I Double-Dog Dare You, Brother and Sister Arnell

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

I have a friend, a newly formed first mother who is still in the tender, fragile first year of post-relinquishment. Over on her blog “My Story”,  an uber-helpful man in her life, “Brother Arnell,”  has posted several comments to which I simply had to respond. I really should be writing my dissertation, but this just keeps getting stuck in my brain and I am afraid if I don’t write about it, it will continue to block my progress on what I should be doing. So here is the comment that I have had a hard time digesting:

I didn’t realize that as a man, husband and father of six I might be so clueless about parenthood as some of the respondents seem to think, so I asked my wife who has (among all our children) 52 years of 24/7, one-on-one, day-and-night mothering experience (not to mention pregnancy, labor, delivery and miscarriages) and who, for what it’s worth, knows something of the heartache of broken families. Her response: “Conception, nine months of pregnancy and 3-36 hours of labor do not a mother make – motherhood requires a lifetime of service.” (Brother Arnell, Feb 21, 2011;emphasis mine)

I would like to issue a challenge to Brother Arnell and his wife: I challenge them to look into the eyes of the mother of a child that was stillborn, the mother of a child who died in early infancy, the mother of a child lost to a miscarriage and I DARE them to tell that woman she is NOT a mother because she did not serve her child for a lifetime. I challenge them to look at that mother in the eyes and speak those same words they just said to Kara: “Conception, nine months of pregnancy, and 3-36 hours of labor do not a mother make – motherhood requires a lifetime of service. In fact, I issue this challenge to ANY PERSON who thinks the ONLY requirement for motherhood is serving a child for a lifetime.

I challenge them to look into the eyes of Abby’s mother and tell her she is NOT a mother because Abby passed within hours of being born. (Be prepare and have lots of Kleenex on hand if you follow that link….). I challenge them to look into the eyes of my friend here on base, who lost her lovely 9-month old daughter to a tragic illness two years ago this month. I DARE them to tell her she does not qualify to be called MOTHER because she did not serve her sweet daughter for a lifetime. I challenge them to send Curtis’s mother an email telling her that since she did not spend a lifetime serving him as he was stillborn at 40 weeks gestation, that she is NOT a mother. I dare them to look into my sister-in-law’s eyes and tell her that because my sweet nephew, her only son, died at 5 months gestation and she did not get the chance to serve him “for a lifetime” that she is NOT his mother. (Just do not do it while my brother is around or they might end up in a headlock with 190 lbs of angry on top of them).

I think you would agree that treating these mothers of loss this way would be absurd and I doubt you would find one single person who would take me up on that challenge (but maybe Brother Arnell would like to try it anyway?).

So why is it that mothers of loss (to adoption) are treated soooooooooooooo differently? Why is it the public assumes that we do not grieve, that we do not suffer, that we do not ache to hold our lost child just one more time as much as these women? Why is it that my friend, even two years later, is still having people bring her meals around the anniversary of her daughter’s passing and people still stop and hug her at the mailboxes and wipe her tears away? Why is she afforded that but I am not? Why am I told I should just get over you? I know it has been longer than two years for us, but I highly doubt that in 16 more years, my friend is going to have anyone say to her, “It was so long ago, just forget about her and move on already, will you? You have other children – stop crying about the one you lost.”

One of the things I find the most perplexing in this whole adoption transaction is that it is presumably  based on the deep and abiding love a birth mother has for her child. We (I) love our child so much that we gave her (you)  “more.” However, once the adoption is final, that deep and abiding love that moved us to make such a “selfless choice” no longer matters and some people feel that it no longer  (or should not) even exist.

And then you get people like Brother Arnell and his lovely wife who state that because I did not spend a lifetime serving you, I am neither a mother nor do I deserve the status of “motherhood” decreed up on me.

So if I am not a mother, then what am I Brother and Sister Arnell?

Much love,

M.

Bravery Isn’t Going to Carry Me Through

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

Tomorrow little Princess Penelope will be the exact same age you were the last time I held you in my arms.

