Adoption 101: Final Exam

The response to our adoption story has been completely unexpected and surprising to Mary Tyler Dad and I.  Over 30K page views for MTM posts in just three days.  We are grateful for the support and encouragement, welcome the questions, and understand some of the criticism that has come our way.  And this, my friends, is why I opted to write about our experience.

As we were driving away from the town where we met the birth family, as I wept and traded texts with a friend, trying to make sense of what we had just seen and heard, there was a resolve to tell the story of adoption.  What happens, how it happens, the highs and lows (literally and figuratively, natch) of such a complex process.

In the first entry I wrote about my need to give order to chaos, but Adoption 101 has also been about shedding light on a part of America that so many of us do not see.  Poverty, addiction, and abuse are invisible to many.  Some might say that is a blessing, I personally feel it is a shame.  A few commenters felt there was too much judgment attached to the birth family.  I worked hard to simply tell the story as it unfolded.  No doubt, some of my anger, sadness, and simple sense of feeling wrung out to dry found itself in my words, and for that I am sorry.

Mary Tyler Dad suggested I wait a week before writing, but we all know how that went.  The keyboard is my greatest confidant, writing is my solace.  When I need to write, I write.  I am still amazed that you want to read.

Many of you have been moved to share your own stories of adoption -- being adopted, having placed your child for adoption, being adoptive parents yourself.  And gratefully, so gratefully, we are learning how unique this past weekend was.  Someone chided me for titling this series Adoption 101, feeling it was misleading and would scare others researching adoption for themselves.  I don't know what to say to that other than this experience has been our Adoption 101.  We will learn much from the past month as we continue to search for our child.  And the certainty we feel, Mary Tyler Dad and I, that if prospective adoptive parents are scared away by poverty, addiction, and abuse, than perhaps adoption was not in the cards for them.

We first talked about adopting in the fall of 2007.  In the midst of Donna's treatment, as she was being prepped for her stem cell transplant, we were informed, sitting across a conference table from two of our docs, that the treatment Donna had received and would continue to receive, the toxic chemotherapies we hoped would save her, would prevent her from ever having children.  That was wrenching and made me so sad to know that Donna would never get to feel the kick of a child, her baby, inside of her.

There are so many losses in cancer that are also invisible.

I started thinking about the need to educate Donna, to normalize for her the reality that giving birth does not make one a mother.  Families are made in many different ways.  In the spirit of choosing hope, we wanted Donna to grow up with a sibling that would feel as much a part of her as her biological brother, so that if she grew to adulthood and chose motherhood, she would know adoption.  The course of Donna's illness and the arrival of her brother made adoption impossible a few years ago.  And full disclosure, there have been four miscarriages along the way, three in the eighteen months after Donna died.

It is fitting that Donna brought us to adoption.  She has brought so many of the good things I value into my life.

But now it is Mary Tyler Son we want a sibling for -- he was born a brother, feels like a brother, envies the siblings of his friends and cousins.

Like many folks we know, we came to parenthood late.  Contrary to every fear and concern I had, I am a good mom.  Not only did I have no idea I would love it so much, I had no idea I would take to it as I have.  And Mary Tyler Dad?  Forgettaboutit.  Read for yourself what an amazing man he is.

Maybe because of that, because we realize the combination of us, Mary Tyler Dad and I, create some good parenting, is one of the reasons we opted to pursue adoption.  We simply want more of parenting.  We want another child to love and hold and diaper and teach and learn from and raise and nurture and discipline and laugh with and sing with and weep over and stand back in amazement as we watch them soar.

And that child is out there, that birth mother is out there.  We haven't found one another yet, but they are there.  Maybe they are looking for us right now, as we are looking for them.  I've thought for months and months that our baby would find us through Mary Tyler Mom.  There are so many of you, nationwide, that read my posts, and know what kind of parents we are.  I honestly had a whole campaign strategy planned, enlisting the help of my fellow bloggers, none of whom I have yet informed they were part of my plan.

Well, plans change, don't they?  And this adoption thing keeps evolving, doesn't it?  We weren't expecting the call we received on July 16.  We weren't expecting the roller coaster we would enter, hanging on for dear life all the way.

