Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Nuts and Bolts of Trees

Let’s talk about trees. 

Take family trees.  Usually when people think of a family tree, they think of an image of a strong and mighty oak, with lots of roots and branches that spread out wide.  That makes sense, most families are traditional families, consisting of couples that get together and make babies, and those babies couple up with someone else and make more babies.  It’s a grand image of generations of bloodline that shows where a person comes from.

But of course trees are as diverse as families, so let’s stretch this a little farther.  It’s December, Christmas is just around the corner, and Christmas trees are lit up in shopping havens world-wide.  These aren’t the grand oaks, they have no roots to keep them planted.  They aren’t even in their natural habitat or planted in soil to make them grow.  Yet they’re cherished, revered, decorated and embellished.  Entire decorating magazines are devoted to ‘doing up’ your Christmas tree, and there seem to be no limits to materials or creativity. 

The “traditional Christmas tree” is obviously a tradition to be broken.  But are these new, modern trees any less stunning?  Ok, so maybe they don’t bring the warm, fuzzy feeling of the nostalgic past, but to me they still inspire a sense of awe.  And not just because I’m a sucker for anything with sparkly lights.  The innovation and imagination are admirable, making a thing of beauty of something unexpected.  Most of us have a boxed up and packaged definition of what a Christmas tree should be: pine, green, lights, tinsel, garland, ornaments, you know, the whole festive sha-bang.  But then there are those who break out of those pre-defined expectations and create something just as spectacular, and even more so because it’s unconventional.  The point is, people can create their trees to be whatever they want them to be, and no doubt, it’s still a Christmas tree.
Last week for Reed’s birthday, I took a day to myself to celebrate, and wandered around that night at Singapore’s new Gardens By The Bay.  It’s the new botanical gardens, and though I didn’t get to explore much of the grounds, I did see the main attraction, the Supertrees.  Here’s a little tidbit from Wikipedia about them:
Supertrees are tree-like structures that dominate the Gardens' landscape with heights that range between 25 metres (82 ft) and 50 metres (160 ft). They are vertical gardens that perform a multitude of functions, which include planting, shading and working as environmental engines for the gardens.
The Supertrees are home to enclaves of unique and exotic ferns, vines, orchids and also a vast collection of bromeliads such as Tillandsia, amongst other plants. They are fitted with environmental technologies that mimic the ecological function of trees – photovoltaic cells that harness solar energy which can be used for some of the functions of the Supertrees, such as lighting, just like how trees photosynthesize; and collection of rainwater for use in irrigation and fountain displays, exactly like how trees absorb rainwater for growth. The Supertrees also serve air intake and exhaust functions as part of the conservatories' cooling systems.
In short, these ‘trees’ are uh-mazing.  They have totally transformed the iconic skyline of the Singapore bay.  They draw you in; seen from a distance, they make you want to find out more.  If I told you to close your eyes and think of a tree, you would most likely not imagine anything close to these Supertrees, but even the most non-imaginative of spectators will no doubt recognize that they are indeed some kind of trees. 

Do you kind of get an idea of where I’m going with all this?
Since it was Reed’s birthday, as I was walking around these amazing man-made structures, I was thinking of all these things and about what Reed’s family tree looks like.  True, we all have a bloodline that makes up who we are.  But not all trees are ‘natural’, not all trees are those traditional, comforting images of something you would expect.  But life in general is truly what you make of it, which means that we can choose our own building materials and construct something that’s non-conventional, yet still beautiful.  We all choose how we decorate our trees, what we consist of.  We can ornament our lives with light and color and make it something beautiful.  I think I've been able to do that with my own life, and having Reed and the decision to build his family tree the way we have is something that I hope will bring amazement, light and beauty to all of our landscapes.  Reed is my Supertree.  He is the element of my life that people see from afar and think, "What is that?  I've never seen anything like it before, but it's cool."  Of course he is a natural being, but his family has been carefully constructed by our hands.  His family tree is a conglomeration of wood and bark and steel and leaves and nuts and bolts and roots and lights.  
And he is stunning.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

2012 Interview Project: Reunion Eyes

How's this for a "meant to be" moment: A woman on her 18th birthday decides that she wants to meet her birth mother who placed her for adoption, so she calls the adoption center which handled her case and puts in her request. That same day, within the hour in fact, the birth mother calls and puts in the same request- that she wants to contact her daughter that she relinquished 18 years ago.

