Wednesday 31 December 2008

Episode 63: In which Claudia does some sharing

Well, it's New Year's Eve. This year it's on a wednesday (for those of you who are either unable to read a calendar, or reading this so far in the future that you've forgotten when NYE 2008 fell) which coincides with our church's regular wednesday night bible studies. Sooooo, tonight we're combining the regular wednesday night thing with a NYE dessert party (and I can hear all of you who are shaking your heads and saying 'this is why I don't go to church' - on this occasion, I totally know where you're coming from). Unfortunately, because it's NYE, it's going to incorporate a time of sharing about the year that's gone and our challenges for the new year.

Well. This year certainly has been an eventful one. And the year ahead is certainly likely to have its fair share of challenges. But we've been sticking to our 'no general sharing about the adoption until we've actually been approved' rule, and now isn't the time to break that, with only a week to go until the panel makes their decision. Also, to be honest, I am not really in the sharingest of moods, especially after all the stress of Christmas. Probably I'll do what I've been doing this whole year and just talk about work. Work has been pretty intense this year, but it's also been a convenient excuse for my sky-high levels of stress. If I was being honest, I think I would say that in 2008 I:

  • started a blog
  • lost a stone, and thus freed myself from the tyranny of constantly needing to wear high heels
  • applied to adopt a baby
  • thought things would get easier from there
  • found that they didn't
  • learned to doubt every good thing about myself
  • tried to remember that actually, it's very rarely about me
  • walked out of a church service for the first and hopefully only time in my life
  • realised that, no matter how hard the road, Romans 8:28-31 is always true
  • spent most saturdays in the second half of the year meeting with a social worker
  • was forced to admit to myself that not all social workers are ogres, and that actually we quite like ours
  • grieved a lot
  • despised myself for grieving so much
  • got promoted
  • found myself re-assessing my life in light of where my baby is going to come from
  • swore to change
  • felt like a hypocrite for still enjoying shopping
  • remembered how to knit
  • got a cat
  • found that trouble doesn't always make you stronger
  • was not the same person at the end as I was at the beginning.
Hmmmm. Think I'll stick to talking about work. Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday 30 December 2008

Christmas 2008

Is finally over.

And that is the best thing I can say about Christmas 2008.

Monday 22 December 2008

All I Want for Christmas Is..... Milk

A few weeks ago, we had a really worrying email from a woman on the (wonderful) yah.oo email list for UK Ethiopia adopters. The foster home that most of us here work with is rapidly running out of infant milk for the babies.

Oh no! Well, obviously we'll get together and donate some money so she can buy some. Except that... there isn't any to buy.

Is anybody travelling in the next few weeks? No. Right, so nobody can take any.

Okay, then, we'll SEND it. Buy it here, send it by DHL, sorted.

No, Ethiopia won't accept any milk imports from the UK (even if the milk was manufactured elsewhere).

Alright, we'll send it from somewhere else. A very resourceful PAP found out that Ethiopia is in the region controlled by Nestle Egypt.

Who, it seems, can't really help us.

At this point, my head really starts to spin. It suddenly comes home to me that this is where my baby is going to be living, at some point, and there isn't enough food. This is the point at which my head and my heart start having a fistfight:

heart - These poor babies. I can't believe this is happening.
head - but you KNOW there are food shortages in Ethiopia.
heart- yes.
head- you KNOW there is grinding poverty.
heart - yes.
head - you KNOW that lots of people can't afford to buy food.
heart - yes.
head - you must know that these sort of circumstances are the context, and possibly part of the reason for your own adoption. Why are you so surprised all of a sudden?
heart - I didn't know it was the kind of food shortages that meant babies could go hungry!
head - excuse me while i roll my eyes at your stupidity.
**heart runs out of the room, crying**
head - I swear, she causes me nothing but trouble.

I think part of what is difficult in this situation is that we, in the West, are used to being able to fix things. No food in my house? Go to the supermarket! No food in another country? Donate a whole heap of money! The only limit to our fixing power is the amount of our money. Even think of (fantastic) organisations like charity: water - the whole premise is that we, in the West, have the *power* to change other peoples lives by giving money. (I think a lot of charities are very adept at this kind of marketing, and a lot of them seem to do it very consciously). Obviously these organisations DO need our money, and we SHOULD donate where we can, but we should also be aware of the power buzz we get by doing it.

I think a lot of us are getting pretty good at being generous, but a situation like this reminds me that we (okay I) are not very good at being impotent. I have the will to change this situation, and I even have the money to change this situation, but I don't have the power to change this situation. And that really stinks.