But here we are, Mary Tyler Dad and I, still standing, still waiting, still looking.  We are not discouraged by the pain and sadness we witnessed.  We are resolved.  Resolved to keep looking, resolved to keep telling our story, resolved that we will find our child and that child will find us.  We are resolved that there is a birth mom out there that believes, as we do, that we are the people she wants and needs, just as she is the person we want and need.

Maybe you know her.  Maybe she is your sister, your aunt, your daughter, your granddaughter, your friend, your sorority sister, your classmate, your neighbor, your church member, your patient, your client, your neice, your goddaughter.  Maybe she is the girl who shampoos your hair, or the one who sells you coffee, or walks the cute dog down the street.  Maybe she is you.

Mary Tyer Dad and I are waiting.  You can find us at marytylermom@gmail.com.

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  • The timing of this story has been amazing. My friends have been on their own international adoption journey and last night I was at the airport when the most stunning six year old African princess RAN to her new mother. Tears of joy streamed down everyones face that was on this journey with this family. This family fought for this child...was denied TWICE by the US Embassy and kept fighting to bring her home. You will do the same. This was my friend's quote she had on her fridge "We may cry and rage and scream and wail in the process, but bring them home we will!!" Thank you for sharing your story. You opening up such intimate moments in your life are such a blessing to so many going through the same thing. More people need to speak up! I will be praying and watching this blog until the day you bring YOUR child home.

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    The journey you are on is heartbreaking in so many ways. The trail blazed by many who have taken it before. Same circumstances with the same results. You are strong MTM family. There is a child out there that the Lord has for you. A child who needs you EVEN more than you need them.
    Hold fast to each other. Proceed cautiously and pray. You may not be the one giving birth to your next child, but you certainly will be the ones who will be giving it life.

  • Hi MTM. Blessings to you and best wishes in your quest to grow your family. I do not know if Birthmom will be able to choose adoption for this child. So much loss surrounds her now, it seems, and how much strength and independence is required of all birthmoms who place for adoption. My hat is off to those courageous birthmothers and to adoptive parents, too. I am myself an older mom of one (biological) child and because we weren't able to have another, I find that oddly, I relate to birthmothers who relinquish their children for adoption. I feel that I--maybe it wasn't all choice, maybe it wasn't all circumstances, maybe it wasn't all education/background/career, but some combination of above--having married late and having had children late as many middle class women in N. America are doing, have somehow "lost" children that I probably could have had if I had started my reproductive journey sooner. This has impacted my family, my daughter, and myself -- as she will be an only child. This loss of siblings for her and other children for her parents is a real loss. I don't expect everyone to be sympathetic to this but that's how I feel. I also KNOW that many people have children on into their forties, fifties, etc., but this is NOT possible for all people, even with infertility treatments. It is just hard dealing with the consequences of delayed parenthood -- not that delayed parenthood is all bad, mind you. Not meaning to go on a soapbox. I have considered adoption many times, but ultimately don't know if it is for us ... I'm not sure I'm strong enough to witness the loss of a birth family's child. Your background in social work should help a great deal. Best wishes and thank you also for writing about Donna.

  • In reply to cruisincoast:

    I completely get everything you are saying about delayed parenting. Thanks for saying it. Before I ever got pregnant, but after I turned 30, a family member used to pressure me about making babies soon, as my eggs were getting old. It always hurt like hell to hear her say that, then brag about her own fertility, not knowing what my future would hold. Then again, I don't think I would be half the mother I was if I had children earlier. Thanks for reading and commenting. MTM.

  • Each morning, as soon as I can, I read your current post. Even though we've never met (you know my sis-in-law Marcia), I've been reading MTM for so long that I feel I know you. That you could be my friend, my neighbor or my co-worker. I am convinced that YOUR child will find you at just the right time. And, I'm praying for that to happen.
    Thank you for being so open and honest in your writing. And, for sharing this very personal part of your life with us. You and MTD are making such an impact on the lives of so many people. Truly.

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    I love reading your posts. I have cried, laughed, felt anger and pain while reading, but I absolutely love every story.

  • After everything that you and your family have been through, your continued strength and bravery inspire me. You are an incredible family, and I can't wait to celebrate with you when you are connected with your child. It will happen.