I have already cried myself silly in the past few days. I expect I will do it again tomorrow. No one prepared me for this.  From this point on, parenting her will be uncharted territory and I am so afraid I am going to fail all over again. That someone is going to tell me I am not good enough for her.

In between celebrating the arrival of Princess Penelope’s third tooth (top right) and working on my dissertation,  I have had to steal moments away to have a “moment” by myself. I cry, then collect myself, and then soldier on. I wipe away the tears and open up my office door to my life as it is now. It’s what I always do. It’s what I have always done.

I just don’t know if I can do it tomorrow.

Much love,

M.

Leaving Penelope Rose

Today, I took little Penelope Rose over to the world’s most awesome baby sitter. I take her there a couple of times a week so I can get some pointy-headed writing done on my dissertation proposal/schoolwork. I discovered very quickly that it’s nearly impossible to write when she is awake or at 4:00 a.m. when she is sleeping. Taking her to Kim’s is the only way to get through this process.

Most days, I am just fine – I know she is in excellent hands over there and it isn’t like this is a forever arrangement. But these past couple of days have been tough.

And this morning, I totally fell apart when I dropped her off.

See, here’s the thing. Little Penelope Rose is now the same size you were the last time I held you in my arms. And leaving her at Kim’s this morning felt like leaving you that night so many years ago.

I am horrified to think of what mental state I had to have been in back in March of 1993 when I did that to you. I now understand that I have a tendency towards post-partum depression that really hits full stride at about 7-9 months. I know now that is when my hormones are really in their wildest swings as my body readjusts to a baby that isn’t nursing as much and I still am in a sleep deficit. It happened with Captain Knuckle (hospitalization and meds saved me from post-partum stupidity that time), it happened with the Professor (an amazing husband and sister-in-laws save me from stupidity that time), and I can feel it happening with little Penelope Rose as she nurses less because she is getting more solid foods.

But there was no safety-net for you and I.

Between the untreated post-partum depression and a Bishop and a mother who were working overtime to convince me that I was not enough, would never be enough, and you deserved – no, were entitled – to more than my love, I made what can only be considered as the stupidest decision of my life.

I sat there on Kim’s couch this morning and sobbed. She knows about you and was so understanding and supportive. I am grateful for that but it was so hard to leave my little baby there this morning. Rationally, I know I am going back for her and she knows I am coming back for her. But I was just overcome with grief for what I did to you.

Oh God, I am so sorry for leaving you that evening. I left you and I never came back. The only solace I have in such a wretched, horrific act is that I thought I was doing the right thing. Not to be overly dramatic, but as God is my witness, I truly thought it was what was best for you. Afterall, the two people in my life I should have been able to trust were telling me it was the best thing.They told me that wanting to parent you was just my reaction to the abuse growing up and that I didn’t need to prove I could be a good person by parenting you – in fact, by relinquishing you for adoption I was actually proving that I was a good mother.

How sick and twisted is that reasoning?

I now know how completely wrong and un-Christlike that line of reasoning is, but at the time…I trusted other people instead of my own heart.

And I am so sorry for the legacy it has created for both of us.

 

Steel My Mother-Heart

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

Tomorrow morning, I board a westbound flight heading back to Utah. I haven’t been back in over two years which means it has been two blessed years of not worrying if I would run into you, your parents, your siblings, your friends, your teachers, your boss, your neighbor, your Young Women’s adviser, your Sunday School teacher, your ex-boyfriends, your current boyfriends,  or anyone else that might recognize you in me.

It’s happened before – several times –  and every time I am sent into a tailspin. Oh, those unknowing souls continue on unknowing; I don’t care to educate them that “this girl I know from [insert name of your home city] looks just like you, you two could be twins!!!!” is actually my daughter, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, fruit of my age-old mother pain.  But I know. Boy, do I ever know.