 Thus started Cathy and Kate's reunion, which has now been going strong for 23 years. Cathy (the daughter) even went to live with Kate for a time. Now, they are co-authoring a book about their reunion; they have been meeting once a week to choose a topic and write about it, but each writing from purely their own perspectives, and not reading what the other wrote. They're not sure when it will be 'done', but they have a lot of material since they've been doing this for the last 8 years.

 And now for another "meant to be" moment: To acknowledge November as Adoption Awareness Month, Cathy and I have been paired together for this year's Adoption Round Table Interview Project. We contacted each other over email, she sent me questions and I sent her mine, and with each email she sent I thought she was more and more awesome. She was wonderfully honest with me from the beginning, not only telling me about her experience with her family (the family she grew up with plus her own- she's married and is a mother of two boys) and with her birth mother Kate, but also about a very personal time in her life when she made the decision to have an abortion. Our experiences are vastly different, which makes us want to pick each other's brains all the more. For me, it has been invaluable to be able to correspond with someone who was in a closed adoption and now has a close relationship with her birth mother, especially someone so open and honest. Can you even imagine the questions I had for her? Somehow I was able to whittle it down to a semi-manageable amount, but I couldn't help myself from keeping it to the more meaty ones. Amazingly, she was game. I told her I would love to have a chance to sit down with her at some quaint cafe and spend hours sharing a bottle of wine (or two) and really talk and ask questions and dig deep and get to know each other, but alas, among other things, 10,000 miles separate us.

 So this is as close as you'll get to being a fly on the wall at that imaginary cafe where Cathy and I are swilling our glasses and settled in for a long afternoon of chatting.

(As of this posting, she hasn't added my interview questions to her site yet, but you can still visit her blog, Reunion Eyes.  She's posting every day this month for Adoption Awareness Month, so her blog is filled with lots of insight.  I especially like her Super Hero post.  She also comments about being matched with me for the interview project here.  I'll add the link to my interview when it's posted.)


QUESTION: I've read blogs and comments from adoptees who are anti-adoption, claiming abortion is the "kinder" choice. Although I didn't make that decision for myself, I can relate to women who have, and can see the reasons why someone would make that choice.  It also scares the bejeezus out of me, wondering if Reed will ever have the same opinion- that he may someday think that being aborted would have been kinder of me than to place for adoption.

Let me stop you there - I can't imagine anyone saying that. I don't think abortion is the kinder option. It is just an option. No one can know with absolute certainty what the right decision is, so you just have to go with what your soul tell you...

My answer is contradictory and maybe hipocritical. For me, given the choice of being brought into the world and being given up for adoption, or being not brought into the world, being aborted. I would rather have been brought into the world. And, heck, all drama aside (and I've had some pretty drastic drama in my life), it's been a good life, I've enjoyed it, I wouldn't want to have missed out on it.

I was raised Catholic, and in 9th grade I went to an all girl's Catholic School run by nuns. While in general, I thought the nuns were lovely, they showed us anti-abortion videos, like the Silent Scream, and brought us all on a trip to DC to protest choice. When I was in college, I became pro-choice once I understood that pro-choice wasn't the same thing as pro-abortion. I was pro-choice but anti-abortion. I still thought abortion was killing.

Then, wham, I was pregnant. My boyfriend and I made a series of stupid mistakes - not using birth control first off. Then, I thought he would pull out (he didn't). He thought it didn't make a difference (it did). I thought about the morning-after pill, but thought it was still illegal (it wasn't).

I was 22. I instantly felt the rush of life into me at the instant of conception. I knew I was pregnant.

We really struggled. Both raised Catholic, both not wanting to be parents yet. But we were in love, we thought about getting married down the road. Maybe we should keep the baby, I thought, that would be the right thing to do. I would be done with college before the baby was born, I could live with my parents til I found a job and he could quit school, get a job ... what an awful, dreary life loomed before me. I didn't want that, and didn't want that for the baby either. Although that's what I would have judged upon others as what they should do, it didn't feel right.