With this kind of context, you can probably all imagine exactly how much I'm looking forward to Christmas. I think I'm currently in the running for some kind of 'worst person imaginable' award, based on my attitude towards the festive season. The feasting upsets me, because we all basically feast every day so I'm not quite sure what the point is. The emphasis on family togetherness upsets me, because I keep on seeing an empty space where I want Hypothetical Future Baby to be. Also, I keep remembering that HFB is probably spending this Christmas inside their first mother, and for our family to come together another will have to be separated. The consumer waste and unwanted presents really really upset me. The fact that everyone (with one noble exception, thank you mum and dad) seems to have ignored my request for Kiva loans or something similar, rather than yet more consumer goods, upsets me, because it makes me feel like nobody is even interested in acknowledging the fact that we're going to be forever linked to a part of the world that doesn't share our plenty. The way that Christmas feels like yet another milestone upsets me, when my life feels completely up in the air. Here's the clincher, though - even watching the wide eyed wonder of small children opening their presents irritates me, because I'm thinking that if Christmas celebrations are mainly for children, as so many people seem to think, it shouldn't just be about well fed white children getting YET MORE STUFF.

So I'll have my award now, please.

I guess you want to know how the milk story ends, and here it is: Someone managed to find some formula, at EXTORTIONATE prices, somewhere insanely decadent like the Sheraton, and we (the group of UK adopters) bought it. All of it, I think. So yay, westerners, we did manage to throw enough money at the problem to make it go away, at least temporarily. And while I'm really, really glad that 'our' babies have milk, I'm consumed with guilt that lots of other babies still don't. And I keep wondering how I'll feel about all this festive madness in a year's time, if HFB is home by then. (I think I have a pretty good guess about how I'll feel if he / she is NOT home). Will these feelings of cultural resentment fade? Should they fade? I don't even know. Whatever happens, I don't want to slip so deeply into a loved-up family coocoon that I refuse to remember a time when these things were piercingly clear.

Three Quick Points

There are three things I should probably have said in my last post.
1) I know that not everybody shares my pro-life views, or my faith.
2) The article I linked to was published a few months ago - the reason this was back in the news was because the woman involved is due to give birth next week. I linked to this article because it was just a bit less sensational and tabloidy than those published this week (worst headline: 'A cancer-free baby for Christmas'. WHAT???)
3) There is brand-spanking-new treatment available that tests eggs rather than embryos, and is therefore 100% ethical, which we would probably have wanted to consider. But it's not available in the UK now, and probably won't be in my reproductive lifetime.
4) I do realise that it is just as possible to make unethical decisions when adopting as when pursuing fertility treatment. I need to remind myself daily of this - deciding to adopt does not give me the moral high ground!
5) I do not want to minimise the struggles of those going through reproductive interventions in order to conceive. I've read enough infertility / IVF blogs to have some idea of how hard it is, and I totally understand the intense desire to do things this way. I know adoption isn't a magic bullet, and I don't want to be implying that.

Okay, enough there Claudia! Three has already become five! How do you spell o-v-e-r-t-h-i-n-k-i-n-g?????

Saturday 20 December 2008

Mini-me vs Hypothetical Future Baby

I know a lot of people in adoption-land have faced infertility. I will spare you all the medical details, but I've christened what I've got malfertility (mal = bad, as in malignant, maladjusted, malodorous, malapropism, maleficent, malign). It's not the same experience as infertility, but I think the grief-loss-pain cycle is pretty similar, judging by what I've experienced and observed. And this was all stirred up again yesterday, when I came home from work, switched on the radio, and heard this news story. The genetic issues are a long way from identical, but basically this is what my husband and I decided not to do.

Although 'decided' is totally the wrong word here. Perhaps I should say - this is what we never considered, although we knew it was scientifically possible. J and I both believe that life begins at conception, and we don't have the right either to discard embryos or abort a foetus because its DNA isn't arranged the way we would want it to be. I am utterly convinced of this. But. There are some days, when the adoption road seems long and hard, and I've read too many books on attachment disorder, and the social worker is coming to visit again, when we have to write another cheque, and I have to listen to yet more pregnancy stories that I know I'll never be able to add to....when I wobble a bit. I read what these people say about how they decided to undergo these processes because they can't face the thought of their child inheriting whatever genetic condition it is that they carry, and part of me despises them for taking the 'easy' way around this, part of me burns with sympathy and part of me... is envious. Maybe we could do that - it's not such a big deal! It's just a few cells! And then we could just have kids the normal way and it would all be so much easier. And I could have a little mini-me! And a mini-J!