So I am coming home tomorrow. The road from the airport to The World’s Best Sister-in-Law’s home takes me past your home. I wish there was some other way to get from point A to point B tomorrow, but there isn’t. There is no other way to get through but past your city that sits like a toll keeper into the valley, extracting a heavier and heavier fine from my heart with each passing year. I cannot even begin to tell you how many thousands of times I have had to grip the steering wheel, avert my eyes, purse my lips, and steel my heart against the upsurge of grief as I drive past.  There, there beats the first chamber of my mother-heart…It feels like death by a thousand small cuts.

So I am coming home tomorrow. An expatriate, a squatter, a refugee in the shadow of the mountains I love. And I will do what I have always done for the last 18 years…drive right through your little town and after a sharp intake of air I will remind myself to breathe, just breathe. In and out, over and over. Breathe, just breathe.

They Told Me I Would Have Other Children

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

Yesterday, the Professor came into my bedroom where I was dressing Princess P. for church.  He climbed up on the bed and put his little nose up to hers and declared, “Mom, this is the most beautiful sister ever!”  She squealed with delight, he stroked her chubby cheeks, kissed her downy head and then skipped merrily down the hall, leaving me breathless.

The Professor loves his sister. I know he loves his older brother, but he gets all mushy and soft over Princess P. How on earth am I ever going to tell him about you? Captain Knuckle was told as a matter of necessity when he was five.  He has handled it much like he has the other hard things in his life – with great maturity and resiliency.

But the Professor…I don’t know how to tell him he has another sister that doesn’t live with us. I don’t know how I could answer the questions and sadness that will certainly shade his luscious brown eyes.

They told me I would have other children….they just didn’t warn me of soul-deep sorrow that would gnaw on my bones. They told me I would have other children….they just didn’t tell me how to explain to them that I gave away their older sister to strangers.  They told me I would have other children….they just didn’t tell me how to answer the question, “If you gave her away, will you give me away too? I don’t want  live with anyone but you Mommy.”

With much love –

M.

Michael Blosil, Adoption, and His Mothers: I wonder…

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

I am certain you have heard that Marie Osmond’s 18 year old son committed suicide this weekend. It seems that he was “struggling” with depression and didn’t feel like he “fit in” with any one.

What a lot of the media in the U.S. is failing to report is that Michael is an adoptee.

I wonder if that has anything to do with his depression and his feelings of not fitting in. I don’t have to wonder what my adoptee friends will say – they will state unequivocally YES!!! I also know what some of my adoptive parent friends will say – Oh no, it couldn’t be adoption – but maybe.  Then there will be that group of adoptive parents that will scream “THERE IS NO WAY HIS ADOPTION HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH HIS DEPRESSION! Show me the studies, show me the STUDIES, SHOW ME THE STUDIES that prove it does have something to do with his being adopted!!!!! Until then, I refuse to believe that it could have had any impact on him – there must have been something else wrong with him.”

I wonder if his natural mother will be told. I wonder if she will be invited to attend his funeral. I wonder if she will even be acknowledged. I wonder if Marie Osmond even knows who Michael’s natural mother is. I wonder if Michael knew.

This has always been one of my greatest fears – that I would finally start searching for you, only to find that you had passed away and I had never been told.

I wonder…would your adoptive parents tell me if something happened to you? Or would I have to find out from a newspaper headline?

Much love,

M.

Samba de Uma Nota Só or a Symphony?

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

Every year, my department conducts a review of the progress of its graduate students. As part of this, I have to submit an updated curriculum vitae to my committee.  Review time is upon us and so this morning I have been working on updating my curriculum vitae.

Invariably, whenever I do this, I always wish there was a place to share “the rest of my life.”  A curriculum vitae only captures my academic and professional accomplishments. There is so much more to me than the courses I have taken, my GPA, the conferences at which I have presented, and papers I have published. Those things are only one of many leitmotifs in my life.  Unfortunately, there really isn’t a section for “Accomplishments in Home and Family Life” or “Spiritual and Emotional Growth” or “Gardening, Knitting, Crafts, Hobbies, and Other Interests” on a curriculum vitae.

