Monday, August 22, 2011

United by Love

{Sorry, I got the title of this post wrong; the theme of the FSA (Families Supporting Adoption) Conference I attended was actually Rooted in Love. I have been trying to figure out why I had this title on my brain and realized it is actually the title of a birthmother blog down there on my blog list. Still, I felt I should to stick to the original title after the way my post started to come together, so here we go:}

My new support group: other birthmothers like me from the era of closed adoptions

A little over a week ago, Britt and I took the family on a road trip. Thursday the 11th, we crammed into our van and drove and drove, stopped occasionally by road construction--okay. more than occasionally, ugh! We had forgotten how bad it can be in the summer time. Should have added at least 2 extra travel hours into our trip plans. We stopped in Springville to meet with a realtor Britt has been working with recently. She grew up in Blanding; she is Shawn Jack's sister, DawnElle. I don't remember her last name. We stopped at the Art City Trolley --yummy, quaint, and fun. The girls thought they were freezing in the air conditioned restaurant, but that was the case just about everywhere we went on this trip.

We traveled on, stopping at least one more time in Salt Lake. Then, we were on the road again, navigating construction, hurrying as quickly as we could.

Throughout that day, we had called several times up to the LDS Family Services agency in Logan. Sandy, the lady I have been talking to there had not returned my calls all week. I was hoping I could meet with her briefly in Logan, so she would have a face to put with my name, and maybe she would be more motivated to do more for me. I still can't believe she just lost that number. I know I should let it go, but why didn't she get their address and other information the first time she had them on the phone? It just makes no sense to me.

Moving on. We finally set an appointment with her for 4:00 p.m.; she still wasn't available, but we asked the receptionist to go ahead and schedule it. She wasn't comfortable with doing that--Sandy usually manages her own schedule--but Britt insisted. Then I finally received a call from Sandy, verifying the appointment which I had tried all week to set. But as our day went on, we realized we were going to be late, so we called the office to change it to 4:30. When we were finally just rolling into Logan at 4:30, we knew we would be even later, so we called the office to tell them to expect us in 15 minutes. Sandy got on the phone, and told me she didn't stay later than 5:00. I told her we would be there in ten minutes. Britt only sped a little, and he didn't run any stoplights, but we made it just in the amount of time that I had said.

Britt and I went in to talk to her, "thanked" her for her efforts on my behalf, and just visited for a moment. Sandy tried to explain all the reasons why the adoptive mother may have decided she wasn't ready to resume our previous relationship. She also assured me that she hadn't scared the adoptive mother away by mentioning my hopes for a reunion or anything like that. Sandy said she had told her that I was hoping to communicate with them again. It wasn't long after that, she received a phone call from the adoptive mother, saying they just weren't ready. I wonder if it ever occurred to Sandy that I may have liked to have known about that second call in the month and a half it took me to write a voluminous letter to the family. That still boggles my mind. I never would have known. We would still be waiting and wondering if Britt hadn't called to find out what the status was.

Now I am starting to sound bitter. I don't mean to be. And really, we were trying to be nice when we went into the office. We wanted Sandy to see I am a pretty normal, mostly well-adjusted mother of five, who would just like to make a connection once more with the adoptive family I have so dearly loved. I think we accomplished that objective. Whether she will make any more efforts on my behalf remains to be seen.

I also have to mention the paperwork she promised to send me, when I spoke to her for the first time, which I mentioned in this post, she never sent. She also didn't tell me how to find it myself, which I could have done if she would ever have returned my calls. She told me when I met her that she had asked someone else at the office to mail it, and she was unaware that it hadn't been sent to me. Oh well. Another thing I need to let go. Bureaucracies really bug me.

After our short fifteen minute "appointment," we turned around and headed back toward Layton. I know, that is a long way to drive for just a short visit, but both Britt and I felt like it needed to happen, and the kids survived. Layton is where our motel was, and where the Families Supporting Adoption Conference was being held the next two days. We arrived at the motel, checked in and brought all our bags up to our room.

Then, I went down to the Girls Night Out, sponsored by R House Couture, also in our motel. Remember Lindsey? I have been a guest blogger on her adoption blog a couple of times. I have met her once in real life, at the FSA Conference I attended up there two years ago. When I saw that she was having a party, so those of us passionate about adoption could meet and get to know each other before the conference, I KNEW I had to be there. I felt like such an idiot when I went to all those classes two years ago without knowing a soul.

So, I went down to the party, while Britt wrangled the kids who were all very anxious to go swimming in the motel pool. They had been looking forward to that all day and had been very patient about it. At the Girls Night Out party, I received a goody bag and a name tag as I entered. I then sat down at a table next to some other ladies. We helped ourselves to some treats, which included eclairs and cupcakes, a vegetable tray, and lemon water. As we ate, we started to introduce ourselves. I sat next to several adoptive moms, a couple hopeful adoptive parents, and a couple other birthmothers. The birthmothers I sat next to were adorable; both have marvelous adoptive parents and an extremely open relationship with them.

One I have stalked somewhat on her blog, since she was highlighted once on the r house blog. Her name is Andee, and she is just as darling in real life as she seems to be on her blog. She is fairly recently married and even more recently, she gave birth to her own baby girl, teensy tiny, so cute! She has said she has thought about deleting her adoption blog, because she really has moved in a different direction in her life, but she has decided to keep it up, even if she rarely posts on it. She is one who has always felt kind of guilty for having such a perfect relationship with her birth daughter's adoptive family, and for being so well-adjusted after going through the whole adoption process. While I admit I can't help but be jealous, I seriously enjoy seeing through her eyes what a huge blessing a healthy open adoption relationship can be!