And then I remind myself no, not an ethical option. I wish I could say I never feel conflicted about this but that wouldn't be true. And these thoughts are a real reminder to me to re-examine my own motives - why do I want to be a mother, anyway? And why do I keep on automatically thinking that things would somehow be better - my life would be better, our family would be better - if I could magically cure myself, forget adopting and just give birth? I hate this sort of adoption-is-second-best thinking in other people - why am I prone to falling into it myself?

Too often, I can confuse the unspeakable awfulness of the process of adopting with the outcome. Yes, it would probably be more fun to be buying maternity clothes than attachment books. And it would certainly be nice to have a due date. But the children? Mini-me vs Hypothetical Future Baby?

We are surrounded by a world with an evolutionary, secular humanist perspective on parenting. This tells me that parenting is the necessary after-effect of reproduction. Reproduction happens so that my genes will be propagated, and I have the urge to nurture because that gives my genes the best chance of surviving to adulthood and doing some reproduction of their own,. A healthy child is worth any ethical price. I must do everything I can to become a parent through pregnancy, since my child has worth because they are made in the image of me.

A Christian perspective is that my child has worth because they made in the image of God.

As a hopeful adoptive parent, I find this immensely freeing, when I remember to remember it. Birth children would not be better, more worthwhile, than adopted children. Not my hair, not my eyes, not important. Ultimately, morally, it just doesn't matter whether we parent by adoption or birth. Whether we are good parents will matter. Whether we make ethical compromises to become parents will matter. Whether our children share our DNA will not.

My final thought is that, if my parents had had this screening, they would have discarded not just the embryos directly affected with a genetic disorder, but also the carriers. They would have discarded:


Tuesday 16 December 2008

I'm not really anxious about adoption today

Because I'm anxious about work. Thinking about the amount of work I have to get done in the next few work weeks makes me feel pretty dizzy. Suffice to say, there's a lot to be done. Aren't we supposed to be winding down for Christmas about now? Instead, it's nearly seven pm and I'm still here (no, am not wasting valuable time blogging, am waiting for software update. And blogging. Completely different).

I was sitting in a meeting this morning, feeling my life force slowly drain away and trying to keep a list of all the new tasks I was agreeing to do before the next meeting on 20 January, when it suddenly struck me - that's after my panel date! Wow! If all goes well at panel, I'll be out of the adoption closet by then. And people at work will actually know what's going on in my life, which will actually be pretty weird after having kept it quiet for so long. That feels really strange.

Anyway, in the meantime, please excuse me while I find a paper bag to go and hyperventilate into...

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Enough with the knitting, already.... an update (of sorts)

  • Yesterday, we got our official invitation to Adoption Approval Panel on January 7. This is good and scary in equal measure. Good, because it's nice to see the date in writing, but scary because... well, it's a panel of 12 people sitting around our table and deciding our fate. Do I need to explain why that's scary?

  • Last Saturday, we went to an Ethiop.ian fell.owship group at a ch.urch nearby. We'd been given a starting time and a contact phone number, but the starting time was wrong (by two hours) and we later found out that the person at the other end of the contact phone number was actually out of the country for a month, so we weren't able to warn anyone we were hoping to attend. And it seemed really important to attend - making links with local Ethiopian, especially other Christians, is super-high on our list of things we really want to do. But, wow. You know that article lots of people have bee talking about lately? About how in a transracial adoption, the parents need to be the ones who are willing to be uncomfortable? Well, lets just say that we earned a LOT of uncomfortableness points that day. Really, a LOT. We had NO idea of what to expect, except that it would be a) long and b) all in Amharic. We'd hoped to sit at the back and be as inconspicuous as possible, but in the end there were only about 15 people there so fading into the background wasn't an option at all. It was an extremely strange experience. The people there were extremely nice to us, but clearly thought we were MAD for turning up. And maybe they were right. What can I say? Potential adopters often make the point that it can be difficult to make 'links' with people from ex-pat communities, because the desire for contact is one-way. We would love to get to know these people, and would happily drive for quite a distance to be their friends, but they don't really have any motivation to feel the same way about us. They already know loads of English people through work and all the other aspects of their everyday lives - why ON EARTH would they particularly want to be our friends? This felt uncomfortably apparent to me on that day. While people were very kind to us, and one woman in particular went out of he way to translate for us, I rather felt that we were detracting from their togetherness rather than adding anything. We'd decided to come clean about why we were there, if asked (insert hollow laugh - why would they NOT ask what two non-amharic-speaking ferenjes were doing there?) One particularly awful moment was when someone asked 'so why do you want to adopt from Ethiopia in particular?' My very honest answer about the rich culture and beautiful country only elicited a gently raised eyebrow and a long silence. I wanted to die of awkwardness. I'm still not sure what would have been a better answer. Did I put my foot in it? And of course, I have no idea whether the people I was speaking to have the first idea about adoption - possibly not, and the idea of wanting to support a child's search for identity through positive interactions with and messages about his / her birth country and culture might seem like so much hot air. I'm still really glad we went, and we are hoping to go again (but not every week!) We met one man who is responsible for a partnership between that church and a local church in Ethiopia for sponsoring children through school, and that is something we really want to get involved in. And again, the people were extremely kind to us. But it certainly wasn't easy. It made me realise, more than ever, how much I would like our child to learn Amharic if at all possible. I don't want him or her to feel as awkward around their countrymen as we did that day.

