Sunday, January 02, 2011

Letter from a Birth Mother: Adoption Realities

This morning I opened a comment attached to an old post on one of my blogs, which came from a young woman, “Erin.” Erin is in the middle of a heartbreaking decision, and because she says she reads Catholic websites I wanted to post it here. Erin’s letter reads in part:

I am seven months pregnant and am in the process of putting together my adoption plan as I do not intend to keep my unborn son. I will be a birthmother come April. Through a series of unforeseeable and incomprehensive events (none of them having to do with alcohol or drug abuse, thank you very much, and none of them having to do w/a bad childhood, or rape, or abuse or anything like that) I became pregnant. I graduated from a Jesuit university with 3 degrees in 4 years and a semester in Rome under my belt. After graduating I spent a year volunteering as a kindergarten teacher for underprivileged children in an incredibly impoverished area of California, and then worked in a program for homeless women.

I'm not keeping my child because I want him to have a perfect start with two parents that will be present in his life and who will love him as much as I do but who can afford to provide for him better than I can right now especially because I am not in a romantic relationship with the father.

If you look into it, birthmothers are more likely to have accomplished some degree of higher education while less educated single pregnant women and other women who have dealt with abuse, drugs, alcohol etc. are more likely to keep their children. So please, out of respect for us birth mothers stop making it sound like we've been carrying baggage all our lives or that we have consistently made poor choices. Especially because we need to be constantly reassured that giving our child to someone else to raise is the right choice.

Thank you, Erin, for taking time to write. As you point out, generalities can be dangerous things – perhaps this is especially true in the world of adoption. No two adoption triads (birth parents/adoptive parents/adoptee along with their respective extended families) are exactly alike.

Because my husband and I foster-adopted, for example, some of what applies to our situation may not apply to yours. Parents who have their rights involuntarily terminated are not, generally speaking, well adjusted college graduates. Children damaged from years of institutionalization, abuse, and neglect and are later adopted often have ongoing educational and emotional challenges. This, too, is reality for our situation, but I trust that because of the choices you are making now it will not apply to your child.

Yes, each birth mother is different. Some are alone in the world, without visible financial or familial support. Others have supportive partners and extended families. I have two friends who made an adoption plan for a second child, knowing they did not have the strength to raise another. In one of those cases, the judge disrupted the adoption plan and placed the child with his biological father – despite his criminal record. I have two other friends who chose to parent, and later regretted it because of how the children were treated by the men they later married (neither of whom were the biological fathers). All we can do is make the best, most informed decision possible at the time, knowing that there are no guarantees in family life –we just do the best we can, one day at a time.

You are absolutely right that not all birth mothers who choose adoption have a history that makes them unfit to parent. Yours is a good example. What I think can be safely said about all birth mothers, however, is that there must be some compelling reason to choose relinquishment over parenting.

No mother chooses adoption casually. Open adoption advocate and birth mother Patricia Dischler writes about this in her wonderful book Because I Loved You. After nine months of pregnancy, the bond that forms between mother and child makes relinquishment an agonizing choice. As you point out, some women find this prospect so overwhelming that they choose to parent without realistically assessing whether they are capable of doing so. When this happens, it is the child who suffers most.

It is also important for birth parents to consider, however, that the factors that lead a couple to pursue adoption can also vary widely. The wide-eyed smiles and idyllic images on the agency letters are not magic mirrors into the future. There is no telling what is ahead: divorce, or disease, or unemployment, or pregnancy. Like any other family, we cope with the ebbs and flows of ordinary life. Like any other family, we manage some days better than others.

You see, we are all products of our choices, both good and bad. And while some choices are objectively good or bad, many others cannot be evaluated fully until much further down the line.

In my darker days, I sometimes wonder if I made the right choice, choosing adoption. While I love my children just as any mother loves her children, their particular needs can be overwhelming at times. And like any mother, I’ve learned how to cope with those darker feelings. The commitment we made to our children was a lifelong commitment – not an idyllic future. After three years of fostering them, we wanted to offer them a forever family. Not a perfect family, certainly. But a loving, safe, and permanent one.

No matter how they come to us, our children pave the way to heaven, showing us where we need to grow in love. And so, dear Erin, the child you carry is destined to be a source of grace. I imagine there will be days ahead when you wonder if you made the right choice, something that will be true whether you place your child for adoption or parent him yourself. It is clear from your letter that you are seeking to place your child’s welfare ahead of your own, and that is something really wonderful. With that kind of love, you cannot go wrong.

May God bless you, and your child, and his future parents . . . whoever and wherever they may be.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Happy Trails!

Dear Friends: Five and a half years ago, I started "Mommy Monsters" as an online journal, to record the ins and outs of raising an "extraordinary family" -- a sibling group that we first fostered, then adopted.