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    I just found your blog today... I read every post in Donna's story, I couldn't stop. First, let me say that Donna truly touched my heart. I'm so sorry for your loss. I have a 4 year old boy, that will soon be 5. Playing tonight in the backyard at my mothers house, I felt guilty that I was enjoying my beautiful, blonde haired, blue eyed little boy, and you don't have Donna with you. It was a reminder that every moment is precious, and that there are no guarantees.
    No one can fully understand another's struggles, but I understand your want to parent another child. I can't have any more children, I take a chemotherapy drug that you're probably familiar with, methotrexate, to treat my rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune problems. We would have liked to have another child, but that won't be possible naturally. I'm also a pediatric ER nurse, in one of the largest pediatric hospitals in the country. I see so much horrific abuse, and so many children that I wish I could help. I would take them if that was possible, but I'm sure you are well aware that taking an older child into your home comes with a host of problems, and I don't feel it would be fair to my little boy. Adopting an infant just isn't financially feasible for us, especially when I have a chronic, debilitating and incurable

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    Illness... I posted accidentally! But back to my point. I admire and respect you and Your husband for your decision to undertake this journey after all you've suffered already. I pray that you have good news soon.

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    If I was a prospective birthmother, I would give my baby to a couple like you, no question. You sound like the best family a child could have. Good luck!

  • Jeez, MTM, I hope you don't think I was criticizing you at all in my response to your last post - that surely wasn't my intent. My concern is for you and your family not to be abused or taken advantage of in any way during this journey.

    When I read the line about the miscarriages in this post, I said "Aw HELL NO." I'm angry that this has happened to you. You are a fiercely strong person, even though I'm sure you don't always feel that way. You are extraordinary and awesome - as well as a very talented writer.

    And thank you for noticing the invisible losses in cancer. Thank you. I wanted children from a very young age. SO much. I dreamed and dreamed of the kids I would have. Thought up names, even. However, between not having any money and not meeting anyone with whom I wanted to have a family, it wasn't happening. Then I finally had the money, and thought about using a sperm bank, as they were becoming more forthcoming with info on the donors. But then cancer treatment took my fertility away, and now at 45 I'm too old. I'm too set in my ways and VERY spoiled from having my time as my own all these years! This has been a source of huge heartbreak, but I'm getting over it and creating a different sort of life. It makes me very happy to see you and MTD pursuing this, and words cannot express how much I admire your courage. I'll be following your story and wish you the very best.

  • MTM! It's so great you are writing about this. I agree with you about how Americans ignore the poverty in the US. We all focus on the 1% when most of the country is struggling. Those stupid real housewives shows don't help!
    I'm so sorry for all the loss you and your family has gone through in the past years. I really hope you can complete your family soon. It will happen! Please keep writing and getting the word out there! -Shari from PWAP!

  • I think you're amazing and kind and intelligent. I am just a little uncomfortable with some of your implicit judgements in this process. For example, " And the certainty we feel, Mary Tyler Dad and I, that if prospective adoptive parents are scared away by poverty, addiction, and abuse, than perhaps adoption was not in the cards for them."
    Couldn't the same be said for prospective adoptive parents scared away by older children? Children in the foster care system? Children of different races? Children with physical or mental disabilities? And if you and your husband could let go of the "diapering" part of your wish list, perhaps you could open yourselves up to the possibility of parenting a child who so desperately needs a loving family like yours, and may be among the hundreds (or even thousands) of children in the foster care system right there in Chicago? Is parenting a child (any child) really all you want to do? Or do you really want a baby that looks like it could be your biological child?
    And as for poverty, addiction and abuse, well, maybe you overestimate your readership. I came out of that background, and it is not unfamiliar to me. People make choices and live with those choices. And while the rates of addiction and abuse are obviously higher among "poor" people in this country, the wealthy are not immune to these evils. You were a way out for that birth mother, who is a grown woman, by the way, that she chose not to take. Twenty-years-old is grown, and a young life of bad choices doesn't excuse more bad choices, it just makes those choices understandable. Also, I think it is disingenuous to say that you couldn't help that family or do anything for them. Of course you could. You could adopt them, in a sense, and make their struggles your own. But why on earth would you want to, unless you are trying to live like a martyr? You can not help people who don't want help, true. But that family wanted your help. In the form of your money. You could give it to them. You could move them into your home and feed, clothe and wash them, and raise those little ones as your own. Try to get them into rehab and most certainly fail. But you could protect the little boy and the young mother a little more by having them under your care. Of course, that would be insane or saintly, and you are neither. But you have much more integrity than the adults in that family, and it doesn't make you a bad person to acknowledge that. It is okay to acknowledge that you are better than them, and it doesn't mean that you were trying to buy their unborn child. Well maybe a little, but they were trying to sell her to you.