  • I have a cold, and I feel like someone has poured concrete into my head.

  • (Okay, this one is about knitting) I have knitted 9 of the required 58 squares for my blanket. I chose the pattern because it was all garter stitch (ie knitting for morons) and am a trifle bored already.

  • (This one is about knitting too) Due to abovementioned boredom, I took a blanket break and decided to knit a little cat. I looked everywhere to find some wool that was the same colour as my cat, so this could be a mini-kevin. Here he is: Now he's almost finished (I haven't put the whiskers on yet because i need some cream wool) I'm not quite sure what to do with him. You'd think it wouldn't be hard - after all, who DOESN'T need a squarish knitted cat with no legs? I'm not sure whether it is for hypothetical future baby or not - it's possibly not robust enough to stand very much dribbling.

  • It's nearly Christmas. I haven't really done any Christmas shopping. I have NO IDEA what to get for J. I wonder if he wants a knitted cat....?

Thursday 4 December 2008

The Votes Are In

I don't know if I've ever said exactly what it is that I do at work - probably not, because it's not that interesting. But anyway, here it is: I work in University Planning. There, I've said it. I'm a Planner. I like to plan. And sometimes I think that the reason that all this fertility stuff is hard for me is not actually because I would be such a wonderful mother, and isn't it a shame, but just because it's a situation that I can't control or plan for. Note my completely subconscious and unintended moan about family planning two posts down. Yes, I cry at baby knitting books (see below) but sometimes I fear it is tears of pure rage at not getting my own way rather than overflowing maternal hormones. This is a hard thing to learn about myself, although it's probably blindingly obvious to everyone who knows me.

I guess at some time or other we've all noticed that it seems God touches and challenges us just exactly where we don't want to be touched or challenged, and this is definitely one of those times for me. I've always had trouble with the 'be anxious for nothing' stuff, but have (sort of) managed it by trying to just be really, really in control of everything so I wouldn't need to be anxious because I've planned it all out and everything is under control. And of course that's never actually possible, but sometimes it's possible to fool myself that it is. Except for now, when it's really really clear that when it comes to this adoption, I am not going to be able to sort things out just by getting my ducks in a row. Frankly, I don't even know where the ducks are. Some days I'm not sure I was allocated any ducks.

This doesn't stop me trying to retain the shreds of control that I have. There are pretty strong warnings about complacency in the bible (James 4:13-16, anyone?) but sometimes I think I transmute this principle all the way over into what's basically superstition. By which I mean - it's probably pretty sensible that we haven't gone out and bought a crib yet. We're not even approved. But I find myself acting as if saying or doing anything that implies I actually believe this whole thing is one day going to happen is somehow going to jinx it. So I try to help it to happen by acting like it won't. This is where the whole blanket thing comes in. "Arrrghhh, I can't knit this! It's presumption! What if we aren't approved! What if our foster home shuts down! What if our plane is hijacked! It will be my fault!" and so on.

This is stupid of me on several levels. It's logically stupid - obviously. I mean, did that last paragraph even make sense? It's theologically stupid - I'm pretty sure that's not how God works. ('Well, the whole thing was going pretty well, but I think I just heard her say she was considering knitting a blanket. No baby for her"). It's egomaniacally stupid - I am not actually powerful enough to magically stop this adoption with my thoughts. It's also psychologically stupid. I've been having awful, terrible agonies over whether to allow myself enough hope to knit a blanket? Do I somehow think that, if this all goes horribly awry, I won't care because 'oh well, at least I never knitted that blanket, so I didn't have very much emotional investment, you know?' I don't think so.

So I decided to knit it.

It's harder than I thought. Not just the knitting, although I'm even less talented in that direction than I remembered. But the letting myself hope, even when I can't control. It's not coming easily. But I'm working on it.