As it turns out, five years can be a lifetime. Each week, each day even, brings new joys, new challenges. Above all, they've brought changes: changes in our children, and especially changes in ourselves.

Chris is now ten, and Sarah is eight. They are happy, healthy, well-adjusted little balls of energy, and I love them more today than the first time I set eyes upon them. It's a little secret of parenthood.

But once more, one chapter of our lives is closing and another is cracking open slowly. Tomorrow I take the MTTC, in order to start the teacher certification program at EMU. Craig and I have talked about it, and we've decided that it's time for me to move away from my writing endeavors to begin to prepare for a second career in teaching. If all goes well, I will be teaching Language Arts/ESL in a couple of years.

In some ways, this new chapter makes me a little nervous. I've been out of school for twenty years, and the thought of going back to college while trying to help my own kids through their schooling is a tall order. I'm hoping, though, that the kids will see me doing my homework while they are doing theirs, and realize that a person is never too old to love to learn.
Having said that, a forty-something year old brain is not a twenty-something year old brain. And so, I need to simplify some of my other activities. "Mommy Monsters" is going to be going on hiatus indefinitely. I'll still post to "Extraordinary Moms Network," and write the occasional article for Catholic Exchange and, as well as
At some point I may need to "simplify" further, but for now I wanted to thank you for letting me share my life with you these past few years. Let's stay in touch, and continue to pray for each other ...

God bless you!


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Kamsah hamnida! (Thank you, in Korean)

Christopher finally got his next belt (white with yellow stripe) last night! Hip, hip, hurray!
Never in your life have you seen a little boy so excited. While all the other kids stood, the picture of dignification (is that a word?), Chris didn't bother to hide his delight.

He jumped up and down.

He swung his new belt over his head like a lasso.

He danced around in circles.

He assumed the "Rocky" pose (I didn't even know he knew who "Rocky" was.)

All from the back row of the class, while little lines of white soldiers stood solemnly, exchanging their old belts for new, and hanging their old belts around their necks. Finally his instructor had pity and went back to calm him down and help him with his new belt.

I am SO proud of my son!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Lenten "Re-treat": Forty Days to Home Beautiful

Okay, you are all my witnesses. For Lent this year, Heidi is going to SIMPLIFY an BEAUTIFY my home, one area at a time.

Sarah's First Communion is coming up May 1, so I have additional incentive, but the primary "push" is the simple fact that I've been feeling as though the walls are closing in on me, and it's time to do something about it! My goal is to tackle one area each week, and include "before" and "after" pictures of each. (I know, how humiliating. But it's good for me.)

Here's the schedule I have planned so far:

* Week 1: Office and taxes. Goal -- organize my office so I'm ready for the new study/work paradigm that is soon to become my life. Move futon to basement, put grandpa's old library table in its place, etc. I'm hiring two strong-backed young men to do the lifting on Saturday.

* Week 2: Bedrooms. Remove everything we no longer need or can no longer use; put in basement for next week's sorting. Remove children's toys and put them downstairs as well.

* Week 3: BASEMENT. I have my friend and professional organizer Monica Rem coming this week to go through this corner of my world, since I simply do not feel up to the challenge.

* Week 4: Kitchen/DR. Finish painting and organizing kitchen, getting rid of anything I don't always use. Replace the verticle blind slats, and install cafe curtains in my kitchen window. If time allows, tackle laundry room as well. (If my friend Katy is available, I may have her help me on Friday.)

* Week 5: Living Room and Hallway. Finish painting, and set up pictures going up the stairs. New window treatment for window (something the dog can't destroy with her watchdog antics during the day, with shade for nighttime).

* Week 6: Family Room. Paint and declutter. Hang some new pictures.

* Week 7: Holy Week. Mini-retreat in my beautiful home!

Feel free to nag me if you don't see regular reports on progress!

Monday, February 01, 2010

How to Read a Non-Fiction Book (Michael Hyatt)

Michael Hyatt, the CEO of Thomas Nelson publishers, recently posted this great column, which anyone putting together a book proposal should study closely. Granted, he's talking about reading books -- not proposals -- but many of the same principles apply.

Years ago when I was working at Servant, our marketing/sales experts used to say that it takes seven seconds, on average, for a customer to decide whether to purchase a particular book on a store shelf. Seven seconds, on average, to study the front cover, back cover, TOC, and first couple of pages.

The same principles apply to proposals. When I was going through the slush pile, it took about that long to evaluate a proposal for possible publication: cover letter, TOC, and first three pages. If at any point it didn't grab me, I'd put it into the reject pile.

Could your query pass the seven-second test?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mommy Choices

It all started with a pointed exchange of ideas.

"You can't wear that to church, Sarah."