Adoption seemed like the obvious choice. After all, twenty-two years earlier, an 18-year old woman had found herself in the same circumstance and did what society says is "the right thing" by putting me up for adoption. I had a good home, she got to move on with her life. Win-win.

But as much as I tried to look at that option, my mind wouldn't go there for a second. I couldn't do it. I couldn't bring this baby into the world and not be it's parent. No matter what, this was my child, my child, I could not hand it over to anyone else. Even if I knew they were rich and loving and wonderful and would give the child every opportunity, I couldn't do it. I hadn't heard of open adoption then, but even if that was an option, I wouldn't, couldn't do it. It was my child and if it was going to come into the world, it would be with me.

But, I didn't want to be a parent, not yet.

So, abortion. Ending a life, the silent scream, having the baby cut out of me. I'm using harsh terms because it is harsh. There was nothing pretty about it. I saw the terrible videos that showed what abortion was, I knew what it was. I never believed in that life begins any later than conception. Conception is obviously the moment of life.

But, it is life that can only exist if the mother exists. It cannot live without the mother. Until the end of pregnancy, the baby is completely dependent on the mother's body to survive. It was my choice to allow it to continue to grow and develop and come into the world, or I could choose to end it.

I chose to end it.

I chose to end it even though I felt I shouldn't. It would be wrong, evil, murder. Well, no. No. It didn't feel wrong, it didn't feel evil, it didn't feel like murder. It felt like the right thing to do, for me. In my gut, in my soul, it felt like the right choice.

The doesn't mean I didn't grieve; my boyfriend and I both grieved that we would never know that surely wonderful life that would have been. It doesn't mean I didn't think others wouldn't judge me for it; I would be judged. It didn't mean I didn't wonder if I made the right decision, even though it felt like the right decision, could it still have been wrong?

So, why is it okay for me to say I'm glad I was brought into the world and glad I was put up for adoption, but not the same for the child I was pregnant with.

Mainly, because I'm alive. Once you're alive, and your given the choice of would you rather be dead...well, of course not. We are driven to survive. Would I have really cared if I was aborted? I have to think, no, probably not. I wouldn't have known any different. Before you're alive, are you sad you're not alive? No, you just aren't alive. Once you're alive, you're stuck. Your stuck wanting to survive no matter how awful life gets. And my life was fine.

QUESTION: When you were making your decision, could you relate to that statement at all (about abortion being the kinder option)?

Heck no, not at all. There are only tough choices and complicated decisions. I don't think either is necessarily kinder. Well, maybe adoption is kinder, but a whole lot messier during the lifetime. Not bad, just messy.

QUESTION: Were there things in your own adoption experience that you wouldn't want another life to go through that influenced your decision?

No. I had a good family, parents that loved me - overall a fine adoption experience. Did I not want that for my child? That was irrelevant. I just couldn't bring a baby into the world and not be its parent.

QUESTION: One of the questions I most often receive is about what will I tell Reed when he's older, how will I explain my decision to him. Not to impose or assume any views of the afterlife or souls (this is not supposed to be a religious question!), but how would you explain your decision to your unborn child? (Again, this is purely for the purpose of contrast.)

I was 22 when I became pregnant and was near the end of my bachelor's degree. I minored in philosophy, studied "death and dying," worked in Hospice and discovered both Buddhism and Existentialism. So, by the time I was 22 I had shed Catholicism and embraced Buddhist philosophy. Since that time, I've refined it by taking what spoke true to me about Buddhism and what spoke true to me about existentialism and mixed them into a place where I believe a soul chooses its life. It's really great that soul chose me, and I'm sorry I kicked it out, but I didn't take it's soul, the soul still survives, and probably found another belly to pop into.

This becomes even more strongly apparent to me as I face my dad existing on life support. It's just that his body is worn out. It's done. The soul continues, but the body ends. It ends for all of us. It's not our god-given right to have a body, it's
not a guarantee - it's a gift that we get to enjoy for a little while, and then it's gone.

