Friday 31 December 2010

2010 Books

Well, it's new year's eve. I'm sitting at home on my own because, well, to cut a long story short, I'm still under the weather and I didn't feel well enough to go out to a friend's place with J so he's gone alone. Which means that Christmas was a bust, our time off work together was a bust and now New Year's is a bust too. In the last week, we've added the following symptoms to our family list: conjunctivitis (the babies) vomiting (me) diarrhea (the babies) sore throat (me and J) and extreeeeeeme crankiness (also me, quelle surprise). (Although at times, also the babies). (Ummmm, and J for some of the time too. If I'm honest).

I have noticed that the longer an illness goes on, the less sympathetic people are about it, and frankly that's been annoying me a bit. (See? Cranky!) After all, it's much worse being sick after three weeks than after one - all your food is gone, for one thing. I was talking to my dad about this, since (as long-time readers might remember) the sociology of illness is something he knows far too much about. He said that when you get sick, you get a new status as a 'sick person', with privileges attached (eg not expected to do very much). But it's part of a social contract - people have to be nice to you while you're sick, but the expectation on the sick person is that they will get better in a reasonable amount of time. If you try to extend your sick status past the social norm, it doesn't really work because you have broken your part of the contract - you were supposed to get better already. This is one of the reasons that it's difficult to live with chronic health problems like rheumatoid arthritis, he said- you don't get the same status and privileges for long-term illness as you do when it is acute - people just expect you to get better, and if you can't get better they mostly stop caring. That's very interesting, I said, and asked: what happens if it's a terminal illness? Are you allowed to stay sick, then? And he said that yes, you're allowed to be sick for quite a long time if you're terminally ill. But there's still a social contract - in exchange for being allowed to be sick for an extended period, your half of the bargain is that within a reasonable amount of time you're supposed to die.

Well, I did ask, I suppose.

All this is just to say that this week I have sworn that from now on, I will be much nicer to the chronically ill. Three weeks of illness has almost destroyed me, which is pathetic. I've realised how much good health we have normally, and I'm going to be more grateful for it. And more understanding of those who don't. When I have it again, that is. Right now I'm still going to just go to bed early and continue to feel sorry for myself.

Actually, on second thoughts, no I'm not. The last few weeks have been interesting, and I've been unsure what to write about. But there must be something, right? Should it be the day at someone else's house when I unexpectedly found myself watching adoption-themed movies, and realising that one day this was going to happen to my children? It was going to be that, but then I realised that I couldn't face it. So I've decided to recommend some of my favourite books from 2010. (Books I read in 2010, not necessarily published in 2010). And because I'm realistic about who is reading this, the links send you to Amazon US.

Red Dust Road, by Jackie Kay and My Fathers' Daughter by Hannah Poole

Yes, this is two books, but I read them in the same week back in June and they cover similar themes so I can't help grouping them in my mind. They are two of the best adult adoptee memoirs I've read, and I would put both of them on my 'best adoption books of all time' list. Both are written by women who write for a living - they were writers before they decided to talk about adoption, and it really shows. Both are about transracially adopted adults in search of biological roots, but RDR covers years and loops back and forward in time, while MFD mostly focusses on a very short period in the author's life.

It's hard to do either of these books any kind of justice in a paragraph or two. Jackie Kay's book is the story of a UK domestic transracial adoptee who searches for her birthparents - both alive, but on different sides of the world. It's a complicated story that defies a lot of the usual adoption stereotypes. The writing is lyrical - unsurprising, as Ms Kay is a poet - and the story is gripping. Hannah Poole is a journalist, and her book is written quite differently. It covers a short period of time in graphic detail, and by the end of the book you feel very much like you are living right inside of her head. She was adopted from Eritrea in the 1970s and the book is about her travelling back to meet her birth family. It's incredibly honest - brutally so - and very entertaining but not a feelgood read. Well, not if you're an adoptive parent.

I can't help thinking that a big difference between the two stories is that Ms Poole's first family is still intact. Her mother has died, but if she had been raised by her first family rather than adopted, she would have become part of a family that still exists. It's impossible to imagine not feeling huge grief over missing out on being part of something this real. Ms Kay's family, on the other hand, isn't that simple. She does not write with the same sense of painful regret, and it is hard to know how much of that is because there was not an obvious alternative life for her to be part of. Life is much more complicated than this, of course, and I don't mean to say that this is the only reason that the books 'feel' different, or why the two women seem to have had very different reactions overall to their adoptions, but I think it might be a significant factor.

I think that the two books balance each other out very well, if you are reading them as an adoptive parent looking to learn from the adult adoptee experience. RDR is sad in places but ultimately uplifting - it feels redemptive and positive. MFD does not feel like that. Ms Poole writes with piercing clarity about how she finds herself regretting so much of what has happened to her. I am grateful for her book, and I'm glad that I have read it. But it's not an easy read. Her adoption was based on a lie, and that is hard to read about. But this lie is not the only reason she wishes, often, for a different life, the life she might have had. Some adult adoptee memoirs make you think 'oh, right, her parents did this wrong and this wrong and that's why she's unhappy. If I just do things differently, things will be okay'. This book does not give the reader that option. Her adoptive Dad sounds like a great guy, and they have a really good relationship. This book showed me more clearly than any other I have read - Claudia, it's not about you. You cannot parent in such a way that you can guarantee your kids will end up feeling happy about their adoption. So don't kid yourself.