Much like my curriculum vitae, this blog is just one more leitmotif – it isn’t the complete magna opera of my life. This morning, I realized that someone reading this blog who doesn’t know me in real life might get a very striated view of who I am as a person, a woman, a mother, a wife, and a friend.  To those readers, this blog must seem like the main melody line from a Samba de Uma Nota Só – the same note being played over and over and over again.

But this grief – this adoption grief – is a bass note, the F2 in my symphony of life.   It is a deep counterpoint to the lyrical melodies that permeate the rest of my daily living.  While at times discordant, this grieving for you – for us – provides a richness in depth and color to my life. Without it, I would have remained blinded to the heartache of millions of women and children caught up in adoptions throughout the world. With it, I am made more human, more humane.

For me, writing these letters is like practicing scales and arpeggios – necessarily redundant but essential to bring this grief into harmony with the rest of my life.  It allows me to master the basics, to learn how to slip from major to minor keys and back again without getting lost in the complicated rhythms of life.

But like I said – this is not all there is to who I am.  While profoundly affecting me in ways I still have yet to recognize, your relinquishment is not the only thing that defines my humanity, my personhood.  I have a rich and fulfilling life, full of personal & professional accomplishments, laughter, and love.

But all of that does not erase you.  I miss you. And sometimes it makes me sad. These letters allow me to bring some order and understanding to the otherwise atonal experience of losing a child to adoption.

Much love and belief –

M.
___________________________________________________________

(Edited to ad English translation of “One Note Samba“)

“This is just a little samba/Built upon a single note
Other notes are bound to follow/But the root is still that note
Now this new one is the consequence/Of the one we’ve just been through
As I’m bound to be the unavoidable consequence of you
There’s so many people who can talk and talk and talk just say nothing/Or nearly nothing
I have used up all the scale I know, and at the end I’ve come to nothing/Or nearly nothing
So I came back to my first note/As I must come back to you
I will pour into that one note/All the love I feel for you
Anyone who wants the whole show/Re mi fa sol la si do
He will find himself with no show/Better play the note you know”

Wishes (will make it so)

Dear Ms. Feverfew –

Last night…oh my, last night.

Where to even begin about last night.

I can’t find the right words to talk about last night. Let’s just say I was at an event where I watched a group of five or six high school girls about your age laugh and dance to Glenn Miller swing-era music.  I imagine they are very much like you and it made me happy to think that you might be having as much fun in your life as they were apparently having out there on the dance floor.

And then I started wishing…wishing for what might have been, what should have been. I wished it was you out there, dancing to “Little Brown Jug” with your brother Captain Knuckle. I wished Mr. Amazing Man had danced you around the floor for the first dance of the evening. I wished you and your glowing smile had come and sat next to me between sets where we could giggle like school girls behind our hands as you told me how that boy stepped on your foot or that other one really knew how to Lindy-hop.

And then I came home and cried myself to sleep because Glenn Miller & B.G. DeSylva have it all wrong. Wishing won’t make it so.

Much love and belief –

M.

The answer is yes

Today on a social media site you posed the question to the Universe, “Do you ever regret your decision?

My answer to that question is unequivocally, undeniably, yes. Every single day of my life I regret my decision to relinquish you for adoption. If there was one single decision in my life that I could “do over” it would be that rainy evening in March of 1993 when I walked out of the Orem Institute of Religion, leaving you and a part of my soul behind.  If I could do it over, I would have never even gone there that night in the first place. Adoption would have not ever been part of our lives. Period.

Knowing what I know now about how adoption might affect you in the long term, there is no way in hell I would ever make the same decision again.

The more understanding and knowledge I have gained over the years about mother-infant relationships and child development, the more I have come to understand how absolutely wrong adoption was for us.  While I truly believe there are times when adoption is the correct thing (as in the cases of abuse, neglect, or abandonment), none of those things were part of your life at any point in time.  From the moment I found out I was pregnant with you, you were wanted, cherished, and loved.

I thought I was doing the right thing. My culture told me I was doing the right thing.  I now know it wasn’t the right thing, but what is done is done. All I can do now is pray that eventually you find peace and healing from the wounds I may have unknowingly inflicted on you by relinquishing you for adoption.