A Birthmother’s View of Adoption

NYTimes Modern LoveThe New York Times Modern Love podcast this week was an essay written by Amy Seek which recounts her experience as a birthmother in an open adoption. I love the Modern Love column and of course, when I saw the topic of the column on my phone, I immediately read it and then read it again and again. It’s a beautiful, honest and brave piece but also gut wrenching. It would have been a difficult read even if I weren’t in the midst of hoping to adopt, but from my current vantage point, it stirred up so many difficult thoughts and emotions. After reading the Modern Love piece, I immediately bought the author’s memoir “God and Jetfire” and devoured the book this weekend. It’s a hard book read, but everyone involved in adoption—birthparents, adoptive parents, adoptive children–should read this book. Amy Seek was a 23 year old college student when she found out she was pregnant. She was in a good relationship with her boyfriend at the time but they were young and not ready to be parents, so they make the difficult decision to place their child for adoption, and without knowing much about open adoption until learning about it from a social worker, they chose this path for themselves and their child and ultimately placed their son with a adoptive couple, she calls them Paula and Eric in the book and Holly in the essay. From one perspective their story actually seems the “model” open adoption scenario. Amy and her boyfriend actively sought out and chose their child’s adoptive parents. They approached their decision rationally and thoughtfully. The adoptive parents fully embraced the open adoption philosophy. Amy visits with her son and his family regularly. Both extended families are involved. There are no secrets about the adoption and her son now a teenager seems by all accounts well-adapted and happy. Isn’t this what the “ideal” open adoption is supposed to be like? As an adoptive parent isn’t this what I’m supposed to be striving for? And yet, while the picture seems so perfect and right, it’s clear that even a “good” open adoption, like any adoption, is complicated and emotional, and there are losses on all sides and that even with acceptance and time moving on, the effects last a lifetime. Amy describes her son’s adoption as both her “greatest accomplishment and deepest regret,”  and reading both the Modern Love piece and her book, her grief and loss echoes on every page. It’s a heartbreaking story to read and I found myself crying for her. Even now, not yet an adoptive parent but somewhere in between, I am acutely aware of the losses involved in open adoption, for all of us, and  especially for the birthmother.  I think about it all the time. I understand and feel that pain knowing that what is my deepest hope and desire means a loss for someone else. I appreciate that filling the hole in my heart through adoption may well mean creating a hole in someone else’s heart. I don’t take this for granted. One of the most interesting parts of the book is the relationship between Amy and the adoptive mother, Paula.  There is a scene around the time of her son’s birth, when Amy is wrestling with her decision, that describes this tension so well:

One afternoon we sat together on my futon and cried, knowing we were crying for our own exclusive concerns, and out of compassion for each other. We were tragically enmeshed; each the source of the other’s pain, each the threshold of the other’s future. We stood like tired boxers, clinging to each other to stop the beating. I could end her suffering, some of it, but only at my own expense. She was the only one who could see the magnitude of what was happening. She wasn’t telling me it was somehow good for me. She knew what was at stake; she was weighing it every moment. We were two pieces in a puzzle that were negotiating the exact shape of the cut that would at once connect and divide us. We were pressing at each other through a curtain to establish the precise profile of our grief.

Paula and husband really do everything you could expect of adoptive parents, fully welcoming Amy and her family into their extended family, going through great efforts to support the relationship. This is true also for birthfather with whom they also have a close relationship. And time and time again, Seek makes it clear her gratitude and enormous respect for them, even despite her own regrets and sadness. And she too feels how difficult this is on Paula too and the level of effort that it takes from the parents to not just maintain an openness but to really nurture it. There is a delicate dance between the two mothers, both guarding some parts of themselves and not fully revealing the depths of their emotions, all for the love and betterment of their child. That, to me, is truly what motherhood is all about. In the essay, Amy writes with appreciation of Paula, not just for what she has given her son, but for the sacrifices she makes for Amy.

… an open process forces an adoptive parent to confront the pain that adoption is built on. And openness for (Paula) does not mean merely letting the birth mother know about her child; it means cultivating a real love between birth parents and child. This requires exceptional commitment, which may be why some open adoptions become closed in the end. I LOVE (Paula) for sharing such things with me, sentiments that show she is devoted to our relationship — and not because it is easy for her.