Don't take my word for it, though - read them!

The Alphabet Series by Sue Grafton

Pure private detective escapism. But really well written escapism - funny, well plotted and a truly likeable no-nonsense heroine. How would it be possible not to like a woman who takes a bubble bath with washing-up liquid? I'm a little embarrassed to be including this series in my books of the year, but I've read twelve in the last 8 weeks or so, so it would be dishonest not to. I bought a box set of these books at a bargain bookstore, never having heard of the series or the author. But I read all of them within a few weeks because they were so much fun. The first books were written in the late 80s, and the private detective she does a lot of her research at the library using microfiche, which is pleasing and amusing, but they dont' feel dated. I'm not saying spend money to get the first editions, but look out for them in your library. The copies in my library nearly always seem to be gone, so I guess I'm not the only one who likes them.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I've already written about this one.

Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller

I don't quite know what to say about this. I'm trying (painfully, slowly) to write a book about our adoption, as most of you already know. One of the agent blogs I've been reading had a really interesting post a few months back saying that if you're trying to write a memoir, you really should make sure that you've read at least ten really, really good ones. And that made me realise that I hadn't - I'd read a lot of adoption memoir writing, but not very much outside of that box. She had some interesting recommendations, and asked for commenters to recommend others.

One that came up again and again and again was Don Miller's Blue Like Jazz. The subtitle is 'nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality' and to be honest, I wasn't very keen. I'm a Christian, and that sounded like a very 'woo-woo' (yes, folks, that's a technical term) version of Christianity that was just going to make me cranky. (Incidentally, a Christian in a book who DID make me cranky was Jackie Kay's birthfather. Read that book and you'll know what I mean. But I digress). But I ordered the book, because so many people recommended it, and when it arrived I opened it up and from the first page I was hooked.

By about the tenth page I was thinking 'this man is a wonderful writer' and by the twentieth page I was thinking 'actually, he is so uncomfortably perceptive about the human condition that his writing is beginning to remind me of C. S. Lewis' and then a few pages later 'this book is much, much funnier than any Christian book has a right to be' and by halfway through the book I realised that the subtitle had probably been put there by his publisher, and when he really started talking about Christianity I realised that all he's trying to get away from is religion as an empty form, he's actually not 'woo-woo' at all. And by the hundredth page I was feeling like I was seeing my own hypocrisy more clearly and feeling humbled and by the end I had decided that I was going to give it to my Dad for his birthday (I always give him my favourite book of the preceding year for his birthday - last year it was The Tale of Edgar Sawtelle). And my Dad loved this book too, and he's pretty fussy about books, especially Christian books. He also said that the writing reminded him of CS Lewis, and I don't think he really has much higher praise. I've since read the sequel to this book, and another companion book, and I think I may have liked them even more than this first one. But this is the one that gets a place in my list, because I read it first.

I may never get my own book written, and that would make me sad. But honestly? I think the process would still be worthwhile because it meant that I found Don Miller's writing, and I'll always, always be glad about that.

The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins.

I know, teen fiction, seriously? I had low hopes - I hated Twilight. But I started this series and I was turning the pages so fast that I'm pretty sure I nearly set fire to my house. I was dreaming about these books at night, the suspense was so intense. Fortunately I bought all three books at once because if I had needed to wait to read the next books in the series I would have gone crazy, for real. I don't know how people coped who read the first two books before Mockingjay (the final book) was published. How did your nerves stand it?

After reading this series, I told J 'you have GOT to read this!' and he harrumphed a bit. He wasn't keen, but he took the first book on his commute to work one Monday morning. And he got so involved in the story that he missed his stop on the tube. And then on the way home, he got so involved that he missed his return stop. Like I said. Intense. For pure plot and pace, I can't recommend this highly enough.

How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely

I have my sister to thank for this recommendation. I laughed until I cried while reading this book - this may be the only book where I have started laughing while reading the dust jacket. (The fake bestseller list! Priceless!) It's a novel written in the form of a memoir. The protagonist sets out to write a literary novel in order to become famous, and the memoir shows how he makes it happen. The plot is average, but the extracts from his fake novel are some of the funniest things I've ever read. I'm going to warn you straight up - this book is very, very silly. If you think it's funny to laugh at inappropriate overuse of the word 'visceral' in bad literary fiction, you. will. love. this. book. Seriously. Tears of joy. Buy it now. If you don't think that 'visceral' or it's friends have any potential for humour - (I'm pretty sure there were a few 'nascents' as well) steer clear.

(Actually, that reminds me - not a 2010 book for me at all but if you like silly books about books - do not do a single 'nother thing until you have read The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Genius. Don't ask any questions - just buy it).

I'm sure there were others, but these are the ones that came to mind first, which must mean something. What would you put on your list for 2010? You know I'm all ears for this kind of thing.

So for me - that's it for 2010. The babies are now 17 months old. How did that happen? Mostly a great year, although December left me longing for the whole thing to end. It's been lovely having your company - may 2011 treat you kindly. A great big MWAH! to you, and you, and you, and yes, you too. See you next year!

Monday 20 December 2010

Day nine

And I'm still sick.

Survived the adoption hearing. In fact, it was a totally magical day. Well, magical in the same way that Voldemort is magical.