  • In reply to angela b:

    Angela, how many physically or mentally disabled children have you adopted?

  • In reply to Ginjoint:

    None, Ginjoint. That is exactly my point. I claim no moral superiority to anyone who makes a family in any way, whether through adoption lawyers, foster parenting, surrogates, egg or sperm donors, international adoption, raising your neighbors' or relations' children, any of it. It is all stupendously challenging and more than I can handle. The discomfort I felt with MTM's statement was only because I know she is morally superior to me, and many others, because she grapples with the most difficult issues of life and death with grace and compassion and shares it all with anonymous strangers on the internet. Which I readily admit I am incapable of. And while she "isn't scared away by poverty, abuse and addiction," it seems unfair to state that adoption itself may not be appropriate for those who are scared away by those things. No, you didn't use those words, MTM, but the phrase "not in the cards for them" reads that way to me.

  • In reply to angela b:

    Angela, your comments are thoughtful and thought-provoking. I am not sure why Ginjoint bristles and appears to treat them as some sort of attack against MTM. Adoption is a complicated journey, and the complexities differ for each family that undertakes this journey. My husband and I set out to adopt a child and have ended up practically adopting, in an informal sense, an entire family from a world that we had never glimpsed before. Thus, I see that the points you make are valuable additions to MTM's stark and beautiful narrative of her personal journey to date.

  • In reply to angela b:

    Angela, I'm sorry, but your original post is rather garbled in terms of your ideas and stances. It also sounded quite judgemental. I don't think it's your place, or anyone else's, to question someone's choices regarding their adoption plans. If that wasn't your intent, well, it sure sounded that way. As I don't wish to hijack this blog, this is the last I'll write of your post.

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    MTM I have read your blog religiously since I discovered it earlier this year and I love love love it. Your adoption story may be a bit too real-life for some people who haven't ever been exposed to the type of life that poor birth mother has but it doesn't matter because it's your story and you told it the way you experienced it. I don't think it should scare people away from adoption but it certainly gives people thinking about adoption some idea of what they may encounter along the way. I felt bad for you when you had to call 911 and I understand your shock at the 911 operator knowing the family before you named them -- because I've been that 911 operator for other people. The scenes and people you described during your visit are a daily occurrence for me and I'm not seeing how you were overly judgemental of anyone. I was actually irritated that anyone had even suggested that in their comments. Thank you for sharing all your stories - they are a welcome addition in my inbox and I look forward to many many more.

  • When you write about the most personal aspects of your life and put that on the Internet, you open yourself up to the judgment if others. That is how this here Internet works.

    Since I published this series, I have had lots of suggestions and questions about why we want a baby rather than an older child, why we want straight adoption rather than foster to adoption, why we want to adopt through domestic channels rather than international.

    And as some ask the questions, they also provide their own assumptions about why we are pursuing the adoption we are pursuing. Truth is, we owe no one an explanation. Mary Tyler Dad and I have had very personal and difficult discussions over a period of years to come to our decisions. Those decisions are ours, no one elses.

    I see no need to open them up for public discussion and scrutiny, but for those readers who do, discuss away. You will regardless, as that is the nature of the beast. Kraft och omtanke. MTM.

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    I don't see anything disingenuous about MTM saying that they couldn't help that family. You can't help people that don't want it. We all make choices in life. We are dealt a hand of cards, but you can only keep playing those cards for so long until you have to pony up and make your own way in the world. Choice is staying with an abusive boyfriend, choice is raising a child around drug addicts, choice is continuing to be codependent. That little boy, yeah, no choice right now. That unborn baby, no choice either. Also, I'd like to point out for those readers that haven't been exposed to life outside of their cozy homes and subdivisions, taking an older child into your life and home carries with it a whopping case of the unknown. I work in a pediatric trauma center, you have no idea the horrific things that have been done to these children. I see it first hand. When you already have a small child to protect and nurture, you can't take chances with their safety or well being. Many, if not all, children that have been placed into the foster care system are damaged, some physically, some mentally, some emotionally. They act out, usually in the form of abusing the smallest in the group, whether that be an animal, or your young child. Why do some people opt to only adopt newborns? They haven't been damaged. Don't get me wrong, this isn't those children's fault. But you have an obligation to protect your child, first and foremost. I have a 4 year old, were I to adopt, I wouldn't take a child older than 2 for that very reason. Again, I have to protect my child, as does MTM. This may not be the reason they are chosing to adopt a newborn, I have no idea. Just purely my own opinion.