There are many books on adoption but few from a birthmother’s perspective and I am grateful to Seek for sharing her story. Despite how difficult it was to read this book and see this side, still, I came away with a better appreciation of and more confident about open adoption. The fact that an adoption is open does not mean it’s an easy path and choosing an open adoption brings its own risks and vulnerabilities, but still I never doubted that Seek felt she made the right decision in choosing an open adoption over one that is closed. I think some part of me wanted this book to be simpler. I truly want to understand what adoption feels like for a birthmother. But I think I wasn’t fully prepared for the layers of emotion and ambiguity. A part of me wanted some affirmation that the promise of open adoption as being better for everyone—the child, adoptive parents and birthparents too—really is true and I wanted to know whether it’s true in the long run, over a lifetime. As I read Seek’s book and essay, I wondered what her son, who’s now a teenager, thinks of the book and what she writes. I hope he will read her story and see how much she loves him. I think what I appreciated most from the column and her book was the complicated and raw nature of the adoption experience for everyone involved. And also how that experience evolves over time, in ways that you can’t predict or know in advance. Adoption doesn’t end when the papers are signed. It’s not a singular event or decision. The ripples echo throughout life, throughout all the lives of people touched by it. Being complicated and challenging and uncertain does not make it a bad thing, at all. Life is complicated and messy and full of paradoxes and we do the best that we can, to embrace the ambiguities and move forward. In some way we may hope for stories and endings that are neat and tied up with a pretty bow, but so little of life is like that. I hope you have a chance to read this book.


First signs of Spring!

First Magnolias!

Magnolias! First signs of spring in Berkeley

I was amazed to see on our walk this weekend that the magnolias are starting to coming out! The first signs of spring on January 24th! I feel a bit guilty posting this while friends on the east coast are just starting to dig out of a massive blizzard, but still, this is why I love California!

Sticky Art Lab

Sticky Art LabI had a great time today at my friend Eva’s 4th birthday party. Eva’s party was at Sticky Art Labs which is one of my favorite “fun-for-kids-and-big people-too” places in Berkeley.  Sticky Art Lab is this great place that that has all sorts of craft supplies and scraps materials, where you can go to make fun projects like cork-robots, felt puppets, pipe cleaner mobiles. Eva and I have been to Sticky Art Labs before for their Coffee & Crafts Lab on Saturday morning a while ago, and having not known about the place before, I was enthralled. And, in fact, I will freely admit after our first time there, I was thinking of how quickly I could schedule another play date with Eva for another visit when one of the staff there told me that they have sessions for adults only (!!)—with wine!  I love art and making things, from serious crafts to just fun playing around with materials, I love the chance to be creative and create something new and beautiful. At home, I knit and have started doing some photography. For many, many years, I was very serious about ceramics and I still have a pottery wheel and a small studio in my backyard. The last few years, I’ve been busy with other things and have not had much time for pottery but I am hoping to get back into the throw of things (bad pottery pun!) again. I do miss working with clay. Meanwhile, at the party today, we played with homemade playdough (which as a clay person I loved) and made felt animal puppets. Eva made a butterfly and I made a Bodhi-dog. After the party, Eva and her mom Rachel came over to give Bodhi a walk and head over to our favorite dog park/playground. Eva used to be a little nervous around Bodhi and other dogs but now has become this awesome dogwalker and Bodhi just loves her! Eva is a girl after my own heart—she loves crafting and reading and fairy princesses and butterflies, and is whip smart and super funny, one of my all around favorite little people. I’ve known Eva since she was born, and I’ve known her mom Rachel since grad school. It’s been such a pleasure to be a part of Eva’s growing up and amazing to see her Mom and Dad (Jack), become such awesome parents to Eva. I’m so glad that they are all a part of my life. I also can’t wait until I can bring my own kids to Sticky Lab. Ok—I do realize that will be a while, but in the meantime, I’m looking forward to more crafty playdates with Eva! Happy birthday, Eva!

Books, wisdom and friends

H is for HawkI love reading and books. My house is full of books and I love having them around me. I love the physical and tactile aspects of books, the look and feel of the cover, flipping pages, underlining and dog-earing sections that I want to return to. I’ve tried but am just not a Kindle gal, despite all the ease and convenience. My bliss is an afternoon in a bookstore and I have more books in my “to read”pile by my bedside than seems safe here in earthquake country. But if someone finds me buried beneath a big pile of books, at least they will know that  I went down entertained and content. One of the the gems of every month is my third Tuesday dinner with my book group. I feel so lucky to have landed in this great group of women book lovers and look forward to our dinners each month. We hit our three year anniversary for the group this month and have shared so many amazing books. Books aside, this group, these women, have been such a treasure in my life. We usually start each dinner with wine and cheese and chatter, about whatever is going on in our lives, sharing in the ups and downs of life, from kids and spouses, work and travel, to the inevitable losses and grieving that comes with lives lived and loved. They’ve been a big support for me during this adoption journey and I’m so, so appreciative of all of them. Thank you, ladies!

But back to the book, this month we read “H is for Hawk” by Helen MacDonald. “H” is memoir, about how the author, when confronted with the sudden death of her father, decides, in her grief, to take on the training of a goshawk. Although she’s an expert falconer, the goshawk, is one of the most difficult and fierce hawks to train. She pitches herself into the challenge, and taming the hawk became a metaphor for taming her grief about losing her father. In between, she delves into the history of falconry and side-winds  into the literature and life of TH White, the author of “The Once and Future King,” imagineeer of Merlin and the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Its a beautiful and multilayered book. I liked the book OK after reading it but loved it after our discussion. Having been through grief and loss and in some ways, still feeling raw from the experience, there is an aspect of the wildness and isolation that the author went through that I can so relate to…even if I can’t imagine training a hawk. Yet what I find so magical about our group is that I appreciated the book so much more after our discussion, especially from the perspective of the writing and narrative style. In fact, I came home and re-read parts to take it in again. There is a particular paragraph in “H is for Hawk” that so resonated with my own experiences about loss and moving on:

There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes  a day when you realise that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing of many holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are.