Seriously, one of the worst days of my life. Low point was me sitting on the tube on the way home, crying in public because I felt so sick. Ah, happy memories. Other magical moments were the judge being nearly an hour late, which was sufficient time to turn our two well-rested, well-behaved munchkins into slavering monsters who then yelled their way through their hearing. It could have been quite moving - when the judge made his ruling, he said "I grant this adoption because I deem it to be in the best interests of these children, both now and for the rest of their lives." And I kind of felt a bit teary, but J had to take I to the back of the chamber at that point because he was going nuts with silly bending and screaming himself hoarse and in the end I was just thinking 'could you not just go a bit more quickly so we can get outta here?' Like I said, a magical day.

After the pronouncement (probably not the proper legal word, but I'm going with it) we got photos with the judge, who was really incredibly nice. The solicitor for - actually, I'm not entirely sure who she was representing, even though she was there for our case - took them. Unfortunately, there is not one single photo where both children look even halfway presentable. Also, we're not allowed to post any pictures from court on the internet so even if they were good I still couldn't show you. Please enjoy this photo of a fluffy bunny instead:

Well, it was that or Voldemort and I know which I prefer.

I finally got to the doctor on Friday (because getting to the doctor is next-to-impossible when you actually feel sick - WHY did doctors stop doing housecalls?) He listened to my chest and told me that I did not have a chest infection, whereupon I saw my chance of drugs receding and I almost cried until he said 'wait.... do you have a history of.... asthma?' like a gameshow host. And I gulped 'Yes! Yes I do!' and then he opened the doctorial equivalent of the golden suitcase and wrote me out a prescription for a short course of steroids. I don't know if you've ever had the good fortune to take steroids, but they are pretty horrible things. My friend Amy described it perfectly by saying 'they make me want to unzip my own skin and crawl right out'. So ummmmm, yes, that is exactly what I feel like right now. And my gums feel like they are buzzing or vibrating, so my teeth keep feeling like they are about to fall out. I really wish I was making that up. But they (the steroids, not my teeth) do seem to be making a dent in the coughing, and lately when I try to breathe the oxygen tends to go in the right direction, so I guess it is worth it. Just.

Now I'm just waiting for the anosmia to go away. I seriously. Cannot. Smell. Anything. I was so freaked out that I went to my (extensive) perfume collection just to find if anything could make it through the blocked tunnel that is my sinuses. And if there are any perfumistas reading (I know there's at least one) back me up on how bad this must be when I tell you that I cannot even smell POTL. At all. This is a perfume so strong that I keep my bottle inside a sealed box and only allow myself to wear it when it's actually snowing outside, but right now? It's on my skin and I don't even know it's there. Lots of days around here, there is so much pooping that I wish I couldn't smell, but when it happens it turns out to be no joke. I know the babies' usual pooping schedule pretty well (duh) but this morning we had an unscheduled incident that I was totally unaware of until .... ummmmmm, on second thoughts, actually, let's just move on from this topic.

Oh, and of course the babies are sick now too. I am so looking forward to travelling for Christmas.

You know? I have no idea why I'm even writing this. I guess sitting upright at the computer is a step in the right direction towards properly getting back in the human groove again. (<------- most worstly constructed sentence, ever, for which I apologise). As for getting back in the blogging groove? I'm feeling terribly uninspired, but that might be because of the whole wishing-I-could-unzip-my-skin thing. I've pretty much finished the choose your own adventure that I set myself much earlier in the year. I have a few ideas kicking around but nothing is making my fingers desperate to tap at the keyboard. So.... any requests? Any burning questions? Any suggestions?

Right, I'm off to see if I can find that zipper pull somewhere at the base of my spine.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

I haven't gone anywhere

I'm just sick. Sick. As. A. Dog. Presuming that a dog has skin that burns when you touch it, a cough like an eighty-year-old smoker, dizziness and needs to type this sideways with her head resting on the table.

The last few days have been awful. The babies have been pretty well behaved, but even the most well-behaved children still poop, and get hungry, and try to eat bits of plastic. And it turns out that even the most laid-back children only want to spend so much time in their cots 'resting'. I'm trying to celebrate small achievements, giving myself a lot of pep talks that go 'yeah, claudia! You went down the stairs without falling over!' and 'go claudia! you opened a pack of bread!' and 'well done, claudia! you turned on a dvd for the babies!' but things are rapidly going downhill around here. It's a disaster area. All of which would be JUST about bearable - these things happen, right? And I'll get over it eventually, right? except:

We have our final adoption hearing tomorrow.

At the High Court.

In Central London.

Which means that in less than 24 hours, J and I have to get two wriggly toddlers onto a train EARLY in the morning, then onto the Underground, then into court. And back again. And today I'm finding it hard to stand up. It's been days since I even wore shoes. We were really looking forward to this - it's the end of a LOT of legal stuff that I haven't really written about here, but we will really be glad to see the end of. We even had plans to drink a particularly nice bottle of wine afterwards that's been sitting around for about two and a half years, waiting for just such an auspicious occasion. (Nice, in my house, means that it cost more than £6. And actually, I'm sure this was at least £8, so we're talking beyond nice and into fancy).

But I'm definitely not looking forward to it anymore. The thought of it is bringing me out in a cold sweat - although on second thoughts maybe that was already there. What am I going to do? I'm totally at a loss, people, and asking for your advice. The hearing can't be rescheduled, so that's not an option. But I want your home remedies, however wacky, or advice for looking after babies while sick, or heck, just tell me a joke to make me feel better.