  • I am very sorry for expressing myself so badly. I was trying to say the opposite of how it seems to be interpreted. That is, MTM, not only do I think it is wonderful that you want to adopt a baby, I think that baby will be the luckiest baby around to have you for a Mom. I wanted you to question how YOU would feel if someone said that adoption just wasn't in the cards for YOU if you were scared away by older children or whatever scares YOU. I was NOT saying that you should NOT be scared! I just thought that you weren't being honest with yourself and condemning other peoples' choices, however unintentionally.
    And Amber, you are saying EXACTLY what I was trying to say, but somehow said completely backward. The "birth family" that MTM wrote about could be my family. For years, I felt guilty for abandoning them, because addiction makes people do crazy things and I didn't want to blame them for their choices especially when the insurmountable pull of meth was involved. But as I said, people make choices and they live with them, and as adults they are responsible for those choices. Again, MTM, I thought you weren't really being honest with yourself when you say you made their situation worse by showing favoritism toward their weakest members. If providing an opportunity to that young woman and her children - born and unborn - made things worse for them, than all opportunities and education and chances for her betterment should be denied to her because her messed up relatives will punish her. And that does not make sense.

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    I have to admit I feel for "Angela" because she writes rather badly. And because you gave us permission to speculate on motives, MTM, I am speculating that Angela made some reproductive choices for which she feels terribly guily, and she's projecting that guilt onto you. I do agree with her on the birth family stuff, however. But I could be Wong.

  • It drives me batty that you, MTM, are held to a standard of saintliness by a small but vocal minority of readers. Don't get me wrong, you are a heck of a lot closer to sainthood than me, for example.

    But it's never enough, is it? You try to find a golden Retriever puppy for a dying teen? You are rewarded by lectures about the virtues of adopting mixed breed older dogs. You open your life up with a harrowing adoption story? Well, why not a special needs teen, MTM?

    I'm sorry to be snarky and mean, not my normal style, but I cringed at every single comment offering you unsolicited advice about how to do this. Most of them seemed less grounded in reality than in ensuring that your approach to this life-changing, personal process, remains consistent with the pedestal you stand on. And you do not seem to have volunteered for this pedestal!

    OK, rant over! I am cheering you on in this journey, MTM, willing the universe to show you some kindness and put the right Mary Tyler Baby in your arms, very, very soon.

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    Oh MTM, I have followed you on FB and somehow not read your blog. I have to be honest, your Donna blogs scare me half to death. They do, but I read the adoption ones. I totally understand. I was able to feel like I was in the room with you.

    That poor birth mother, born and raised into this hellish cycle of poverty and truly not knowing anything better for herself.

    My prayers are with her and her baby boy and the one she carries now.

    You and MTD will find your baby, somehow. There is hope.

    But sadly, there may be none for that family. That is so sad.

    You did the right thing, but it is still heart breaking to know she is out there.

    xoxoxoxo

    Michelle

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    I have never, not once, commented on a parenting or humor blog that I read. But you. This. I'm in tears. I adopted a child two years ago. I wish I had advice, but alas, only the name of a good family attorney in Jacksonville Beach. it is expensive, it is long, out is emotionally trying and it is worth it. All of it. I hope you find the best north family ever

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    Birth family. Uh,dear phone. There is no such thing as a north family.

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    Well, I do have a little advice. Get a full family health history. My adopted son has a rare genetic disease that less than 10 people in the world have. It it's inherited from the mother, and we had no way of knowing. Nor did anyone else until a very expensive genetic mapping that took a full year-soooooooooo moral of the story? Save yourself a lot of headache and get all the family info you possibly can. Lots of luck and love.

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