So well said. I think of my own life and moving forward from loss and lines like this offer some comfort and understanding of loss and grief as a universal experience that we all go through. Even this adoption process has that tinge of loss attached to it. There is, of course, the bright possibility of this new life, this new person and all that they will become. Of a new family and a new life together. But this all exists too in the shadow of a very real loss, for the birthmother of course but also for those of us hoping to adopt. We feel this too. How can you not, as a parent-to-be of an adoptive child not feel this loss too. It’s a loss they and I will live with and move on from for the rest of our lives.  I think so much about what making this decision must be like for a birthmother. I can’t truly imagine it let alone truly understand what this experience is like. It is not my life after all. But I do so appreciate that what will be my happiest day, will be a day of tremendous loss for another woman, another woman who will love my child as much as I do. I think about this often, in fact, and am so awed by the courage and grace that it takes to make this kind of decision.





Quirky Berkeley

Animal Art CarI had the day off for Martin Luther King Day, and Bodhi and I found a break in the rains today to take a long walk at one of favorite dog parks Pt Isabel with our friends Allison and Jack. Check out the cool art car we saw there! When I was younger, in grad school, I was somehow enthralled with the idea of having an art car and since I didn’t have a car, I tried to convince one of my grad school friends with a junker of a car to donate it to the cause, but it was not to be. Berkeley’s one of those places where you see them every now and then and seeing one out and about always makes me smile and feel like I hit the jackpot for the day!

Rainy Day Sunday

puddle jumpingI had a super fun rainy day Sunday with my friend Victoria and her two cutie kids—Eleanor and Sebastian. We went to Habitot Children’s Museum in Berkeley, which I hadn’t been to before but had heard a lot about from other friends. Of course, on a day like today, it seemed like every family in Berkeley had a similar idea and the scene was tot-madness. We had a blast playing on the climbing the Wiggle Wall, driving the ambulance and doing some “grocery shopping.”Who knew that grocery shopping could be such fun! The highlight of the morning, for me at least, was when Sebastian bumped himself and instead of running to Mom, jumped in my arms for soothing. LOVE. I’m sure he didn’t know it, but boy, did that make me feel special. Like winning the special Auntie Oscars! After Habitot we had burgers and fries. Fries with mustard no less—these are sophisticated kids! And then splashed through some puddles before heading home for naps. Eleanor and Sebastian are the sweetest kids and I love them to pieces. And by the way, their parents are pretty awesome too (that’s a shout out for you, Victoria and Luis!).  But two little ones wear you out, so I was also glad to head home and spend the rest of the afternoon curled up on the couch with Bodhi finishing off my book for book club this week. A perfect rainy day Sunday!

Motherly determination

Elephant seal Tolay with her pupMy favorite news story of the last few weeks has been the story of Tolay, the elephant seal Mom-to-be who shut down Highway 37 in Sonoma just north of San Francisco in a two-day standoff. Just a few days before New Year’s, Tolay (as she was named) waddled out of San Pablo Bay from Tolay Creek in Sonoma and started to make her way across the highway. Well, when a 900 lb seal tries to cross the road, traffic grinds to a halt. And this seal was very determined to cross that highway, backing down the highway traffic for miles. Eventually, highway patrol called the wildlife rescue workers from the Marin Marine Mammal Center to the scene and they tried repeatedly to coax her back to the bay. They pulled out all the tricks. They tried using boards to scoot her along the path back to the water  and she took a bite out the rescue workers board! At one point they managed to get her back into the water and tried to coax her to swim back out by nudging her from a kayak but she was undeterred and persistent and turned around and tried to cross the road again, and again and again. This seal was determined to get where she needed to go! Puzzled by her stubborn persistence to get to the other side, the rescue workers speculated that she might be pregnant and getting ready to give birth. Coincidentally, I happened to be visiting the Marin Marine Mammal Center  with a friend, the day the standoff started so we heard about it first hand from the rescue workers there. By this time she was a local celebrity, with a constant stream of news alerts and twitter updates and I found myself frequently checking in online to follow the fate of Tolay.  You go girl! Eventually after a two-day standoff, lots of drama and all-out efforts to coax her back to the water, she was gently tranquilized, hoisted into a truck and transported to an elephant seal rookery in nearby Point Reyes National Seashore. The rescue workers did some blood tests after she was tranquilized and yes, indeed, she was expecting. And then just after New Year’s we heard the happy news that she had given birth to a pup! What a great story for the new year! Never doubt the power of motherly determination and will! Good luck to you and your pup, Tolay!