Because I am all out of ideas.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Queuing for Starfish

Before you start: Read this background post first. And be aware that what I'm writing about here is the adoption of healthy infants. I don't know enough about other types of adoption to know whether much of this applies to them too. It may. It may not. But I know it's true here. Also, I'm assuming ethical adoptions; this post is long enough.

Oh, and just in case anybody thinks that I'm sitting up on my high horse to write this post, I want to remind you all that we adopted three month old healthy twins. Hear that? Three month old. Healthy. Twins. And one of the twins was a girl.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend who we hadn't seen in a while. She's really nice, and she was telling us how lovely our babies are. I was lapping it up, of course. It was good. And then, she started talking about adoption in general. She said that one of her friends talks about adopting one day, she talks about adopting a baby girl from China. She wants to do this because she feels so sad about all those abandoned babies, all those children with no homes.

And I said 'well, if she wants to adopt from China it would be a very long wait'. And she asked why, and I said that there are fewer legally adoptable babies than parents waiting for them. And this is why there is such a long wait - essentially, there is a very long queue. And she asked me whether it was like that in Ethiopia too, and I said yes. The queue isn't nearly as long as China, but it's getting pretty long. There are a lot more waiting families than waiting babies. In fact, there aren't really adoptable babies anywhere in the world who are waiting for families. There is nowhere, at the moment, where there is a legal, accessible international adoption programme and a need for families. Nowhere.

Talking about this made me think about how I felt when we were waiting. I read blog after blog and saw little tickers marking out how long people had waited to be matched with their Ethiopian baby. Six months. Nine months. A year. More than a year. My heart clenched. I was not sure that I could bear that weight of waiting. I felt sad-sad-sad, but I also felt a teeny bit cranky. How could this be possible? Wasn't there a huge, gaping need? Weren't there millions of orphans? Why was mine taking so long to appear, if that was the case? Eventually, I came to face the fact that my imaginary orphan, the one who needed us, was a myth. He didn’t exist. Maybe he did, ten years ago, or maybe she still does, if she is thirteen years old and has severe health problems. But a healthy infant? There was no need there. These waiting times were getting longer because there was a queue- a huge queue - of people wanting to take one of these babies home. I realised what I said above - that none of the healthy infants available for adoption, anywhere on this planet, will grow up in an orphanage. I should have been happy about this. I should have been singing for joy. After all, who wants to see a baby grow up in an orphanage? I should have been happy, but I wasn't, not really. It turned out to be surprisingly hard to face the fact that there was no baby orphan waiting for us to rescue him. That was just a fantasy. There are children to adopt, but there was a queue in front of us and a queue behind. Joining that queue wasn’t a bad thing to do, but it wasn’t fulfilling James 1:27 either. I wanted a baby, but I also wanted to believe that I was doing something worthwhile. I wanted to know it was needed.

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one. I think that most of us - the adoption community, society, the media - have a 'starfish' view of adoption. This view says that there is a huge need - a global orphan crisis - and adoption is a way of responding that need, one starfish at a time. We are always quick to say that adoption isn't the answer to the crisis. We can never throw all the starfish. And it would be better if there were far, far, fewer starfish on the beach in the first place. But there's an unspoken assumption that deciding to throw a starfish will definitely help a little bit. It's this view that inspires people to write a hundred variations on this sentence:

"Adoption is not for everyone, so here's how to help orphans if you can't adopt!"

Because obviously, adoption is what will help the most. Obviously. Right? But I've come to think that when the motivation is to help, to give back, to care about orphans, then applying to adopt a healthy infant is actually more like looking for lost money underneath the streetlight.

Here's what I mean by that.

There are children in horrible, unbearable need around the world. In Haiti, in Pakistan. In Somalia. We see them on our screens. We read about them. We are haunted by them. We want to know how to help. And this is absolutely the right response - how can we go on living, unchanged, knowing that there are children who don't have enough to eat, who don't have clean water, who don't even have parents? It's unimaginable, especially if we start to think of our own children in that situation.

And so I think the logic goes something like this. I know that there are newborn babies abandoned in, say, Haiti with nobody to take them in. I can't bear it. I really, really want to help one of those babies in Haiti. Maybe I should adopt a baby. There is such enormous need, and I have so much to give. No, it's too expensive. No, it will disrupt my life too much. No, everybody will think I'm crazy. But the idea doesn't go away, and I continue to be haunted by the faces of the children who have nobody. Who am I to say no? How can I be that selfish? How can I know about the beach full of starfish and not take even one to safety? Okay, that's it. I have to do this. I will do this! I'm going to adopt! I can't actually adopt from Haiti, but there are babies to adopt in Ethiopia - there are lots of orphans there too - alright, I've made up my mind. We are going to adopt an Ethiopian orphan. Baby, here we come!

But adding your name to the Ethiopia queue doesn't actually do anything to help. There are children in the world who need families and can't get them, and that's awful. But those babies aren't in the Ethiopian adoption programme. There's a really good, transparent, seemingly ethical adoption system operating in Ethiopia that acts like a great big streetlight. This means that adoptable babies in Ethiopia are in no danger of languishing in an orphanage, waiting forever for a forever family. So going there in order to help by adopting an infant is like that man searching for his coin under a streetlight. Good idea, wrong place. Ultimately a bit pointless. All that is really achieved is that everybody behind you in the Ethiopia queue is going to wait a bit longer. Not the sentiment of which youtube adoption videos are made, perhaps. But true, I think.

