Archive for July, 2008

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How to Reach Me

July 22, 2008

I just changed my email name to start with motherissues rather than what it had been previously. Every time I typed in a name with “mom” in it, it just felt false. I’m not a mother yet, not even sure I will be a mother. I don’t want to be disrespectful or overstep my boundaries, and for me having a “mom” address did that. This feels much better.

Email will still be forwarded from the old account to the new one, but at least I don’t have to sign in that way anymore. Now instead I can focus on setting up time this week to tell my mother about our adoption plans and say some of the things my therapist thinks I need to get out of my system. Superficial changes like the email one are so much easier.

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becoming a good enough mother

July 21, 2008

So, I mentioned that I was freaking out a bit and luckily Friday was a chance for me to talk to my counselor, Keisha, about what’s been bothering me. In part, it’s money. Nobody ever has enough money, right? It’s not just me, I know, thinking that if only I could do a little bit more, save a little bit more, I’d have that feeling of true security. I’ve read the studies about how everyone thinks if they doubled their salaries they’d have all the money they could possibly need, something like that. I know my emotional response is related to that sort of thinking. If I stick to the plan I’ve got now, it will only be a matter of months before all my debt except student loans is totally paid off, meaning I can funnel my monthly payments into savings instead. That’s what I need and want to be doing regardless of whether we are adopting, but suddenly the idea that I have to turn in a sheet with financial information before I even achieve my plan panics me.

The real fear, though, was a sillier one. First there’s the file on special situations that might be triggering and while I can skip the section on infertility and the one about whether either of us has been arrested, we had to write a short explanation of Lee’s history as an adoptee and a much longer one about my history of rape and subsequent abusive relationship. It seems fine now, more than a decade after the rape, to explain that I was a powerless, anorexic college freshman when I was raped by a dormmate. Rather than deal with it rationally or admit my problem and get help, I shut down, dropped out of school, and fell into a deep depression during which I got involved with and eventually married a much older man who was controlling and verbally/emotionally abusive. I went back to school after that marriage at age 19, flourished in some respects, but even once I was able to talk about my own rape without shame or remorse I wasn’t able to admit what went on in my apartment to anyone for years. It’s hard for me to believe now that it took until I was 21 to feel that I’d suffered enough and that I needed to escape, but that’s when it happened and what it did.

I prepared for almost a year, trying to find a place to stay and support that would help me get by after graduation, and then I spent my last semester in a dorm, filed divorce papers and got a protective order. And he stalked me and, in some ways, more importantly, destroyed all of the work I’d done toward my thesis. I kept thinking I could recreate the research, but it was too daunting on top of everything else. Or, to be honest, it was too daunting to wake up every morning knowing I had to do something I dreaded, admit my failing (because of course my ex’s behavior was all MY problem, in my mind) to my advisor so we could figure out what I could do to get the thesis written. Instead, I hid from all my problems, didn’t write the thesis, didn’t graduate.

Most people don’t know that about me, though I can turn it into the fairly clean story I just told. I don’t like to admit that level of failure. It’s one thing to be able to say in public that I was raped — something I’ve done on many occasions — because it’s politically meaningful; saying it means I think such statements can be made in public and in response I’ve had many, many other women (and a few men) come out to me with their own histories. For similar reasons, I’m fairly open about my struggles with depression and eating disorders. I’ll even talk about having been in a non-violent but still abusive relationship if it seems germane to conversation. I’m open about how broken I am, but I still really hide the way I feel I’ve failed.

