Tuesday 29 December 2009

Welcome to the Club

One of the worst things about involuntary childlessness was the feeling that everyone else's life was proceeding at the proper pace, in the proper direction, while I waited on my own at a crossroads. Or at a dead end. Or, on the worst days, prostrate under a pile of rubble. If you have been there, you do not need me to describe the roaring pain and frustration that comes from being left out of every.single.conversation. that your friends are having, and the way that you feel invisible when you're standing in the same place as a group of people but they are discussing weaning again and you've just got nothing to add. Again. At that point, I always silently vowed to really put some effort into discovering teleportation, so that the next time it happened I could push a button and- poof - I could be away from the nightmare and on my sofa eating Doritos.

It never worked.

But now I have the babies home. I am officially a Parent. I am officially in The Club. I was really looking forward to this bit - suddenly, I would start going to mother and baby groups, and make friends on the bus! And at the library! And we would all have fun with our babies together! This club was going to be so much fun! But I've got to say - I am beyond disappointed. After all the waiting, it turns out that this is the worst club I've ever been part of.

The first hint that this might be the case was after I met up with two other mothers for a cup of coffee. First official mum-date. I was psyched. They were talking about weaning (of course!!) and I listened eagerly, thinking 'I have babies now! I could actually join in!' And the smile slowly slid from my face as it went on and I realised that I had been waiting to have this conversation for most of my adult life, and now that it was here.... it was really just incredibly boring.

Actually, scratch that. I wasn't just boring - it was boring and judgemental. And it's that second one that takes this motherhood club from tedious to terrible. This is how the conversation went:

[Scene - mothers in a cafe. One mother puts bib on child and gets out food]
Mother A: oh, what are you feeding her?
Mother B: a broccoli and blueberry puree.
A: Oh, that sounds nice. (Pause). But isn't the fruit a bit acidic?
B: No, it's got butternut squash in it as well
A: Oh. Isn't she still a bit young for blueberries though?
B: She's seven months, a month younger than your little Daisy. Isn't little Daisy eating blueberries yet?
A: No, she's not.
B: Oh well. Don't worry, She'll be ready for them soon. I suppose my little Susie was just ready a bit earlier.

And I'm finding that all the conversations - whether they are about sleep, food, development or whatever, follow pretty much the same pattern. It seems like every conversation is just an alpha-dog type jockeying for position - who is the best, most right-on mother? And who has the smartest, most advanced child? Who can slap the other person down with the biggest smile on their face? Who knows the most about how to cram the maximum number of celery sticks down their child's gullet? And who can top that by casually saying that actually, if you feed your child celery, you are putting them at serious risk of ear infections. Or hair loss. Or spontaneous combustion.

I've only had children for two months, and I am sick of it. I always assumed that those conversations I was shut out of were people offering each other support, but it turns out that isn't the case. A few times, I have opened up to someone to discuss some issue I was having with the babies, but every time I end up wishing that I hadn't. I say something like 'The babies are still at the very bottom of the weight chart' and get an answer like 'well, what you need to do is start giving them some baby rice' or (back when the babies weren't sleeping) 'The babies are waking up a lot during the night' and the answer was 'well, what you need to do is not talk to them or turn the lights on when you feed them at night'. And what made me most annoyed, during those particular conversations, was that the person never asked me if I actually WAS talking to them or turning the light on in the middle of the night (NO!) or if the babies were drinking enough milk yet to indicate they might be ready for solids (again, NO!)

And in any case, I only mentioned it because I just wanted to talk about it. I wasn't asking for advice. I'm a smart enough girl - If I want advice, I can get advice from the places I need to, like books, or people who have actual qualifications. Or Google. Or, I will end my sentence with 'What do YOU think I should do?' which I rarely do, because, well, I really hate advice. I just wanted to see if anybody had experienced what I had. And you know, how did it make you feel? I'm guessing those other mothers walked away from those conversations feeling 'wow, I really helped her!' but I felt like they were saying: You must be really stupid. I don't even need to listen to what your problem is to solve your problem, that's how much of a better mother I am.

Also, your kids are ugly.