I think that the problem comes in because we confuse a micro-need with a macro-need. (Look at me! I just made up some words!) On a micro level, at the level of each individual child, there is undeniably a need. A child without a family needs a family. But on a macro level, there is no need for families to come forward to adopt healthy infants because there are already so many waiting. And so coming forward as a way of helping seems - as I said - a little bit pointless.

Two statements I come across pretty frequently as reasons for adoption are "There are so many orphans and we want to give one a home" and "There is so much need, and we feel called (or some secular version of the same sentiment) to respond". But if those are your reasons for adopting an infant from Ethiopia, here's what I want to say to you: I get where you are coming from, and I honour your desire to help, but I would encourage you to reconsider your plans.

People often say - don't adopt, send money instead. And we respond by saying - you've missed the point, it's not about the money, what children need most of all is families. And this is true. But here's something - none these adoptable babies are going to miss out on families. Because of the queue. So if what you want to do is help, then it really would be more use to send the money. The money you send can help the other kids, the older kids, the kids who are about to become adults, the families, the mothers who have trouble affording food, the fathers who are out of work, the aunts and uncles who have taken in their sister's or brother's children. If you want to help, your money will do a lot more good than joining the queue.

Having just typed that, I'm a little shocked at myself. Am I really telling people not to adopt? Well, yes and no. I'm not saying don't do it, I'm just saying don't do it in order to help anybody.

I'm aware that this has different implications for those of us who are fertility challenged, and whose primary motivation is to have a family, rather than respond to an orphan crisis. It's only possible to do that ethically when there are children with individual needs for families, as I outlined earlier, but we shouldn't kid our selves that when we adopt babies we're doing anything grand, no matter what our fertility status is. I'm always a bit tempted to roll my eyes when people go out of their way to make sure others know that their adoption is not because of infertility - I sometimes suspect there is a bit of a subtext that says 'we don't need this baby, we could totally make our own. We are just seriously awesome people who love orphans'.

That makes me want to puke a bit*. But those of us starting families by adoption need to be careful too, about the way we think and talk about our children and what we're doing. If there is a saviour fantasy, a starfish fantasy, in adoption, the infertile are also pretty heavily invested in that. Sometimes I wonder if this fantasy is particularly appealing to the infertile because it seems so beautifully redemptive for us. I know that after months or years of having nothing, I wanted to believe that I was finally in a position to have something to offer. I was so needy for so long, I wanted to be rid of that role. If I can convince myself that there is a need, it takes me from supplicant to benefactor and of course that is appealing. We have been through so much before we get to this point - surely we are due something spectacular? Infertility is a deeply, deeply humiliating experience, and coming out the end of that ordeal as a humble supplicant – again - felt like more than I could bear. How much more attractive to see my situation transformed and redeemed – to see my pain eventually becoming the trigger for an action of pure good. And on a micro level, it is good. But that doesn't mean it's needed, in any kind of larger sense. I prefer the version of myself that is responding to a need rather than waiting in a queue. But I think the second is more accurate. By adopting, I get a family, but if I hadn't adopted, my children wouldn't have missed out. The worst thing that would have happened to them is that they might have ended up in Belgium. My self-concept doesn't like that fact, but I know it's true.

So if all of that is true... what then? Well, for a start, I don't think that we should be colluding with the starfish narrative, at least not when it comes to infant adoptions. We should probably get more comfortable with saying 'no, there wasn't a need. Actually, there was a really long queue. But we waited in that queue, because we really wanted a baby'. Because that's what's true, surely? And if that isn't true... well, why did you adopt?
*{edited to add: Just to be clear, because I probably wasn't clear enough above - I don't have any problem, at all, with fertile people who adopt! Frankly, your fertility is none of my business. My only puking issues are with people who NEED everyone to KNOW that they are fertile, and can't bear the thought that anyone might think they are adopting due to fertility issues and so make a big deal of it - there's a great big huge giant difference. Fertility issues are nothing to be ashamed of, and this attitude implies that they are, which really annoys me. This doesn't apply to ANY of my regular readers / commenters. Not even one of you.
Oh, and one gentle reminder to those who have adopted before ever trying for a baby - and this sort of includes me, since we came to adoption because of genetic stuff rather than textbook infertility - I'm sure you think you're fertile, and statistically you probably are, but you don't actually KNOW that you are. A lot of people who adopt due to INfertility thought they were fertile too, until they tried. But you knew that already, right? :) }

Monday 29 November 2010

A Link, Two Stories And A Question

My sister used to be a moderator on a parenting forum. While she was doing this, she told me that she had learned the First Rule of the Internet: the longer you mull over something, the longer you spend writing a post, the more it matters to you: the less anybody else is going to care. Her rule makes me think of this xkcd cartoon (hat tip to Dawn):

Right. So, I know all of that, and yet I've been thinking far too much about National Adoption Month and other things of that ilk. I have had a post half-written on this topic forever - I keep deleting bits and then writing more, THIS TIME IN ALL CAPS, BECAUSE THAT WAY PEOPLE WILL KNOW THAT I'M RIGHT. I'm tired of it, I'm tired of how upset it makes me, and I'm tired of the shrill version of myself that I see there.