What would I say to that soul if I get to meet it at my death?
"Hi! How are you? I love you, I wish I could have gotten to know you - you should have shown up later. How are things?"

I'm not being crass, it's just that talking to a soul without a body is different from talking to someone with a body. If I was explaining to the 11 week old fetus, and I did, I would hug it, if I could, and cry and mourn... "I'm really sorry. I hope it wasn't too difficult. I just wasn't ready. I wasn't ready to host another being in my body so I chose to have you taken out. I hope you find a good life. I'm sorry."

QUESTION: I strongly believe in individuality, and I think different people will handle similar circumstances very differently.  One of the questions I have about my relationship with Reed is if he will blame me as he understands more about my decision and how it has affected both of our lives.  Have you ever felt like a victim because you were adopted?  Have you ever felt helpless about your situation, that other people chose the outcome of your life and you had little control over it?  Did you blame your birth mother, Kate, for making such an important decision for your life?

I know there are a lot of anti-adoption birthmoms and adoptees out there. I'm not one of them. Adoption just is. It's not perfect, but it exists as one solution. It's not the solution for everyone, and it's not perfect, but nothing is.

Something I learned from a presenter at an American Adoption Congress Conference - "no one has a problem with being adopted, they have a problem with having been relinquished." I had to deal with having been given up by my birthmom (who I now love and know and have a great relationship with). But, hey, being a newborn baby and not being wanted by your mom, being given away - it sucks. It's hard. I can't imagine that that part is easy for anyone - even in open adoption.

But, you know what? Life's hard. Things happen. It would have sucked if I was born without a leg, but people deal with it. You could be a child of rape (how bad would that suck) or have your mom hate you or have your mom die at your birth. Horrible things happen. And being pregnant and not wanting to be a parent is hard. There's no good choice. Sure, they might have hurt feelings that you didn't keep them, but, buck up, they got life, and that's pretty cool. Count your blessings. But, that's just the way I am.

So, do I feel like a victim, no. Was I helpless about my situation - sure, all babies are. Do I blame my birthmother for giving me up? You betcha. I'm pissed off that she gave me away. She should have wanted to keep me. She didn't. So, I have to deal with commitment issues and abandonment issues and insecurity as all adoptees do. Am I sorry she gave me away? No. Would my life have been better with her? Who knows? Probably just different - different pros, different cons.

So will your Reed have relinquishment issues? I don't know any adoptee who doesn't. I don't know anyone who is happy that their mother didn't want to keep them. Rejection hurts. But, that doesn't mean it was a bad choice. It's just something you'll have to deal with. And, because you chose that, you get to have this beautiful amazing boy in your life. He might have issues from it (don't we all get issues from our parents?), he might get angry sometimes (god knows, I had anger with Kate), but you work through it.
QUESTION: I read in one of your posts about how you knew you were adopted at a young age.  How did you and your family work your adoption story into your life as you were growing up?  Were your parents always open with you about your adoption?  How did they explain it to you?  Did you feel comfortable asking them questions about it?  DID you ask them questions about it?

One of the best examples of good adoption parenting that I saw was a movie called, "Easy A." There's an adopted child in it, and they talk openly and easily about it, it's not even a main story line, it's just part of their life.

My parents were always very open to my questions, they just didn't have any answers. Now with open adoption, the kids will still have questions but they'll have answers too. That has to make it better, I think. Not perfect, not easy, but better.
QUESTION: When did you decide that you wanted to meet your birth parents, and what made you want that?  Do you ever think that your parents feel insecure or uncomfortable with your relationship with Kate?  How did they react when you first contacted her?  When you lived with her?

When I was 18, because I thought it would be an adventure to find out, and I wanted to know.

I always fear my parents feel insecure and uncomfortable with my relationship with Kate even though they never give any indication that they feel that way. Their reaction when I first contacted her was worry for me, worry I would be hurt. They are old-fashioned Irish-Catholic, so having a real, honest, deep conversation about how they really really feel deep down isn't an option. They were fine with me staying with Kate, it was when I decided to stay in Portland, on the other side of the country from Jersey, they were upset. But not because of Kate, just because I would be so far away.