It was just horrible. I mean, it is just horrible because even when I'm trying not to say anything at all, these conversations still happen. People say things to me like 'oh, considering what a hard start your babies had, they are doing really well, and I'm sure they will be doing [insert developmental milestone here] very soon. And I think 'hey! I wasn't worried about that developemental milestone' and then ten seconds later I think 'wow, should I be worried about that developmental milestone?' and then I can't believe they think my children are anything other than terrific just as they are, and I get upset and offended. Which is obviously very productive.

And at first I thought it was just me - that maybe people were treating me stupid because I adopted, and they thought I needed remedial mothering school. But then I realised that they are all doing it to each other all the time as well. Backhanded compliments abound. And to be honest, I am sick of the way that despite my best intentions, I have found myself being sucked in by the desire to do the same thing. A few days ago, I had to bite my own tongue and swallow my words when I realised: hey, nobody wants breastfeeding advice from YOU, Claudia.

All I can think of is this: when a woman becomes a mother, she becomes the autocrat in a little tiny empire. Suddenly, small people are entirely dependent on her, and the day is filled with the need to make tiny decisions and judgements. Most of these are trivial in themselves, and involve sleep, food or bowel motions. But she has to make every one of them, usually with no other adults around, and the sum of these tiny decisions adds up to a whole life. And when each decision is made thoughtfully, the decision-maker gets attached to those decisions, and her decision making process. In her empire, she alone is possessed of the wisdom to decide when it is nap time, when it is bath time, and whether or not the baby will eat blueberries. I think it becomes easy to forget that this sole possession of wisdom ends at her front door, and other adults do not usually see her as having the sum of all knowledge in the same way that her children do.

Well, I don't, anyway. And a cacophony of voices all finding different ways to say 'hey, I know a lot more about this mothering stuff than you do' just makes me want to retreat into my own little kingdom and lock the door and never go to one of these United Nations motherhood conventions at the coffee shop ever again.

And now I kind of feel stupid for expecting anything different.

Monday 21 December 2009


A while back, before we passed court, when I had already quit my job (well, temporarily. Maybe.) and had lots of time, I got all scrapbooky and posted what I hoped were 'safe' pictures of our babies with just their little feet / hands and no identifying features. These pictures also had their names - I'm not wanting to keep their names a secret, but I want them to be jpegs rather than text because I don't ever want this blog to be searchable by googling their names. This is what is behind the whole anonymity thing, actually - I don't want someone to type in my name, or J's name, into google (and considering the number of random people that *I* google, frankly everyone I went to school with and then some, it's not impossible that someone will one day do it) and find this blog. But if they do find it, despite my anonymising - it will be my fault, and I will deal with it. I write this blog after all. The babies, not so much. I think it will be a while before they write anything, and I don't want their peers at school finding what I have written in years to come and using it as a reason to make their lives difficult.

The pictures were originally part of this post, but in the end, I took the pictures down because I had a small freak out and realised just how badly I would NEVER forgive myself if those little innocuous pictures were seen as inappropriate and jeopardised our adoption. But now that the babies are home, I can post them again so here they are: (exactly the same - no faces. I can post whatever pictures I like now, obviously, but making scrapbook pictures has gone WAY down my list of priorities which is probably not a surprise).

So, why those names? Naming babies is so personal. I guess that's why it's so interesting making the choices. Crassly put, it's your opportunity to 'brand' your child - what is this name going to SAY about them? And you? Because naming is so personal, the opinions I'm going to share are exactly that - my personal opinions - and it's no surprise that not everybody is going to feel the same about these issues. I guess that's why we find the issues interesting, too. But that's one of the best (and worst) things about parenting - choosing a name, like making every other choice, is YOUR decision about what is best for YOUR child. These are my choices and my thoughts - I am absolutely not saying that everyone should come to the same conclusions.

When I started this adoption journey (o, long ago day!) I was adamant that having a family by adoption wasn't going to be any different from having a family the 'normal' way. I'm going to be cautious about what I say here (see above re: personal opinions - I'm really not trying to offend anybody) but this is what I've come to think of as the 'telling people you're paper pregnant' phase of adoption waiting. What I mean by this is - this is the phase when I was convincing myself that sure, the baby would come into the family differently, but otherwise it wasn't going to be a big deal that we were adopting. I think that maybe this is a necessary stage for those of us who come to adoption after fertility losses - I'm not sure that I could have faced starting the whole horrible process if I hadn't thought that in the end, the paperchase would get me to exactly the same point that a healthy pregnancy would have - home with a baby who was ALL MINE. We all know the poem, right?

