Go Easy…


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Sometimes thinking about the past is appropriate, especially when you get news about someone that meant something to you, even if you haven’t spent much time with them in recent years.

Families are such slippery things–they are fragile and sometimes easily shattered. They also are defined by many different things, not just by blood. And often the ones that aren’t put together by blood can mean more. We define them ourselves.

When the some things that created them, like a marriage, dissolve, then they seem to disappear too–at least in the physical sense. But we may realize, especially at critical moments, they still linger within deeper parts of us; that these people who were once family are still dear.

So when I heard my ex-father-in-law is now in hospice, I found myself extremely sad. He was someone who had been very good to me while I was married. It’s been easy to recall so many memories of the kind things about him: his easy acceptance of our decision to adopt a HIV positive child, and his special love for her. And his overly enthusiastic attitude (and long conversations and questions) about my career as an EMT/Paramedic, something I didn’t always feel at home from his son. He loved the stuff!

I picture him as the typical unassuming New England man, quiet but always willing to help; that crooked smile, bald head and slight limp. He was my go to guy, always aware of what was happening with the weather, and loving to talk about it.

Maybe he’s not officially ‘family’ anymore, but in my heart he will always hold a very special place as he made me feel welcome and a part. I felt like family because of him.

Thank you, and may the rest of your days be easy…

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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.

Only Silence


Once upon a time, many, many years ago–a little girl made a make-a-wish to go to Disney. It seemed like a pretty boring wish for her Mama, but she had her heart set on it (even though Mom tried to talk her into a more interesting wish), so the whole family was escorted to the ‘magical’ (plastic) world of Disneyland.

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It was an odd trip for me (yes I was the Mama) and my other two daughters, going on a trip planned around a kid who wasn’t considered healthy. While my HIV positive daughter reveled in the attention, the rest of us noticed the “Alice In Wonderland” qualities of everything encountered. Sort of like a bad drug trip….

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But she wouldn’t hear of doing anything different. It was Mickey or nothing! So there I was: trapped in the surreal world of Americana, with no vegetarian food in sight and our nights spent in a ‘special’ place designed for all the make-a-wish kids. It was like being in the ward of pediatric hospital gone carnival. Spooky to say the least. My oldest daughter hated it. Well, so did I…

Today, that daughter is alive and well and 25 years old. Her disease is under control. HIV is more like diabetes now a days really. It’s quite amazing. No real cure, but manageable.

Unfortunately, she still refuses to listen to me–like most kids of course, but for her, this can be a slippery slope. She’s pregnant and it’s not a great situation. Her life is no Disneyland. She did not find Prince Charming and she lives more like Cinderella still. It’s a very sad, and often scary situation.

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She called today to say she had a car accident. Her fault, rear ending the person in front because of something careless on her part. I’ve been trying to coach her about straightening her life out to get ready for this new addition. But I’m more like the Cruella Deville than Mom…I get nowhere. So now she has no car along with the rest of her sad life.

Some things never change really….They do what they want when they are 5 or 25 but the choices they make at 25 can be much more damaging. Because now they are making choices for someone else.What if that baby was already in the car? Or what if she hit a child instead of another car? I get no replies when I ask these questions….

Only silence…..

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Choices


How does one tip toe around their disapproval of someone’s choice in something they feel is unwise, or even potentially harmful–especially if it’s someone they love? It is so easy to come crashing into this person with all your advice, or even anger when wisdom may have shown you that the other person’s decision to do something most likely will have a negative outcome.

It could be because you know this person, and have for years: maybe it’s a family member and you’ve seen them make unwise choices in the past. Or you know that they are mentally, financially, intellectually or physically challenged, so the thing they want so much may end up hurting them more than helping them.

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But in trying to help and guide them, in the end, only ends up making them angry and defensive. It can be such a fine line one walks in trying to help within one’s disapproval. And I’m not sure I do such a good job…at least not at first.

As a Mother, I certainly come up against this all the time. Most certainly with my middle daughter, who is developmentally and health challenged besides. It has been an ongoing challenge for me to try to help her with major life choices the older she gets. She is stubborn and strong willed, not necessarily a bad thing, but she also can have a hard time asking for help. And sadly this is something we all need at times–and certainly something that would benefit her.