If I post my hugely important, life-changing, world-shaking, how-did-anybody-live-without-reading-this thoughts, I realise that most of you are probably going to say 'duh! We already knew that!', some will totally disagree, and the rest will just think it was a lot more fun when I mostly posted pictures of my cat. And yet, I think I'm probably going to post it anyway, because I still think it's important stuff and I want it out of my system. But not today, obviously, because it's still only half-written. And not enough of it is yet in bold, the most persuasive font modification of them all. Ha ha.

Okay. I feel like there is far too much to say. In fact, I think the whole thing would be a bit easier if I split it in two, so that's what I'm doing. I'm going to just start off with some background, without any commentary. If I have to tape my typing hands to the wall, I promise I will not provide any commentary. So here you are: just background. A link, two stories, and a question.


I have no idea who Six Seeds are, and I certainly have no idea how they got my email address. I guess I probably gave it to them willingly, but I have no recollection of it. Whoever they are, they've taken to sending me emails. Here's a link they sent me this morning:

Is Adoption the Only Way To Help?

The strapline they used to entice me to click on the link was: What's the best way to help orphans without adding diapers to my grocery list?


The Starfish Thrower

As the old man walked along the beach at dawn, he noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them back into the sea. Finally catching up to the youth, he asked why he was doing this. The answer was that the starfish would die if left until the morning sun. “But the beach goes on for miles and miles and there are millions of starfish,” said the old man.”How can your effort make any difference?” The young man looked at the starfish in his hand and threw it safely into the waves. “It makes a difference to this one,” he said.

—-Loren Eisely
adapted from ‘The Starfish Thrower’ in the book ‘The Unexpected Universe’


A policeman is walking along the street at night. As he gets to the corner of two blocks, he sees a man looking for some lost money under the street light . He offers to help him look. After a few moments the policeman asked the man, "Exactly where did you lose the money?" The man replied, "Oh I lost it half way down the block." The policeman said, "Then why are you searching here?" The man said, "Because the light is so much better!"


Why does it take so long to adopt a healthy infant from Ethiopia?


Okay. There's the background. More tomorrow. Or, knowing me, maybe the next day.

Thursday 25 November 2010

Not Everything Is About Adoption

(Just a miniature post today. I've used up all my computer time sorting through photos).

Yesterday was J's first day off work to do Daddy Duty. After the babies' nap, he walked into town to get his phone unlocked. He wheeled the babies to one of those kiosks that unlock phones and sell watches of dubious origin. The guy running the stall, a South Asian man, agreed to unlock his phone and got working. After a few minutes, he gestured at the babies. He said:

"Their mother? She.....?" J had learned from my mistakes and said:
"No, she's white too." The man looked confused.
"We adopted them." The man continued to look confused.
"They are from Ethiopia." Still confused. After a pause, he finished unlocking the phone, J paid and then went on his way. He hadn't got far before he realised what the man had really been asking about the babies' mother - not where is she from, but where is she now. And he should just have said:

"At work. Their mother is at work".

Friday 19 November 2010

Last Day

Here are some reasons that it's nice to live in England:

Reason 1: It's very close to Europe, so we can go on holiday to Barcelona with only a two hour plane flight. Well, theoretically. We have only done it once, and J's work was paying (conference = holiday, right?) We had hoped to do it again two weeks ago, but a Spanish visa for an Ethiopian bebe turned out to be harder to procure than we had hoped. Boo. So instead (and here's reason 2) we just went for a two hour drive and got to go on holiday here instead:

Okay, not this actual place (this is Leeds Castle, which is nowhere near Leeds, for reasons that I would probably understand much better if I had bothered to read the guide book) but close enough to spend the day visiting. It was nice. There is nowhere like that in Australia.

Reason 3: Having returned from a holiday that was, as I said, less than two hours drive away, people asked - with totally straight faces- what the weather had been like there. I've been here nearly ten years, but continue to enjoy this part of British culture - weather is taken very seriously. It can be dissected and predicted for hours at a time. I once shared a house with a girl who liked having the smaller bedroom in that house because the window faced onto a busy street. Reason? It let her see what weight of clothing people were wearing that day in response to the weather outside, and helped her to make a more informed decision about what level of waterproofing she was going to require. I'm not making that up. If you value your life, here, you do NOT talk during the weather forecast. I like that.

Reason 4: We get royal weddings! Hard-bitten cynic I may be, but there is enough of the five year old girl left inside to squee just a teensy bit about this. She's going to be a REAL LIVE PRINCESS! Come on. That's fabulous. (And speaking of five year old girls... you've all seen Lori's latest post, haven't you? If not, go! )

Reason 5: Employers are legally required to provide 12 months of maternity / adoption leave. Really - 12 whole months. I know. And because mine couldn't actually start until the babies were in the UK, I've actually had 15 months. Fifteen months. Fifteen whole months off work. I know how lucky I am.

Really, I do.

But it turns out that even 15 months off work isn't actually infinity. I thought it was, but it's not. And mine is over. I know that if I complain (fifteen months!) you are all going to throw things at me (well, at your screen) so I'm not complaining. But I'm going to be honest and say that I feel sad, so sad about going back to work. And here's where you might want to throw things even more - I'm only going back two days a week, and J is going to be looking after the babies on those days. So my sadness has nothing to do with them. They will be fine, and more than fine. They like me, but they totally adore their father. Two days a week of Daddy's house of fun is going to be the best thing that ever happened to them. But dangit, I don't want to go!