Not flesh of my flesh
Nor bone of my bone
but still miraculously my own
Never forget for a single minute
You didn't grow under my heart
But in it

At this point, those were the kind of thoughts I was having. Except not usually in rhyme. So, J and I had always talked about having a little girl called Katy (full name Kathleen, maybe, after his mother) or a little boy called Peter (after his uncle and my father) and at this point, I guess I was thinking that little Katy or Peter was coming home, but they were going to have brown skin. .
And then time passed and I realised a few things. Firstly, this baby would not actually be born in my heart. This baby's existence would not begin when they started to have a relationship with me. They would not spring into full being in my arms. Instead, this baby would grow under somebody's heart - just not mine. Obvious, no? And yet it didn't really feel obvious to start with. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. Don't misunderstand me - this baby was definitely going to be MY baby, or what's the point? I was definitely going to be his or her 'real mother'. But not his or her only real mother - there would always be another one who came first. And my love for this baby doesn't cancel that first real mother out.

Secondly - this baby would not be white. I mean, I always knew that the baby wouldn't be white, but it took me a long time to realise that this meant they would not be White. Again, this should really have been obvious. But to my shame, I need to admit that white was never a big thing for me - it just always felt 'neutral'. And normal. It was other people who had colours. And if white was the default, why would I think about it? And knowing that about my own previous attitudes is all the proof I need that my black child is going to find their path in life less smoothly paved than mine was. I wish it wasn't true, but I know that it is.

These two things had a big effect on how we started to rethink naming. Firstly, we decided that if our baby had a birth name given by a parent, we would keep it if at all possible. This was hard to decide (*I* wanted to name the baby!) but it felt like it would be wrong to take away the last thing their birthmother had given them. The second was that if this was not the case, we wanted to choose an Ethiopian name for the baby.

In the end, the second case is what happened: you can see from the names above that we chose Ethiopian first names for both of them. After all the thought we put into it, and number of hours spent making shortlists from My Ethiopian Name, it all made so much sense to us! And we're really pleased with their names - she has turned into L.u.l.u for short and the two of them now feel like they couldn't be anybody else. And of course, we have consciously decided that if at any point either of them want to use either of their middle names as their main name - that's great. There's a wonderful line in 'Does anybody else look like me', a book about raising biracial children, where the author's young son talks about how his three names are his 'three selves'. We had that very much in mind when we named them - their two middle names represent their past and their new family, and their first names are all their own. Whichever of their three selves they want to be at each point in their lives, I hope they find that they have a name that will help. (If they want to change their name altogether to Captain McSpaceranger, aged 4, I hope I will be equally understanding).

One thing that has surprised me, though, since we have had them home, is this: many of our friends seem wary of their names. I know they are unusual, but they aren't difficult - that was one of our criteria. And lots of people have been great about checking pronunciation with us. But others? Well, one thinks they are called Isaac and Lolita (errrr... no, especially not Lolita, thank you Nabokov). But much more surprising is that a few have outright rejected their Ethiopian names and refer to them as Heather and Peter. I cannot tell you how much this weirds me out - one said 'oh, I just assumed you would use their English names'. I find this really upsetting, because no, they are English kids for sure but they are Ethiopian-English, and it really worries me that some people seem, very gently, not deliberately, and probably quite unconsciously, to want us to erase the Ethiopian part of them. And while they are young, it would be so easy for us to do this, and pretend they were white babies in brown skin. It would be the path of least resistance, and I do not want to take it. And that is one of the reasons I am really glad that we did give them the names that we did - every time someone says 'so, how do you SAY that?' I get a small shock of discomfort and am forced to remember that yes, their names are unusual. They are Ethiopian names. Because, more fundamentally, so are they. And calling them Katy and Peter wouldn't change this. They are from a different place. They will have a different experience from me. They are part of our family now, but they didn't grow inside my heart and miraculously turn white in the process.

So, this is why they have the names that they do. But now I have to go and eat my dinner!