The Girls Night Out party was scheduled from 7-10 p.m. Several times during that 3 hour period, I had little visitors come and ask if they could have a treat. The first time, I sent a huge plate with a swimsuit clad 11 year-old, only to discover she kept all the goodies for herself. I also gave cupcakes to Rachel, Olivia and Garrett. Silly kids.

So, the whole night, I was still having a hard time extending much outside of myself. I mean, it was lovely to talk to sweet young birthmothers who have had and continue to have a positive adoption experience. It is just not something I can 100 percent relate to. And it is also very pleasant to talk to the considerate adoptive parents who are so grateful for the beautiful relationships they have with their children's birth parents. But also not really relating to that, either. Saw Tamra (you may recognize her in the picture above if you have read any of my adoption posts--she is one of the birthmother blogs there on my sidebar, and she is also the gorgeous adoption advocate you may have seen in this video), and chatted with her just a bit. Said hi to busy, busy Lindsey, of course. But then it was 10 o'clock. Time to go.

And that's when Lindsey told me I needed to meet some other ladies. She introduced me to the beautiful women you see in the above picture: Nicole Gibeault, Megan Asay, Tamra (the same one mentioned above), and Maryann Byg. These women are all survivors of the closed adoption era. I say survivors because we are all still mostly positive about our experience, although there are plenty of aspects we would change, if given the chance. Nicole has actually had contact with her birth son but has not been able to establish much of a relationship with his family, so she hasn't been able to follow very much of his life since he left on his mission less than a year ago. Two of these women are currently pursuing re-establishing contact with the adoptive families. One was able to find her birth son through a facebook search. The other did a vital records search in Idaho that provided her with the family's information. Just so you all know, that is not an option for me; I already looked into it. There is no Searchfinders of Utah.

Tamra has not contacted her birth son's family yet that I know of. The last I heard she was trying to overcome all the emotions associated with how you can convince a family to welcome you back into their lives after things have been closed off for so long (sound familiar?) She plans to have LDS Family Services take the first step in contacting the family with the contact information she found and resume correspondence that way through the proper channels. The thing that she struggles with is the agency policy around the time of her placement was that she was supposed to be able to continue to send and receive letters once a year every year after placement. She was TOLD that correspondence had to terminate after the first two years. She was told wrong. It is so disappointing.

Meg is lovely and amazing, because she is the one among us who believed she would be part of an open adoption, only to be stuck in a crazy limbo where she is not even allowed to acknowledge that she IS a birthmother. When she chose an adoption plan, LDS Family Services was not supporting or allowing open adoptions, so she chose to place her infant daughter with her brother's family. This in hopes that she would still get to be a part of the child's life. But her brother and his family were uncomfortable with having their daughter know that her aunt was actually her birthmother. For the past 11 years, she has honored their need to keep this secret, but it means that none of her children know or understand about that part of her life either. It has been very hard for her to cope with her emotions as a birthmother when she feels like she can't even truly acknowledge that part of her life. And since they live across the country and feel no great obligation to keep her updated on her birth daughter's life, she suffers even more.

Maryann has challenged me to seek more information from LDS Family Services. Why can't I know her first name, so I can call her by that instead of a pseudonym? Why can't they tell me her parents' first names? Really, it was only a few months later that they changed their policy to allow the sharing of first names, so I ought to be allowed that at least. It would be something. I haven't fought for that yet, though. I am almost wondering if I ought to talk to the agency in New Mexico and have them take over my file. Maybe they could do more for me. Maryann's daughter was placed 18 years ago, so she is a lot like me. I believe she tried to go through the proper channels as well, once she had the contact information, but her birth daughter's parents told her they weren't ready to meet.

Here comes my rant. Why the heck not? What is the deal? These women are wonderful, LDS women, who raise their families in the Gospel. They are not crazy drug addicts. They are and were (even at the time of placement) good women who made a difficult choice, guided by the Spirit to something that they felt was the right thing. Of course, after being wronged in various ways, whether by the agencies or paranoid adoptive families, or just crazy people in general, they sometimes can't help but wonder about that choice. Does that mean they would try to take over as the parents of their birth child? No way! Every one of them respects the adoptive family. We just wish they would respect us.

The five of us stayed in the motel lobby that night after everyone else had gone. We visited for 2 1/2 hours after that. We talked about our frustrations. We shared similar experiences. We discussed how the Spirit guided our choices. We talked about the various ways the agency had failed us. Nicole was never offered any kind of post placement counseling. She was lucky to live through the grief. Some of us spiraled downward after placement, coping in various ways. Tamra actually said she was like Mother Theresa (a total nun) for the two immediate years following her birthson's placement, and she has spent all the years since doing everything she can to advocate for adoption. All of us had plenty of rough patches, but we were also blessed in different ways relating directly to our experiences.

That 2 1/2 hours was all I needed. I was ready to go home. How nice it is to be able to talk to people who really, REALLY understand my personal experience with adoption! While I tried to be mostly positive, it was such a blessing to be able to vent my frustrations about the parts of my experience I honestly wish I could change. No judgment, nobody reading into that as me saying that I regret the choice I made, because I absolutely don't and I know they respect that. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lindsey for bringing these dear women into my life.

I finally climbed the stairs and joined my husband in bed in our little motel room. So grateful for such a full, fulfilling day.

{Um, there was more to this post, but I have had such a hard time getting this published in the first place--working on it the last three days--I am going to go ahead and cut it short so I can hit "Publish Post". The rest will just have to come in the Part 2 post, when I get around to it.}

1 comment:

Kim said...

Love you, Nan. While I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE LDS Family Services and all they have done for me as an organization, I must say that we have had first hand experience with finding out that it is often about people. When you have Ryan Heck on your side, things get done. When he moves away and you're left with (ahem), you find out really quickly that it's all about people. I wish for you PROACTIVE PEOPLE. And I love you.