.

As with most things, we humans can take something intrinsically good and turn it into something bad.  But that doesn't take away the fact that adoption in and of itself was meant by God to be good. Adoption in the Bible has very positive connotations, the ultimate being that we are referred to as the "adopted sons and daughters of God" [Romans 8: 14-17], implying that no matter what, we are loved so immensely by God that He wants each of us to be a part of a family, His family. How much better can it get than that?  His profound love for each of us leads to our adoption.

Adoption can give a child a stable home and family in which to flourish.   Adoption can give a woman facing an uncertain future a second chance, while also letting her make a life-affirming decision for her child.   Adoption can give the couple unable to have children of their own a chance at being the parents they desperately want to be.     But how many of those stories do we hear about?   Why don't more movies with that message about adoption hit the mainstream?

It is always unfortunate when a family feels that they must place a child for adoption and in a perfect world, there would be no need for adoption.  In a perfect world, none of us would ever sin, ever suffer disease, ever be left without a loving mother and father.  But we do not live in a perfect world; we live in a broken world and God knows that.  It is through His mercy and love that he offers us countless opportunities to take our brokenness and turn it into goodness. God always tries to give us a way to turn our pain and sin into something good because He loves us and He understands our broken human nature.  "I make all things new" [Revelation 21:5] He promises, and adoption can do just that, for the birth parent, for the adopted child, for the adoptive parents and beyond. Because when adoption is done out of love, like anything else, it comes from God, and is beautiful and blessed. And that is a message worth promoting.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

How I (Mostly) Cope With Infertility During the Holidays

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I've been thinking a lot lately about holidays and how my husband and I have tried to navigate through them over the years. During the years that we struggled with primary infertility, the holidays were always particularly difficult.  I could always count on shedding a few tears on Mother's Day, but Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year's certainly weren't any easier.   Now that we are parents, things have improved a bit, but this is not to say they have become tons easier since we continue to struggle with secondary infertility and trying to adopt.   For instance, just last year, I felt crushed when my sister announced her sixth pregnancy on Thanksgiving Day because it had been on Thanksgiving Day the year before that we'd announced our plans to adopt. One year later, we still had no baby, so her announcement, joyous as it was, was also a reminder of how much more difficult things were for us.   Not to mention, the way my family responded to her announcement compared to ours was pretty devastating to me.

That is just one example of many times that the holidays have been difficult for us because of our struggle with infertility and miscarriage.   And even though my husband and I both come from good families, when it comes to our personal struggle with having children, they just never have been able to relate to the pain we have been carrying.   Some families are better at showing support and compassion than others, and every family is different.   It has taken time for me to understand that what my family may lack in understanding and sensitivity, they have made up for in other ways.

So, as I brace myself prepare for another holiday season (during which we are still waiting and praying for a child), I thought I'd share some of the things that I had to learn the hard way in hopes that it might help someone else navigate what, for me, has always been a very difficult time of year.

  • Be honest with yourself first.
Before you accept that invitation to Thanksgiving dinner, or the Christmas party, or the New Year's Day bash, ask yourself, "Am I really emotionally ready for this?"   Chances are, in any large gathering, especially family gatherings, someone is going to want to talk to you about when you're going to have kids. Or, the opposite extreme, they'll be talking about everyone else's kids and struggle to make conversation with you because you don't have any.  Or, you'll be watching everyone else's kids.  Or someone will make a flip comment to you about having or not having kids.   You get the drift.

For me, there were times when I was not emotionally prepared to face those kinds of situations, but I did it anyway.  I didn't want to turn down an invitation for fear of hurting someone's feelings or appearing unsociable.  However, when I walked into those kinds of scenarios emotionally fragile, the results were often not pretty.   I would either say something uncharitable or snide, or say nothing and internalize the pain until I got home, where I would either crumble in tears or explode in anger and either way, my poor husband was left to to pick up the pieces.   After years of repeating this ugly cycle, I am finally realizing that if I walk into a gathering already feeling tense, jealous, angry, bitter, or sad, I should take that as a warning sign.   If I don't feel like I have the fortitude to turn a "near occasion of sin" into an "occasion of grace", I have learned that it probably would be best for me and all involved to avoid the occasion altogether, which leads me to the next point...

  • Know when to walk away.

This is not to say you should avoid all gatherings at all costs.  But sometimes, when you feel that blood pressure starting to go up and your tongue is almost bleeding from biting it so hard, the best thing to do is to just walk away.   It might only be for a minute or two, it might be for an hour, or you may just need to leave the situation completely.  Sometimes, it might be the most charitable thing you can do in the moment.  Yes, people might wonder what happened.  But you can explain later, if they ask; and in many cases, they won't ask.  As I heard more than once, they'll just wonder "what's her problem?"   And that's okay. Because they aren't expected to understand (I'll get to that point in a minute).