Sunday 13 December 2009

Here they are

Like most of Britain, I live in a small Victorian terrace- you've no doubt seen these in gritty English dramas. This means that we only have windows at the front and back of the house (since the side walls are shared with our neighbours). Also, it's always raining. This means that my house is dark. Like, DARK. As in, really, really dark. This has been driving me absolutely crazy because I've got these adorable babies, constantly doing cute things, and it is impossible to get decent photos when there is no light. (SLR users - when I say dark, I've set my portrait lens to f/1.8 and in the middle of the day I'm still needing a shutter speed of about 1/2 s in natural light. At f/1.8. So yeah, dark).

Anyway, long story short, I got myself a really bright light to combat the borderline SAD I always get around this time of year (possibly related to the very dark house? Hmmmm) and bingo! Two birds with one stone - not only do I feel lively, I now have some photos that aren't just a big blurry mess. (Note two for SLR users - I also pulled out my big flash, which helped a lot, and yes of course I should have done that earlier. But even using ceiling bounce, which is really my only trick, I find it hard to get nice light with this as my primary source. Any tips for home lighting setups that can be managed between naps would be much appreciated. And don't just say move somewhere sunny, I've thought of that one).

So anyway, less talking, more cuteness, yes? (And apologies, by the way, to anybody who is getting a thankyou card from me because these are the same photos. Pretend to be surprised, okay?)

I really, really underestimated how hard it is to get two babies looking at the camera at the same time. Or even with their heads facing in approximately the right direction. Trying for smiles as well? Or matching clothes? Hmmmm, not yet.

I'm so pleased about how chubby they are getting.

This is beautiful baby L.

and her little feet
She has found her hands
and loves to smile and shout
and this is her pirate face. She opens her mouth like this and makes a loud 'ARGGGHHH' sound, like a pirate. I wasn't really expecting a baby who was ready to sail the high seas.
Baby I wasn't really in the mood for smiling (he's still in his pyjamas, to my shame) but I got this one:
and this one:
but overall, he found the whole experience fairly confusing. I'll try again another day.
(Note three - does anybody know how to get around the issue of the blockiness of these photos on blogspot? They are not blocky in real life, and look completely different on flickr. I know some of you manage to post photos on blogspot that look razor sharp - any hints gratefully taken. It's not the resolution, because I tested with some hi-res photos and no change).

I don't really know what else to say now except 'hey! Check out my cute babies!' Next on my list of things I need to post about is their names - people's reactions to their names have been a bit unexpected. If I forget, remind me.

Friday 11 December 2009


Some real photos soon. I absolutely promise. With, you know, faces. But I couldn't resist posting this - I just LOVE their little tiny feet.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Give and Take

Well, except for me. For me, at the moment, it's all take-take-take.

I guess that's why it's taken me until today (December 8) to say THANK YOU to those who participated in NaBloPoMo. I hardly wrote a comment through all of November but it was wonderful to have so much to read. Really, really, really, really, thank you. I briefly considered participating myself - but then by the end of 01 November I realised that if I was going to commit to doing something every day, it should really be brushing my teeth.

On 01 November, we had only had the babies for 4 days. That is impossible to believe, for me - surely they have always been ours? Surely I have always known how to feed two babies with one hand and one elbow? Surely our tiny house has always been covered in primary-coloured plastic? Surely I have always had two hot fuzzy heads to nuzzle me at unexpected moments? It seems impossible that things haven't always been like this. Which is crazy, obviously, because only three weeks ago, or so, I was floundering madly and feeling absolutely certain I wasn't going to cope with this new life. And now... it just feels normal. And better than that - most days it actually feels good. Having been thrown right into the deep end, I feel like I have finally learned to swim and am even starting to enjoy it as much as I hoped I would. We had a visit from our new social worker (whose presence fills me with blistering shards of white-hot rage, but that's a whole different issue) and she kept probing " so how are YOU? How are you coping?" and I realised - actually, I'm coping fine. She kept needling and needling me - wanting to find some big problem so she could justify her supposed 'support' role and I realised - huh. Right now, I'm fine. I'm sure there will be difficult days ahead, but for now, things are o-kay. (This is no doubt helped by the fact that the babies are now sleeping infinitely better and I got over seven hours of sleep last night. Compared to two weeks ago, I feel like I could fly. Will update more about that later because the whole process has been... interesting. Although to warn you in advance, I think I have a low interestingness threshold right now).

(Not much point to this post, really. If you want to read something much more interesting, I really think you should read this instead).