Saving Me

Many years ago I did something that most think was to help someone else, but it was really to help me. It was actually not a selfless move to save a part of the world, but to save a part of me.

The journey began when I decided I wanted to adopt a baby. I am adopted as some of you may recall. It was not an easy journey, as I had criteria that made constraints that other people adopting might not have through their paths. It was my goal to stay within the US and to maintain birth order (my husband at the time and I had a 3-year-old), so when approaching an adoption agency, they showed us the ‘blue book’ of the “waiting children”–it appeared as though this might be impossible. Either we would have to take on siblings of 4 or teenagers. Neither of these situations seemed fair to my daughter.

But then the social worker mentioned foster care: the backdoor to adoption. At that time, 51% of foster children got adopted by their foster parents. It seemed like a reasonable plan to me, especially since I was a stay at home Mom anyway.

I won’t go through it all, because this is not what this post is about. Suffice to say, we became foster parents, eventually to a 2-year-old girl: mentally challenged, but high functioning, emotionally rocked by her first 2 years and HIV positive.

That toddler is now my 25-year-old daughter and she just had my first grandchild today–a little boy.

It has been a rocky road all along. My 3-year-old (now almost 28) has had a rough relationship with her, which has worsened as an adult. The birth daughter that came after her, has a distant, but OK relationship. And this daughter’s life has been one challenge after another. While her health is way better than anyone would have predicted (they figured she wouldn’t live past 9 years old), she has met with prejudice, job losses, school bullies and lots of tears.

She has been with her partner for many years, a young man who is also mentally challenged, more so than she. When she announced her pregnancy, we were all pretty upset. They are poor, with no jobs, living in abject poverty. While we help, there is only so much you can help those who often do not believe they need it.There was great concern for the welfare of a baby coming into these circumstances.

But she was determined, and her determination has always been one of her greatest (and sometimes most frustrating) attributes.
So today he was born. The doctors have taken every precaution, and so has she, that this baby be born HIV free. My daughter has tried very hard to take care of herself and many around her have been helping to get her hooked up with the proper services so there will be the best possible outcome down the road.

It is so easy to be negative, but success can’t happen unless we believe it is possible. Sometimes I think that she never thought much about her HIV and just figured she would live a normal life, so she has. And I understand her desire for baby, someone who belongs to her through genes, looks like her and comes from her. I get it when no-one else in my family may understand this–because we both have that connection, that mutual disconnect from our birth heritage.

So on this day, I will celebrate her decision and her new baby, my grand-baby. Because her adoption wasn’t about fixing her, it was to rescue a part of me.


National Adoption Month-Post 3: My Daughter

There were two things I always knew I always wanted to do: have a birth child and have an adopted child. As an adoptee I wanted to be a mom to both kids for different reasons. I wanted a birth child because I wanted at least one person on this earth that I could look at that looked like me. This seems like a hard concept for most people to grasp. But for people who have it, it’s easy to take for granted yet really vitally important. But I also felt a pressing need to adopt, partly because I wanted more than one child (I was an only and hated it) and felt that populating the earth wasn’t fair when there were so many kids needing homes–and partly because I felt so fortunate to have been adopted.

First I gave birth to my daughter–no easy task as I didn’t do pregnancy or birth well. But eventually she grew up to be a darling 3-year-old. Then I was ready to contemplate adoption. We knew we wanted to adopt a child from the US as there was plenty of need within this country. And we wanted to maintain birth order. We we willing to take on difficulties too. But when we started to research and talk to some agencies, it got very complicated. Most of the children that were really in need were either  older or came with multiple siblings. That was beyond what we were willing to tackle.

But in one social agency the woman we talked to suggested foster care. She said that fostering was a ‘back door’ to adoption. At that time 51% of the children in the state where we lived at the time got adopted by their foster families. So this was our ticket!  It would be a long, grueling process of  year-long classes. We couldn’t miss one class–not the well-known blizzards of this area could be an excuse or you would have to start all over!

We made it through…and then waited!  Waited for the phone call. We had asked for a baby.  Our first baby was very, very disabled. I fell in love with her and so hoped she would stay. But a family member came forward and wanted her and off she went. I was heart-broken. Then another baby came. She was addicted to crack and an African-American baby. She only stayed three days before she was placed with a family of color. Then we waited and waited and waited. I thought they had forgotten us.

And one day we got the call. Did we want a two-year old? That was a bit older than I had planned…. And oh, by the way, she was HIV positive. I was stunned. While I was not uneducated, I also wasn’t prepared to bring a two-year HIV positive child into my home with a three-year old. So I asked if I could make some phone calls first.

The first was to my cousin in Boston-he was (is) a pediatrician in a clinic there. I told him the situation. He said: there has never been a reported case of one family member passing to another. And this was before they knew how it was spread. If you want to do it, I say go for it! The next call was to the clinic where she was being treated. I called as a hypothetical person calling to find out about what it would be like to have a two-year old living with it in my house with another child. Well, this clinic knew immediately who I was talking about and begged me to take her. So then, she became real and there was no turning back.

I got pregnant when she came to live with us. Very much NOT planned. And those were some crazy times. My daughter was like the Tasmanian devil. She didn’t know rules, or words or any right from wrong. It was very trying on all of us. But we gutted our way through it all…days of clinic, doctors appointments, therapists and visits with her birth mom. With a little help from my friends.

And then came the decision/need to move out of state. We knew what we wanted to do, but would be able to do it? Could my foster daughter become my adopted daughter? I didn’t want to leave without her. But it wasn’t up to me. Her mother had to agree. And sadly the state had a lot to do with the decision.

The workers waited until we were almost ready to leave before they even asked her if she would be willing to give up her rights. I remember a painful phone call from my daughter’s mother asking me if she was doing the right thing by letting her go with us. Now this was a woman whose life had been very hard: filled with drugs, prostitution, jail and much pain. I told her: if you’ve ever done anything in your life more right–this is it. And I promised her she would be able to see her, talk to her or whatever as much as she wanted. And that my daughter would have her last name as her middle name always. And she does still. Her birth mother never even came to court to contest it.

And I told my daughter as she grew older, that’s how much your mom loved you. Because she knew it would be best. Her mom died when she was about 10. She died of AIDS. My daughter on the other hand, who they told me would only live to be about 9, is almost 22 and going strong. She has some mental disabilities, but we deal. And she has a sunny disposition most days.

It used to make me crazy when people would say how wonderful I was for adopting her. But people don’t understand: it was the only path I could take in my life. It had nothing to do with being good or wonderful. It’s funny but while I was in the process of adopting her and her mom was giving up her rights–I was also in the middle of searching for my birth mom. It’s just part of the natural cycle of an adoptee. It’s also why I understood what my daughter would need from her mother and would never keep any of her story from her. I fought too hard to get mine.

So while I have my birth kids to look at and see stuff that’s similar, my adopted daughter and I find parallels in our lives too. It’s pretty cool and we often joke about it. We are going to celebrate National Adoption Month together. And when my youngest birth daughter comes home she said she wants to celebrate with us. Because, after all, we’re all family.