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAH! But I WAAAAAAAAAAAAAANT to!" (upper registers of exclamation make the dog run for the door.)

"No. You have to trust me on this one. Pink polka dots with brown sequins and blue tights is too much of a fashion statement. Sorry. Now, if you want to wear the brown dress with tights and your little boots, that's fine."

"AWWWWWWWWW!" (stomp, stomp.) Silence.

A few minutes later, Sarah barges into the bathroom where I am ... indisposed. "Mom?" she queries in a tiny voice. "I don't feel good. I'm gonna barf."

Her face does look a bit pale, but no fever. It does explain the earlier drama, however. So I make a mommy choice. "Okay, why don't you put your jammies back on and crawl back in bed."

Husband snorts. "You realize she's just doing that because she doesn't want to go to church."

"Maybe." Or maybe not. Ten minutes later, I check on her and found her in her jammies and back in bed.

Five minutes after that, Craig left with Chris, who protested having to go to church without his sister. Ten minutes after THAT, Sarah asks to take a bath ... and starts wretching into the toilet.

What do you know. Mommy instincts were right -- she really was sick!

Now, I have to say, cleaning kiddie barf off the living room rug (30 minutes later; she missed the bucket) is among my least-favorite mommy jobs. Even when it's a measure of vindication. And even when it means that the week ahead of me (which is already over-extended due to multiple commitments) is destined for a major reshuffling.

Sometimes, a Mommy has to trust her instincts. Even when everyone else says its something else.

Photo credit: Columbus Parent

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ethel Heyer: In the Garden

Tonight on Facebook I learned of the death of yet another of the staff members at Bethany Fellowship (a Christian community and Bible school where I lived off and on from 1983-1989). The gardens there were lovely, largely thanks to Ethel Heyer. Joyce Haase said that Ethel passed away in her sleep last night, and I couldn't help but think of her bending gently over the heavenly rose gardens.

Gardeners have a special kind of grace, I think. Me, who never found a plant I couldn't kill in short order (even the artificial varieties get a little pot-bound), admire the kind of nurturing, instinctive patience it takes to coax life and beauty out of the soil.

My grandmother, Ogda Dix, had that gift. For years she beautified the public gardens and parks of East Grand Forks, Minnesota. Ethel covered the acerage of Bethany Fellowship, and though the two women never knew each other I think they were kindred spirits. Both raised families and served their communities in a hidden, hard-working kind of way. Both brought joy to the lives of those who knew and couldn't help but love them. And both faced the end of their lives with the sure-fast conviction that they knew where they were going, and who they would meet when they got there.

Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord,

and may your perpetual light shine upon them.

May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed,

by the mercy of God, rest in peace.

"What Do You Do?" Groping Toward the Light...

"What do you do?" is a question one frequently hears when meeting people for the first time. In years past I always had a handy response -- editor for this or that publication or house, student. The thing is, as one main "job" has gone by the wayside, the time is filled with dozens of little hats that don't merit one large label but keep me busy all the same: catechist, columnist, piano player, event organizer, etc.

For a variety of reasons, Craig and I have been seriously discussing a secondary (full-time) career path for me. And to accommodate those plans, for a while now I've been evaluating my life, trying to figure out which of the many hats I wear need to be shelved to make room.

Blogging? As I considered this, contacted me to ask if they could run my blogposts from Extraordinary Moms Network on their site, giving me a local presence to go with the broader exposure I get from and

Eliminate Facebook? In the past week I've been contacted by six different people, including two relatives, I'd lost touch with over the years. And with nearly 600 "friends" on my list, it seems to fit neatly in that "author platform" thing publishers are forever yammering about.

Boosters? Tempting -- though losing our VP (for medical reasons) makes me wonder if there will be someone else to fill the gap. My family has also benefitted in small but tangible ways. Sarah's reading scores jumped over 100 points, at least partly from the IEP that was put in place this fall. Money from working in the office and after-school tutoring is helping the checkbook. The daily contact with the school has helped me make personal connections with other parents.

Other volunteering? Each assignment, each commitment by itself doesn't take a lot of time ... Together, wow!

But yesterday Sarah said something to me that might provide a clue. We had talked about her joining her brother's tae kwan do class when she turned eight (which she did a few weeks ago). We got her a uniform, and signed her up. But when it came time for her to start her first class, she balked. "But I don't WANT to do tae kwan do. I want to do my HOMEWORK!"

Smart little girl, she saw that while her brother was occupied with his lessons, she had mom's undivided attention. And later, she said to me, "Besides. If I want to start until Christopher gets his NEXT belt, then he can teach ME and I won't have to make so many mistakes!"

Which brings me full-circle to the initial question: "What do you do?" Well, truth be told ... mostly circles. Figuring things out. Making mistakes. And trying to keep all those hats in balance.