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Because of her fierce determination to ‘go it alone’, she gets herself (with her challenged boyfriend) into some spots that aren’t great, and then we end up bailing her out anyway. But now they have made a huge ‘decision’ that really scares all of the family and I feel they have no idea of the consequences.

When you have two people that have a hard time thinking past today, it makes it tough to plan…to plan for the life of someone else. And as we all know, being a parent is a life long job.

So I am trying very hard to wrap myself around how to best tell her about the realities of Motherhood, without making her defensive or frightening her either. It’s not all about pink dresses and pigtails–sometimes it’s about crying, illness, money and kids not listening to anything you say (even when they are grown).

And it’s also about being a Mother and loving that kid no matter what, even when she’s maybe not making the right choice.

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World AIDS Day


World AIDS day holds special meaning to me. It does because of my daughter and her HIV status. My journey with her has been long, interesting and has deepened me as a person. I’ve met so many courageous men, women and children–many of them living with the disease, and many of them helping those who do. I feel lucky to have walked this path.

My first real up close encounter with HIV was back in the late 70’s. I was living in an apartment within a huge old house in Connecticut. Still a college student, I was living off campus with the man who would be my first husband. There were three apartments in this house. The apartment downstairs was occupied by a female grad student in forestry and upstairs by a gay man who worked for the phone company.

We were all friends…like family really. Sharing meals, stories and life together. I was the youngest of all of them, so looked up to them. The guy upstairs would always relate stories of going to ‘the baths’ in Hartford where he would meet other men. None of us thought much of this at the time–not even him I imagine. AIDS wasn’t anything we really thought much about.

He ended up moving out to San Francisco–Connecticut didn’t provide a good lifestyle for him. We were happy for him and hoped he found happiness. He gave me a rocking chair and a sweater before he left. I lost touch with him and the gal that lived downstairs. But when the epidemic hit, I was always fearful of what became of him. He had been so vulnerable visiting those baths every weekend. I never did hear. But I have moved the rocking chair with me all these years…..

We were told when we adopted my daughter at 2 years old that she wouldn’t live past 9 or so. This was the life expectancy back then. She’s going to be 22 on December 4th. It was very hard at first. Even being educated, we were nervous bringing HIV into the home back then. I will admit it! She was two and I had a three-year old! But we learned quickly and it was fine.

It wasn’t easy for her as a little child: dragging around an IV pole, IV sticks all the time, blood work, constant doctors appointments, medicines. But she was a miracle kid with her viral load always undetectable! They just couldn’t figure it out. I always figured it was because she never paid any attention to it–never worried about it. Even now, her counts are still very good. Luck? Good genes? She doesn’t live in the greatest of environments now, or eat very well, but at least she had a good start.

I’ve been so fortunate to have met some amazing people along the way. The kids in clinic are so amazing. They have such spirit. They have been dealt a card and playing it like winners. And there was one Mom that became my friend. Her life was so rough. As a parent not only did she have to deal with the disease herself and the addiction that put her there, but also the guilt of passing it to her child! But she had the strength of 10 of me. She taught me a lot about addiction–something I needed later in my life when someone close to me was going through it. She said once to me, “There’s only one thing you need to change in your life when you’re addicted and that’s everything.” No truer words were said. I believe this woman is no longer alive.

HIV kept my daughter from going to a daycare where we had just moved. We didn’t want to make a fuss because we knew how these small towns worked. She ended up getting bussed somewhere great. Years later the same place (with new directors) offered a spot to my youngest daughter because they knew the story. Good karma. The elementary school started Universal Precautions because of my daughter too. We were vocal and open about her status to help educate people. Sometimes this helped, sometimes it hurt.

All in all, it has been an amazing experience. My daughter is an amazing spirit. It has been an incredibly rough road for her. She is mentally challenged too, so this makes it twice as hard. But she holds her head high and is proud of who she is and embraces all of herself. Sometimes I’ve had to tell her to be not quite as vocal! Now happily these kids from the 80’s are living long and healthy lives! It’s a manageable disease in this country, like diabetes.

A dear friend is in Africa with the Peace Corps doing AIDS work. It’s the other parts of the world that suffer still. We have come so far, but they have yet so far to go. Awareness is still not there. I am thankful to have been given the opportunity for this journey and when the call came to take a little HIV positive toddler in my home, that I said yes. I only pray the work continues in all parts of the world, and every woman, man and child gets the opportunity to live a healthy life.

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.