I recall a few years ago, my husband and I were eating New Year's eve dinner with my parents and my sister and her family.   Two months before that, we had lost our first baby to miscarriage, after four years of trying to conceive.   As we sat there at the dinner table, chowing down on our black-eyed peas and turnip greens, my mother decided to elaborate on what a great year it had been for her, specifically because my sister had given birth to their third grandchild that spring.    I suddenly felt the blood rushing to my face as I choked down my food. My heart raced and my jaw was clenched as I put my fork down, stood up, and just walked out the door.  I started walking, fast, and taking deep breaths of the frigid winter air.   My husband soon caught up to me and gave me a long, tight hug.  We talked a bit, I regained my composure, and we slowly walked back, getting there just in time for dessert.  Nothing was said by anyone.   And that is probably a good thing.   We spent the rest of the evening playing games, drinking egg nog and watching the new year come in, as a family.

There have been other times, however, when I was not so strong.  One Christmas, my husband and I headed home a day early.   Watching all the joy of the nieces and nephews and their grandparents opening gifts together and listening to all the talk about how "Christmas is for children" was more than either of us could take.    But we didn't go directly home.  We took that extra day and spent it at a state park doing things we loved to do like hiking and bird-watching and we drove the back roads home.  It was bittersweet but as the distance between us and our extended families grew, the bond between me and my husband seemed to get stronger.

And there was a Thanksgiving, about six years into our infertility journey, that we decided to just forgo family gatherings completely.  Instead, my husband and I took a three-day trip to a national wildlife refuge, where we watched the sun rise and set over clouds of snow geese.   It was something we'd always wanted to do together and so we just did it. I felt liberated from all the questions and emotional strain that I knew we'd have been facing if we'd taken the traditional route of spending Thanksgiving with either family.  So instead, we ate our Thanksgiving dinner in a truck stop and watched bald eagles instead of football, and you know what?   There were dozens of other people there doing the same thing!   It really opened my eyes to the fact that many, many people, for whatever reasons, also spend the holidays alone and they just make the best of it. That truck stop was full of laughter, and joking, and compliments to the waitresses and cooks, and even though we were surrounded by strangers, in a weird way, they felt like family.   Nobody asked personal questions because I think everyone knew not to.  Eating at a truck stop on Thanksgiving Day said enough.

Nowadays, since we do have children, my husband and I make more of an effort to get along with family and attended holiday gatherings.   We want our children to have happy memories of spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with their grandparents and cousins.  However, before we tackle such a gathering, I still try to remember one more thing...

  • Lower your expectations...and then lower them some more.

This is probably the hardest thing for me to do.  I tend to expect more out of others than I expect out of myself.  I know, not exactly the path to sainthood.   It has taken a lot of time and a lot of prayer for me to turn that around and start expecting more out of myself and less out of others.   I still have a ways to go.   But upon reflection, I have realized that a lot of my pain came from expecting others to respond the way I wanted them to respond.  The way I thought I NEEDED them to respond.  And when they didn't, I had a difficult time dealing with it and it has caused a lot of relationships to slowly die on the vine.

I would have saved myself and my husband a lot of pain and tears if I'd have worked harder to lower my expectations.  It was really unfair of me to expect others to understand my feelings and emotional pain. While my pain certainly felt justified, my expectations in others were not.  They had not walked the path I was on, and in many cases, had experienced nothing quite like it.   To expect them to respond to an adoption announcement the same as a pregnancy announcement was more than I should have expected.  To expect others to see what I largely hid from them was not really fair.  To expect a grandmother to remember a grandchild lost to miscarriage when she is holding another grandchild in her arms was unrealistic.   But instead, I cried out for validation and craved empathy and so, I set my expectations high.   As a result, I kept going to the well called "friends and family" and finding it dry. Everyone was trying to give what they had but for me, it wasn't enough.  I wanted more.  I craved more. More compassion, more concern, more support.  I expected them to see that, but they just couldn't.    As the saying goes, "you can't get blood out of a turnip", and I was squeezing that turnip dry.

It has only been through God's grace that I have begun to realize that I too, am a mostly empty well.   I expected so much from others but I gave little back in return. The truth is that none of us is really capable of giving others what they need, especially when we haven't shared their journey.   We all tend to put band-aids on the deepest emotional wounds, which is better than nothing, but certainly not life-saving. Only the Divine Healer can give us the healing and grace that can help us navigate our feelings and control our emotions.   Once I realized that and started going to His well, I found a little more peace.

So, we are all works-in-progress and thank God for that!   The holidays have been my little test each year along a spiritual journey that seems forever to be tied to my infertility.   And now, as I await my next little test, I am feeling confident. Sure, this Thanksgiving will mark our two-year anniversary of announcing that we plan to adopt, and nope, still no baby.  But rather than be bitter about it, I am looking forward to holding my newest little Godson on my lap, and reflecting on learning that he was coming into our lives a year ago.  And while I didn't exactly handle the news with grace then, his birth is still my blessing.  I know God will be watching how I handle the test this year and He will, I pray, give me the strength I need when I need it.   And if I still fail, with His mercy, I will have a chance to try again.

I have no expectation other than that.

Friday, November 7, 2014

7 Quick Takes - Pot Likker & Corn Pone, Heathens & Saints, and Fall Colors with Snow

It's been a while since I did a Quick Takes and linked-up with Jen over at Conversion Diary so here we go.

