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.


Finding One’s Purpose

Today my middle daughter came over to see me. It’s rare that she does and today it was for a reason. This daughter has struggled most her life with a multitude of disabilities: emotional,  health, psychological and even, to some, degree physical. We were all shocked (even her) when she finally got her driver’s license and they issued her a handicapped plate for her small stature!

She came into our family when she was two years old as our foster child and we adopted her some years later. The family blending has never been easy, for any of us, but especially for her. Family life, school life, her social life and just life in the ‘real’ world has been a challenge for my daughter. But she plows on.

At 19 it was time to graduate HS. I wanted her to stay on, stay plugged into HS and continue to get as many skills she could to deal with the big, bad world. But the odds were against me. The teachers wanted only to push her out, my ex-husband didn’t want to fight with them and my daughter couldn’t wait to get out and be an ‘adult’.

So off she went, completely unprepared for what awaited her! And of course, spend three years unemployed. She also moved in with her boyfriend’s parents and has spent many unhappy moments there. Since then she has found a job here and there, but is usually fired as she is ‘too slow’ according to most reports from management. This is hard for her to hear as she is a hard worker and so willing to do anything.

These cumulative years of unemployment and being fired brought her sadness and discouragement. Finally there was hope when she was hired by none other than the huge corporation of Wal-Mart! Generally I hate that place, but was pleased they were giving a disabled person a chance. And she’s been flourishing there for many months.

Until I heard from her yesterday. She called me to tell me they instituted a new blood born pathogen policy. My daughter may or may not be a lot of things, but one thing she knows about is this topic! She has studied it, researched it, read about it and most importantly: LIVED it! So when she read it, she knew something wasn’t right. Now while she doesn’t comprehend things so well, I read it too and saw immediately she was correct.

The policy not only left out important facts, but appears to be violating basic medical rights. It’s sketchy and looks like it is hard-arming employees into doing something that they should not have to do. My daughter focused on this and said: NO, I will not do this and don’t have to because I have rights!

I explained to her that if she pushed management she would mostly likely be subjected to losing her job. She fully understood this fact. She said: I lived with this disease my whole life and am saying: no more. I never felt more proud in my whole life! Here’s a kid who struggled for years to find a job and a purpose, when all along, it was right there under her nose! She’s an advocate. And who better to be one, then someone who lives with this every day of her life?

We all struggle to find our life’s purpose. Some know from a young age that we are born to help others, or to be an astronaut, or to sing, paint, write or teach. But those of you who are like me are still struggling. Purpose can be elusive and slippery. It may not be a career that we do, but a characteristic we have; we might be a giving person that touches every person we meet. Or maybe we volunteer at many local organizations. We might have dedicated our lives to being the best parent we could be. That might be our life’s purpose. Maybe it’s caring for our planet by being a vegetarian, gardening, recycling, using solar and going off the grid. Our religious beliefs may guide us towards our purpose on earth too.

Maybe we’ve never looked closely at what our purpose might be. Or like me, I frequently toss in bed wondering what it is supposed to be. I’m sure my daughter hasn’t worried about it one bit. But it was so clear to me what hers must be. She has touched my life in many ways for sure. My journey with her and her HIV status opened my eyes to other’s struggles. We never know the inner struggles someone may have that we cannot see. Whether in their blood or in their soul, mind or heart. But they too may have a purpose for being here, like you.  And we must all help one another cultivate, share and expand our purposes here on this planet we call home.

Nurture vs. Nature

I have often pondered the question of whether it is someone’s genes or their upbringing that makes them who they are as a person.  Obviously it is a bit of both, but I mean, what is it primarily? Being adopted and having an adopted child, as well as birth children, this topic has always fascinated me. I’ve been an observer of people my whole life, and this dynamic is one thing I like to watch (as much as it is possible), while contemplating what I have learned about myself over the years.

For many years I held the belief that nurturing had the far greater influence on who we were to become as we grew up into adults. But as I’ve become an adult and as all my kids have, I’ve very much changed my mind. Now I’m very much of the mind that genes play a far bigger role in who we are as people. And this is why we can look at one family with multiple kids and see totally different outcomes.

Certainly there are many factors at play as well as genes such as birth order, life situations as the children grow up, and experiences that each child may have also. But I still believe that what is within us shapes us. So there can be two siblings within the same family with markedly different personalities.  I’m sure we’ve all seen this to be true!  We sometimes wonder how it’s possible, and even wonder if the ‘milkman’ may have visited!