If one of your sons in the future came to you and said, "Mom, _____ is pregnant with my child.  We're thinking about placing it for adoption."  What kind of reaction do you think you would have, or what kind of advice would you give?

Crapola, that's a hard one. I would feel the same way I did when I was pregnant - I can't not be that child's grandmother! But, it wouldn't be my choice, it would be their choice, and I would accept whatever they chose. I would do everything I could to provide them with all the information so they could make an informed choice, and then I would just have to trust them to go with their heart. If their heart told them that adoption was the right choice.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wading Through the Words

Here in Singapore I have a book club called The Hungry Hundred Book Club.  The focus is to read books that are considered to be the 100 best/most important/most influential books of all time.  This means that for the last two and a half years, each month I have read some of the world’s finest literature.  A sampling of the previous months: Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternask, Thus Spake Zarathustra by Fredrich Neitzche, Atonement by Ian McEwan, Ulysses by James Joyce, Nostromo by Joseph Conrad, Don Quixote by Cervantes, The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and the list goes on.  I have read simple sentences that have been jaw dropping, penned by masters of their respective language who have the ability to express in words the wonderful complexity of emotions that normally leave me in a blabbering puddle of incoherent sounds when I try to express them.  Thus, I have not written any kind of a blog post for a long time.  Not because I haven’t tried, not because I haven’t thought about it, not because I haven’t wanted to, but because there are so many things I have thought and questioned that I just don’t have all the words for.  For example, how do I put into words all of the feelings and emotions I have when I see Reed, as I did this past June?  When he cuddled into my lap when I was sitting on the swinging chair on their front porch?  When he said, “I want Rachel to play with me!” or when he said to Maura, “Mommy, I don’t want you to talk to Rachel anymore, I want you to talk to me.”
Shortly after we got home from the airport, Reed saw me sitting in the swinging chair and asked, "Can I sit with you?"  Of course!!!!!
Reed is beginning to understand things in his going-on-three years old way.  As Maura was updating me on things, she said that during a conversation that they were having about where Reed came from, she mentioned to him, as she has several times before, that he came from my belly.  “But I want to come from your belly,” was his response.  And there have been other times that Reed has made reference to his or Julian’s (his 9 month old little brother) adoption. What does he think of me?  How is he suppose to react towards me?  Is he suppose to love me?  If Reed had the vocabulary to express them, I think these might be some of the questions he might have.  But as he is now, I venture to guess that I am one big question mark to him.  And I can’t blame him; I guess in a way he and Julian are one big question mark to me also.  If I could imbibe the great literary masters in the art of metaphor, perhaps I could explain better what I mean.  But for now all I can portray is an image of me with my finger fluttering up and down between my lips making a blrblrblrblr sound and the only question I can think of to really ask is, “how do I love him?  Them?” which, when taken solitarily, is actually not what I’m trying to ask at all. Nevertheless, for the sake of all of our sanity, I must try to remove my finger from fluttering between my lips and begin forming actual words that lead to conversation.  And plenty of conversations did we have while I was there in June!  Doug and Maura are so great at patiently sitting through what I’m trying to say, even when I don’t know what I want to say and am still figuring out for myself what is in my own heart.  I know how to love Reed and Julian both because I already do love them.  But how do I love them both equally AND love Reed more than anything in the world?  Should I even try to make Reed feel that he is special to me at the risk of the two brothers feeling a sense of inequality?  We talked about how Reed is relating to me, how he is attempting to understand things himself, and we speculated on what the future might bring to mine and Reed’s relationship as well as mine and Julian’s.  But really, all we can do is watch and love them, let each of us deal with things in our own individual way, and love actively and unconditionally. 
Julian is such a chubby, cuddly, wide-eyed joy to be around!
Bill and I were able to overlap our visits by a couple of days.  It's always great to see him!  One day Maura, Bill, Reed, Julian and I went with Reed's cousin and aunt to the lake.  Reed loved Bill being his own personal motorboat.