Often, before I had children, people would say things like 'oh, motherhood is the hardest job in the world' and I would say 'uh huh!' and smile brightly, but I was always thinking 'you know what else is hard work, lady? WORK! Work is hard work!' and I still think that is true. I don't want to get into the whole "better than / more rewarding than/ less boring than / more fulfilling than / less likely to result in therapy than" discussion, because I think it's pretty fruitless. Paid work and full-time motherhood both have advantages, but choosing either means choosing a certain set of losses, too. I know that if I could pick, I would rather stay home, at least for another few years. But if I don't take my job back now, when they are legally obliged to give it to me, I'd never get another part-time job in my sector. Ever. And J wants to be with the babies, too. I don't own them. He has a long commute, which means when he's working full time he gets home from his job after they are in bed each night. This new arrangement is going to be so much better for the three of them. My head knows that.

And have I mentioned that on the days I'm working, they're going to be with their father? So really, there is no reason at all for me to be concerned about them. At all. And in a way, that kind of stinks because frankly, I want to be able to project my fears and anxiety onto something. I want to convince myself that all my heartache and paranoia is about them, rather than the prosaic truth which is that it is all about me. It's about me. It's just about me. I don't want to leave them. (Well, I do, but only to go and see a movie, or try on shoes. Not to work). I don't want to say goodbye in the mornings. And then when I get to work, I'm worried that I will have forgotten how to be a grownup. I'm worried that I will belch in the middle of a silence, forgetting that isn't appropriate office behaviour and nobody is going to giggle. I'm worried that I won't be able to solve any of my daily problems by singing or dancing. I'm worried that I'll be stupid and slow. I'm worried that I will have forgotten how to concentrate for more than ten minutes at a time. I'm worried that one day someone will ask me to produce some income / expenditure ratios and I'll say "No! And do you know why? Because I don't care".

But mostly, I'm worried that they wont' be all mine anymore. They will do things, and I won't be there. They are both right on the cusp of walking, the cusp of talking. I just assumed I would be the one who saw those firsts. And even when it's my husband who will get to see them instead, I still wish it was me.

It hasn't been an easy year, especially the last few months - September, October and November kicked my butt pretty comprehensively. But it was my year, and I'm going to miss it. And so today was the last day that they were all mine. And it reminds me that one day they are going to leave home, and get married and stuff. I know I should be philosophical about this, but I'm not. I just want to squinch them tight forever and keep them safe. I want them always to greet me in the morning by whistling. I want to always be able to tuck them in. I want them to stay snuggly and tiny and they won't. And I know that's okay. But today, it makes me feel sad.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

It's Been A Year

Our adoption was finalised on October 27, 2009. That was the day we went to court, got some stuff stamped and signed, then went out for lunch, then went to the children's home one final time, took our babies back to the hotel in a taxi and became parents. Yikes.

We have video of all of us in the taxi on the way home. We seem calm-ish, but if you know us well there's an unmistakeable hint of hysteria in our voices. Rather than two well-prepared, rational adults, we seem a bit more like a couple who met in Vegas, had a few too many shots and are now walking out of the Chapel of Love wearing matching sweatshirts saying Mr & Mrs. Our voices are saying "we're so happy!" but our eyes are asking "what have we done?"

And we were happy, of course. But it was the strangest feeling to suddenly become parents. We had met the babies and spent time with them. We already loved them, but we knew that until the court made the ruling, they weren't our kids. Now, suddenly, they were. You know that feeling when you have eaten way too much and your tummy cries out "stop! No more, no more!" That's how my heart felt that day. It felt crammed full, too full of feelings. It was like being forcefed on emotions by a very insistent host. "Here! Have some happiness! It's excellent! Try the relief! Here, have more! How about the guilt? You like guilt? Ah, take a double helping! You have room for some gratitude? And please, you must take a little confusion. I see some more room on your plate! I'll put a bit of fear of the future on there! How about some generalised, non-specific anxiety? It's extra good with my specialty: feelings of inadequacy. Hey, look! All your happiness is gone! Okay, you must have some more! No, I insist!" You get the picture.

So, hearts full to the point of nausea, we took the babies back to the hotel and unwrapped them. I don't want to get all symbolic on you and start talking about chrysalises and butterflies, because if I do that you will all need to run off and find a container to barf into. But unwrapping them felt incredibly important to us - it was our first act of parenthood. They had been so tightly and thickly swaddled while in the children's home that they were always bathed in sweat. This is pretty dangerous for babies (duh!), and seeing it had always terrifed me. Every time we visited them, they were damp, and limp and underneath all the layers it turned out they had no muscle tone at all. But now we could let them move. We didn't change their clothes, because we wanted them to have familiar smells, but we massaged their little arms and legs and watched their huge eyes widen as they learned that their bodies could s-t-r-e-t-c-h. We held them and fed them and looked and looked and looked and drank in the fact that we were all together in the same room, a family at last.

Well, that's how it felt to J and I, anyway. We knew that this wasn't 'at last' for them - adoption issues aside, they were three months old and three month old babies don't really have a concept of time.