I know for me personally, there were traits about my first 18 months that I did not know about until after I was about 50. Some were environmental for sure, but others were inherited most likely. I’ve never been anything like my adopted mother, much to her chagrin. She gave me and taught me many wonderful things, but I was who I was regardless. My personality, traits, desires, attitude could never be swayed. It was all in there imprinted already. This is why adoptees long to meet their birth family. To ‘see’ the gene part of themselves.

The same with my daughters. My adopted daughter came to us at two years old. She was our foster daughter for a while and only saw her birth mother occasionally. But she was completely shaped and there has been nothing to really change her all these years, much as we tried. Much of it was ‘nurture’ damage from before, but also I truly believe it was in her genes to act and be a certain way. She is now an adult and has a chance to make choices and still chooses to be exactly the same way as though she never left her original home. It is interesting how she is taking much the same path as her birth mother.

And my other two girls are completely opposite. One is like me and one like my ex-husband.  They are four years apart with my adopted daughter in between. For sure they had different experiences growing up, but they also had totally different personalities right from the get go. And continue to be different souls now. Their genes seem to have created who they are at least as much as how they grew up. Even in-utero they were different!

I’m sure specialists would argue both sides and say I’m wrong. They would say you can take a baby and raise it a certain way and within that environment it’s personality would be shaped. But I still feel that baby’s being is already tucked away within its cells waiting to open up like a flower. The environment is just the soil in which the seeds of the human ‘bean’ grow!

But I am no expert and these are only one middle-aged woman’s observations. I would love to think we can shape anyone with love and caring, but I’ve come to believe this just isn’t so. I think we just are who we are. And while love and caring are always preferred, some kids that grow up in abusive homes, still come amazingly healthy! And within the same household you see another child that is destroyed by this abuse and no amounts of love from somewhere else will ever repair them.

I know I’m over simplifying and I’m not an expert or a psychologist. It surely takes many things to make us who we are as personalities. It takes the code in our genes, our experiences, how we grew up and then as adults how we choose to be. But I’m going to stick with my unscientific observation and say that what you are born with is ultimately who you basically will be. Whether you will be a optomist, pessimist, introverted, extroverted, talkative, quiet, shy, outgoing or whatever. It’s all there from the beginning. Add a bit of luck, love and life and hopefully we turn out to be the best us we can be.

National Adoption Month–Post 7: The Sisters

I had one birth daughter who was three years old when it seemed like a good idea to ‘have’ another baby. But I wanted to adopt, not give birth. Being adopted, I knew it was something that I had to do and being an only child, I wanted my child to have siblings. I’m also pretty ecologically minded and I believed in zero population growth. My feeling was to adopt an American baby because I felt there was a need in this country also.

As it turned out, my ‘baby’ turned out to be two years old when she came to our house as a foster child. You can read about her in an earlier post. So now I had a three-year old AND a two-year old! And as luck would have it, I got immediately pregnant, which was completely unplanned! Here I was: with a three-year old and a medically challenged two-year old who turned out to be very mentally challenged also. Oh, and did I mention I didn’t do pregnancy well? Nauseous and vomited for much of it.

I had good friends surrounding me during these trying times (and some therapists!)–and I made it through. My foster daughter became my adopted daughter and we all moved together to New England with my husband. While my two birth daughters are four years apart, all the kids are pretty close to each other in age. But their emotional closeness has not been what I had hoped.

In my naivety I had hoped I would teach my birth children to be good to others less fortunate. That they would come to love and care for their sister, watch out for her and help her out through the tough times I knew she would experience. But the family dynamics where always very strained. My oldest and I had been inseparable before she had come to live with us, and in looking back now, I realize what a wedge my adopted daughter must have driven between us. All the doctor’s visits, the visits to her birth mother, the negative attention she constantly needed as our foster daughter. This all took away from my oldest.

Through the years, I believe the resentment grew. Plus she saw me struggle with my adopted daughter. My frustrations, my misunderstandings and my pain. This only added to a weakened relationship between the two. Even today, as young women, they don’t do well together. It saddens me greatly. I had hoped time would heal. My adopted daughter desperately wants a closeness with my oldest, but it may just never be.

On the other hand, my youngest had a different position. She was closer with her birth sister, but the gap was not as wide with her adopted sister. She was born into the family which was already in place so didn’t feel put out by anything. And she’s a very different kid. As she has gotten older, she has come to see what I was trying to do when I adopted her. I can see a new sense of kindness towards her in my youngest daughter. It warms my heart.