I seem to have left off on the family updates somewhere around our wedding anniversary, so let me just follow that up by saying that Tom and I had fantastic anniversary!   Believe it or not, it was the very first time we'd been away together for more than a few hours since we became parents. Yep, our first time away together. alone. all night. in four years and two months, not that we're counting. I didn't care where we went or what we did, as long as we were together, just the two of us, and it felt like old times.

The boys did great with their grandparents while Tom and I hid away in the Great Smoky Mountains. Any anxiety I had about leaving the boys without a parent was quickly replaced by the long-forgotten joy that came from being able to have uninterrupted conversations and peaceful meals with my husband.  Because we struggled for so many years to have children, it has taken us a while to reach the point where we feel comfortable being away from them for long periods.  But it does take a toll on the marriage sometimes and after four years, it was reassuring to find out that we still really enjoy each other's company.   I promise we won't be letting four more years go by until we do it again.

Our view of Mt. LeConte as we ate a very adult dinner.

On October 22, we decided to make something Polish to commemorate St. John Paul II's very first feast day.   I have a good friend who makes wonderful perogies from scratch, but after seeing the process, I decided that tackling those would be way beyond my cooking abilities.  So, instead, I opted for the only other Polish food I know kielbasa. We picked a bunch of kale from Papaw's garden and cooked it up with some kielbasa and carrots and served it with cornbread and baked apples on the side.

Here in the south, greens cooked up like this and served with cornbread or cornmeal dumplings are called "pot likker"and "corn pone", so I guess you could say our dinner was "Pole Food meets Soul Food" cuisine.   How appropriate is that!  

And then there was Halloween, the secular version.  Before my boys were of the age where they understood anything about Halloween, especially the "trick-or-treating" part, our Halloweens were spent in the peaceful bliss of having a bit of candy at home and watching The Great Pumpkin together.   Not anymore. Thanks to Halloween parties planned at their preschool and the local library, I jumped onto the proverbial bandwagon and we made costumes, painted pumpkins and ate way too much free candy.  John was excited by the costume idea and declared that he wanted to be a scarecrow.   When I asked him "why do you want to be a scarecrow?" he replied, "because it's my favorite kind of bird". Nothing gets by that kid!   Joah, who is eluded by most current affairs, seemed completely uninterested in the concept of wearing a costume until I suggested he be a cat. He was all for that, mostly because he often thinks he is one.  Seriously.   Pretending to be a "kitty cat" is one of his favorite games.  Please tell me this is normal for a three-year old.

To balance out celebrating the secular version of Halloween on October 31, we followed up with some little saints costumes for All Saints Day.   I transformed Joah the Cat into a little St. John Bosco and John enjoyed dressing up as his patron saint, John the Baptist.   He particularly relished in referring to himself as "John the BAD-tist" and telling everyone "I eat bugs".  The boys wore their saint costumes to a church party on Saturday night and again to Mass on Sunday. After Mass, everyone enjoyed "St. Benedict's Cross" cookies (the idea for which I completely stole from Kerri, although when Joah saw them, he exclaimed "Look at all that treasure!") and "Blood of the Martyrs" punch.   It was the first All Saints/Souls Day party for our little parish but hopefully not the last.

In between the costume making and cookie making, we also have been plugging away at the mountain of paperwork required for our adoption home study.   I am pleased to report that as of a week ago, all paperwork has been completed and forwarded to our agency.   Now, we await our home visit.   I have grand visions of having all of our home study completed by Thanksgiving but a more realistic plan is probably Christmas.  I just want to be back on the waiting list so so badly! Right now, it feels like we are in a weird kind of limbo but I keep telling myself God will give us the right baby at the right time and I don't need to get too anxious about all the time that has passed (almost two years now) since we made the decision to pursue adoption again.   Many couples have waited much longer. Such is the nature of adoption these days.

And speaking of adoption, did you know November is National Adoption Awareness month?   If there was ever an issue that needs some serious promotion and marketing, it is adoption.   Please help spread the word because adoption is one of the most sincere gifts of love that one person can offer to another.   It offers so much hope to so many who may be feeling like they are in a hopeless situation.  I hope to find the time to write a blog post devoted solely to this subject before the month ends.   There is so much more that we could be doing to promote adoption in a culture that still sees very little beauty in it.

So, that's about it for my October re-cap. I am thinking now that October might be my favorite month of the year.  For me, it's always a toss up which month I love more...October or April.  Even though it was the wettest one on record for us, this past month was still amazing.  I can't remember the fall colors ever being prettier and we had some gorgeous days mixed in with the rainy ones. Now the fall colors are mostly gone, and when we awoke on the first day of November, we were greeted with snow on the mountains and our first hard freeze. It was as if Mother Nature was saying "sorry folks, October is over, time for winter".

Dear Mother Nature,  Please turn the heat back on.  Love, John

Of course, she was only teasing us...for now. Everyone in these parts knows that the first hard freeze of autumn is followed soon after by the delightfully warm days of Indian summer, during which Mother Nature will tease us again.  But then the jokes will be over and the gray cloudy skies that herald in an Appalachian winter will be upon us.  October will soon become a distant memory as we huddle next to the wood stove, longing for sunshine and dreaming of April.