I was always the smart kid. Lee tells her friends I’m the smartest person she knows and while I think that’s ridiculous and untrue and a weird thing to say, it’s also flattering. It matters more to me than that she thinks I’m attractive, certainly. So much of my identity was tied up in being the smartest and thus the best, which is the kind of perfectionist thinking that drove me into anorexia at 11 and misery throughout my teens. Everyone thought that by my age I’d have a PhD, but instead here I am with nothing, working a desk job that gives me plenty of new research fodder but no academic direction of my own. I try not to find this horribly upsetting. For one thing, it’s a big world, and I’m not going to be the smartest and the best, not ever. I also don’t know what direction I want to take when I do head back into academia, which at this point isn’t on the agenda until there are children in the picture and they’re old enough to go to school full-time. but I do still feel like a failure and I’m ashamed of that feeling to the point where I don’t tell people about how I did both very badly and very well at my university. The shame outweighs all the excellent things I did. I don’t like this about myself, but it’s the honest part right now. And on the adoption forms, I have to talk about something like my biggest regret or mistake or something, and I know this is going to have to come out there even though it might make me a less compelling candidate to parent. I know degrees aren’t mandatory and I know my personal failure on that front doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, but I don’t even want to make excuses — and these are fairly decent ones, as excuses go — because no excuse could ever be enough.

Last week, a friend of mine from elementary and high school school was back in town for a few days and got in touch because we’ve seen each other only once in 10 years. She’s working on her own PhD and has yet another super-prestigious research grant to cover her foreign travels for the next year. I was a little miffed my parents had given her my phone number, but I realized immediately it was because I was afraid of how she’d judge me, that she’d feel sorry for me that I live where we grew up and haven’t had the academic experiences she has. Instead, we talked about how she envies the pets I have and how she had to be hospitalized because of the mental toll grad school took on her. She understood my fears about failing in grad school and my belief that it’s best to wait to apply until I believe I’m mentally healthy enough to push myself to do what I have to do, rather than fail because failure feels good in the same way starving used to feel good. I feel like such a different person than I was in my early 20s that it’s hard to believe this would be a problem, but I still want more practice, more success before I push on.

I’m so glad my friend and I got a chance to talk not because she made me feel better about myself and my choices (which I don’t think she really did; I still vaguely envy her life) but because it was so wonderful to see that we’ve both become adults, gone through very different stages between high school and now, but we’ve both ended up politically engaged in similar ways, excited about the same sorts of issues. I know the Catholic schools we both attended in our youth weren’t trying to create postmodern activist-theorists, but I think our best teachers would be most proud of us finding ourselves in those roles. Actually, that’s not true. They’d be most proud of the strong, confident, smart, thoughtful women we’ve become. We’ve both had trouble getting there and both have far to go, but it means a lot to me that from now on I’ll be able to see her follow her path while she’s watching me on mine. I know that I’m not so bad after all, whatever my instincts might tell me. I’ve come a long, long way, but I’m planning to go far too. And honestly, I do believe that’s what the social workers want from me.

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Race, again

July 17, 2008

So, we started classes, which resulted in Lee suddenly panicking about whether we can really manage this, which led to my own little freakout about whether I’ve been misjudging my own readiness. Each of us managed to calm the other and we’re going to just take it slowly, go through the classes. I even remembered today how she was totally adamant that getting our kitten, Thing Two, would destroy our relationship and be more work than we could possibly handle. Now — and starting maybe five hours after he came home — he sleeps in her arms every night and is definitely her favorite pet. I’m not saying kids are like kittens, just reminding myself that we both have a tendency to panic and that parenting a child is a responsibility worth panicking about, really!

The first training session wasn’t terribly exciting, mostly a rundown of how foster care and special needs adoption work. We’re the only interracial and only same-sex couple in the group, but while no strangers in the group made an effort to talk to us at the break, none of them seemed to mind either. We have between 40 and 50 people, almost all couples. We went around and said our names, where we lived, and what our purpose was. It was only ever women of the couples who said they were hoping to adopt because of infertility, but I don’t want to assume too much about that. I did, though, jot down stats about race. We’re a pretty white group, and this is a pretty white state. However, when I did my math, it looks like we’re getting about 1.5 times the number of blacks you’d expect from a random population sample. I tried to explain this to Lee, who had never heard the argument that there are more black children in care because black are underrepresented among adopting families. I’d been expecting our experience to disprove that (though it’s not as if I think faulty, racist beliefs really have to be disproved) and was encouraged that it did.