Part of the disconnect came because our family broke apart with a divorce. I feel that hurt much of what might have been between the girls. I wanted the divorce so there have been times I have blamed myself. But I am beyond that now. We all do what we feel is right and it was not a rash decision. I stayed a long time because of the kids. I’m sad they are all not closer. I’m sad as I said because I don’t have siblings and wish I did. I guess we all long for what we don’t have?

A family I knew a long time ago had sons that were maybe 10 and 12. They had thought about getting some foster kids. The kids were older. They asked me what I thought. I told them to think long and hard about it. I said if I had it to do over again I’m not sure I would. That I felt it did some damage to my birth daughter. I understood this was an awful thing to say, but it was my honest feeling. I saved one child to hurt another. And in the end, I wasn’t even sure I ‘saved’ my adopted daughter. They went ahead anyway and got the kids.  They had the kids for a little while I heard and it was a disaster and quickly gave them back. They never talked to me again either, I guess cause they knew I had been right.

Well, I never gave my child back. Many told me I should because there were times that things were pretty trying for our family. (What must my oldest felt during these times?). But I simply couldn’t do this being adopted myself. So, our family went on. Did I do the right thing? I can never be sure. My oldest still suffers. She had a rough growing up. Was the adoption part of it? Was it worth it? These are questions I ask myself all the time.

I love them all. I love them all differently, for different reasons and in different ways. It truly is a tangled web we weave. I only hope someday we can all learn to love each other for who we are, warts and all. And maybe forgive.

National Adoption Month-Post 5: The Sisters

I had always known I wanted one birth child and one adopted child, but what I hadn’t counted on was getting pregnant immediately after my adopted daughter came to live with us as a foster child. She was far from being adopted at that time. It wasn’t even on the radar screen as those things are never a sure thing. So I had a three-year old, two-year old and was pregnant. Joy of joys! And the two-year old had no sense of much of anything: right or wrong, who was mommy, how to talk or potty training. Yup, it was quite the challenge. Not to mention, she was medically and mentally challenged also.

Then along comes a baby and then there were three–and all girls! Goodness help me! Thankfully I had a good support system of female friends having no siblings and a mother that lived far away. They were trying times to say the least. Plus we had a tiny farm and lived in Upstate New York and had brutal winters to face.

My oldest daughter had been my constant companion prior to this Tasmanian two-year old waltzing into our lives. Suddenly her life changed drastically. I’m not sure I had completely thought this through prior to taking this task on. I just figured I would be teaching my birth child that we do the right thing and reach out. But really, that was what I wanted to do and she just got dragged along for the ride. In retrospect, that might not have been very fair to her.

Over the years their relationship never really blossomed very well. This was probably in part due to me/us and our inability to see the disconnect. And the difficulties we faced with our adopted daughter. Time was simply spent just taking care of her needs rather than trying to blend the family, something that turned out to be a grave mistake in the long run.

Her youngest sister jived with her a tiny bit better as she came after and didn’t feel the disruption. Her older adopted sister was already there so part of the family that she entered into. But as the years passed, the two birth sisters bonded much more closely. That was obvious and painful for the middle sister. She was most definitely the odd one out. And this hurt my soul too. Because here the good thing I thought I would be doing for her, and teaching my birth kids, simply had backfired. My guilt was rampant.

Everyone would always praise how wonderful I was for adopting her, but all I could feel was that another family would have done better and made her feel more loved.  That our family often made her feel left out and alienated. It made me  sad to see her so hurt. And having no siblings myself I knew how she must have felt. She did have a half-brother adopted by another family that we kept in touch with, but they communicated rarely. My daughter would cling onto those encounters hungrily.

They are all much older now and finding their own ways. The oldest and youngest have recently experimented living together far from home and it didn’t quite work the way they had hoped. My adopted daughter lives near me. My youngest is due to come back nearer to home. Only my oldest doesn’t seem to feel we should all try harder to be closer emotionally and try harder than we have in the past with one another. As we all get older, the rest of us see the value of family more and more. Blood or no, they are sisters and I am their mom. I know my middle daughter needs them and would treasure their love and attention more than anything. And I hope someday they will dig deep and be the people I had hoped they would be when I first had the notion to bring my adopted daughter into our home.

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.