And talk.  I received a prompt from the Open Adoption Round Table that asked what makes open adoption work.  I really believe that the reason it works is because Doug, Maura, Bill and I have been open from the beginning, that we are able to talk about things.  No, we don’t talk very often- ask anyone who knows me and they can attest that I’m horrible at keeping in touch with anyone.  But when something is important, we can talk about it, dig into it, not be afraid of what we might find there.  I think that this past visit in June proved to us that we can dive into an issue with open hearts, knowing that we’re in this together for the rest of our lives, and deal with any kind of friction that may arise.  I’m confident in my relationship with Doug and Maura, as well as with Reed and Julian because of our ability to be open and honest, dealing with things as they surface instead of brushing them under the carpet.

As I re-read this that I’ve written, oh how I long to channel Boris Pasternask to more eloquently and accurately describe what I’m really feeling!  How I wish to use my fluttering finger covered with the drool of incoherency to pen the words that would let someone into my head!  But it’s late and I’m tired and this is my 7th attempt as writing this blog, so this will have to do.  Blrblrlbrblrblrblrblrblrblrblrblrblrblrblrblrblrblrblrblr….      

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mother's Day #3- MUCH to Celebrate!

I love celebrating Mother's Day. Of course I've always been grateful for my own mother, who raised 5 kids practically on her own while working multiple jobs and going to school, but now I'm thankful to be on another side of the celebrations. Some celebrate "Birth-Mom Day" the day before Mother's Day, but I prefer to claim my stake in the actual day itself. I am a mother, even if I don't play the traditional role of one. And giving birth to Reed is not my only part in his life, he is an ongoing presence in my heart and life, and I hope to be that in his. Maura and I talked on skype a couple of days before Mother's Day, and we both told each other that we feel that this our day when we celebrate each other, our day that we share together. Reed has his adoption day, his birthday, and every single other day of the year that he is cherished and adored, but Maura and I have our Mother's Day. Our day, when we both honor each other's role in Reed's life and say how grateful we are for each other. Our day to celebrate each other and what has brought us together. Mother's Day is not just a day to celebrate my motherhood, it is yet another chance for me to celebrate life- ALL of life. I have so much to be thankful for, and I have to give credit to Maura, who gives me the peace of mind in knowing that Reed is exactly where he belongs. It's because of that inner peace and surety that I can enjoy life to the fullest, because I'm so confident that Reed is in the best place to be able to enjoy life to the fullest as well.

 Here are some of the things I've done since I last posted:
 1) I visited Reed's family in North Carolina and my family in Texas over the Christmas holidays, which was amazing as usual.

2)In January, I got my scuba certificate in the Philippines (that's me doing the photo bomb in the background)

3)I spent a wonderful week in Borneo in March hanging out with orangutans and traipsing around the city of Kutching

4) A long weekend on the beach in Malaysia in April

5)And in May, I spent a weekend in Indonesia hiking up an active volcano...

...and walking around temples over 1000 years old.

Meanwhile, what has Reed been doing? He's been doing all the things a two year old boy should be doing, like playing outside

Getting in touch with his inner artist (painting Easter eggs)

And the BIGGEST news of all... enjoying time with his new baby brother!!!!!

That's right, Julian was born in January, and now Reed is a part of a thriving family of 4. I'm so happy about this and we have all been supporting the idea of a growing family since the first time I even met Doug and Maura.

 So here I am in Singapore, living this fantastic life of exploration and adventure, and there Reed is in North Carolina, surrounded by beautiful nature, picking vegetables from his garden, gathering eggs from the nearby chicken coup, absorbing artistic energy from his potter father and creative mother, surrounded by loving friends and family and truly living a life to be envied.

Yes, there is definitely much to celebrate.

 So this Mother's Day, I went out with my friend/spiritual sister/old same/roommate Shelley (who was at Reed's birth and is also a mother herself) to a celebrate with a nice Japanese dinner. The food and sake were amazing, and the waiter even brought us out complimentary Mother's Day desserts of green tea ice cream and rich hazelnut chocolate. Then we continued the night at the Wine Connection with some wine and pizza, topped off with some soul-searching conversation. We raised our glasses to Maura, to our children, to our own mothers, and to everything in life that has brought us to where we are now.