Our group leaders are both white women I’d place in their mid-late 40s, one experienced social worker and one experienced foster/adoptive mother. They took turns presenting slides giving basic information, but apparently later sessions will be more interactive. For what this was, it wasn’t bad. However, there was one strange omission. I know I’ve talked before about how black children from the toddler stage on up are considered special needs by legal definition in our state, while non-black children don’t get that automatic designation until grade school. Despite this, there was no mention whatsoever of race at any time during the program. My thought was that they were staving off questions about a complex topic, MEPA and all of that, so I didn’t ask a question about it. Even when the slides mentioned race, neither woman read that portion. Lee found this very strange, and I was sort of relieved that she noticed because she sometimes thinks I’m hypersensitive about racial issues. She considered asking one of the coordinators about the absence, but instead we decided to get our paperwork done and leave quickly so we could get dinner.

All of us in the class were warned not to be overachievers and look through the entire packet of what conditions we’d consider acceptable in a child. I have to admit I did look through it, but at least I didn’t fill anything in yet! And I’m heeding their advice, because previously I’d been hoping to ask Lee if we could sit down this weekend and work out such a list ourselves. But I’ll be good and wait and only fill out the paperwork that’s due soon, I promise! And in another month or so we’ll have a worker assigned to us, which blows my mind.

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fell in love

July 16, 2008

Training starts tonight, so I’ll soon have adoption updates.

For now, though, I have travel updates and thoughts about my time away. I went in a little scared; Lee and I had been going through a period of disagreements in part about how we should best be preparing for our parenting future. As seen in the last post, I was getting sort of nervous. However, after two weeks traveling together, we’re closer than ever. In fact, even housework is running more smoothly and I think we’ve really moved into a new phase of our relationship. She agrees, which really makes me think I’m on the right track.

But hey, we were also Overseas! We got to spend one week in an English immersion program making lifelong friends. I realized once we got there that we hadn’t had a discussion about how public about our relationship we were going to be. Lee can be a bit sensitive about her privacy — this current job is the first time she’s been totally out to coworkers, etc. — and so I spent the first day pointing her out, saying that we had traveled together and lived together but without much elaboration. Little did I know, Lee was busy telling everyone about how great and smart her partner is, how we’re planning to adopt soon! Long story short, everyone knew about us in short order and without fail even the oldest and most religious (my bias is showing, I know, I know!) were completely supportive and excited for us. They were wonderful people anyway and were so kind to us as individuals as well as a couple, but there was just something special about being totally accepted that we never quite feel at home in River City.

After the immersion program, we got to go to Foreign Country LGBT Pride, which also surpassed expectations. Since they already have marriage and adoption rights, anti-discrimination laws, even (according to a nurse I talked to on our program) national health service coverage for gender reassignment surgery, this was much more a celebration than any kind of push for rights. So we got to spend an evening and then the following night in the midst of a giant queer party. It was simply incredible.

So now Lee’s been more insistent than ever about her desire to move abroad. I’d always figured it might be something 5 years down the line, but she’s thinking maybe sooner, that at the earliest feasible point for it to be healthy for kids it would be a good thing to do. I’m not sure this is going to turn out to be more than a dream, but being somewhere that meets our requirements for what we want in a country was already just amazing. I don’t want to doom myself to living here for the rest of my life, so now I can add to my research topics list information on third culture kids. I’m sounding a little flippant about this now, but there are so many things we need to think about and discuss and so many reasons we can’t make any plans until we have children (or, I suppose, the assurance that we won’t be having children) and can make realistic plans with their best interests in mind. But I overthink everything, so my overthinking is beginning now.

And while I’m talking about overthinking, I might as well mention that in our Foreign Country immersion program, I ended up having to explain how adoption works in the US to a variety of people from different countries — Foreign Unpseudonymed Country and other anglophone ones — who thought it was just barbaric. I wonder how many of the nasty conversations about adoption ethics arise because we have such strange norms here, although the problem (as with queer rights!) is that people here can’t see that they are strange or unique.

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