Eventually, everybody over two feet tall got hungry. Mum and J decided to go and get pizza from the shop at the end of our road, and I stayed behind to keep up the flow of milk. They left, and suddenly I was on my own with these two tiny humans. It was amazing. I remember putting baby I down on my lap to feed him. I pulled my knees up nearly to my chin and we stared and stared at each other. He blniked at me quietly and drank and drank while L slept. M and J can't have been gone for very long, but it felt like hours. Things would get really, really hard in about six hours time, and stay that way for weeks, but that first time on my own with my children (my children!) felt magical.

We'd been advised by the paediatrician to just let them drink as much as they wanted, and so that's what we did. That afternoon I think he drank pretty much his whole bodyweight in milk. Three month old babies don't know very much, but it turns out they aren't stupid. They had been, frankly, neglected. I am not drinking adoption Kool-Aid when I say that they obviously preferred the care of two imperfect, utterly overwhelmed parents to the life they had immediately before adoption. On that first day they learned that they could have all the milk they wanted, whenever they wanted it and they adapted to life on the milky train pretty quickly. I don't mean that they loved us, but they were perfectly happy to have us around. This was actually a bit of a surprise. I had prepared myself for some kind of writhing yellfest, but it really didn't happen. I know that all kids are different, and I know that babies process loss in ways that aren't always obvious. I'm not saying they were wearing badges with 'I love my new forever family!' written on them, but I never had a moment's doubt that they were better off (yes! I said it! Better off!) with us than they were in the orphanage.

Let me tell you something about that orphanage: it was awful. You know how some people get to say "oh the care our baby got was wonderful"? We did not get to say that. I've heard that things are better there now, and I'm really glad about that. And I know that, as institutions go, it was a pretty good institution. So relatively speaking, it was fine. But as a place to leave your child, it was not a good place. The guilt I feel (and believe me, I feel plenty of guilt) has nothing to do with taking the babies away from there. In fact -if you will bear with a digression - I think the main reason why so many conversations about ethics get derailed with the old saw about families being better than orphanages is because adoptive parents see, first hand, how visibly children tend to thrive when they leave an orphanage for parental care. It makes us think about butterflies, and I'm not the kind of person who often thinks about butterflies. I compare my children's life in the afternoon of that day with how it was in the morning and I know it was better. That makes me feel, viscerally, that our adoption must have been a Good Thing. But when I'm thinking clearly, I don't really think that the 'orphanage or family' question has very much to do with the heart of international adoption ethics. The real questions must be about this: why was that baby in the orphanage in the first place? Because if you stole my children from me right now, or paid me to relinquish them, or coerced me into it, and then put them in an orphanage, anybody who adopted them in six months time would have the same post-adoption experience that I did. Life with their new family would be infinitely better than it was in that orphanage, but if the children shouldn't have been there in the first place that isn't really the point, is it? But that's a whole different post. Okay, digression over.

And so now it's been a year. I'm so thankful. But there's a part of me that feels like we don't have the right to celebrate it. Like all I should ever say as an adoptive parent is I'm sorry, I'm a bad person. I didn't post about it at the time because I felt kind of weird publicly celebrating something that was making me feel so conflicted. I feel like there's a lot of anti-adoptive-parent sentiment out there, and sometimes I find myself buying into that out of guilt. And how can I write about something when I don't even know what to call it? This post is a great explanation of why I'm not fond of the term 'gotcha day'. I would lean towards family day, but there are times when I feel like even this is more than we should claim. I'm so aware that these are our first children, but we are not their first parents. They were born into a family before they were adopted into one.

And so, 2010. My mother was here with us again, and my father too, this time - so we swapped stories about our memories of the day, and kissed the babies a lot, and thanked God for all his mercies to us. We ate pizza and milk that day a year ago, and so this year we marked it by doing the same thing - milk for the babies and pizza for the adults. Next year I'm hoping the babies will actually eat some pizza too and not just fling it on the floor. So maybe we should just call it pizza day. And maybe we will. If we were being scrupulously honest about 2009, we would call it "pizza and milk, most of which got vomited up later" day, but that's not really something we're hoping will become an annual event.

But the more I think about it, the more happy I am to confidently claim Family Day too. Not just as a technicality, but as a celebration. Forming our family was difficult, ethically complicated and the result of tragedy. There's no disputing that my babies have four real parents. But J and I are definitely two of them. We are definitely a family. Our babies have to face some very sad anniversaries in the years to come, but October 27 is not one of them. So Happy Belated Family Day, babies. We're so glad we're yours.

Thursday 4 November 2010

I'm On Holiday

...and it's taken me until today to switch on the laptop, so ten points to me, yes?

Since I'm not posting anything while I'm away (because clearly this post is an optical illusion) I wanted to take this opportunity to point you all to my absolute favourite place on the web for intelligent, thoughtful discussions about race. It's a blog called Irene's Daughters and if you even slightly interested in having a transracial family and you aren't reading it yet, you are absolutely missing out. It's got thoughtful writing, it's got four women from four different ethnic backgrounds (including a transracially adopted adult) doing the aforementioned thoughtful writing, it's got a great comments section, it's got a particularly wonderful series on 'derailment', and my favourite thing of all is that it is always constructive and never mean. If you're white, it will really help you to think about being white, but it will not make you hate yourself for being white. Big difference. I was prompted to finally post a link when I read this very thought-provoking post earlier today. Don't forget to read the comments.

So go! Read! Enjoy. You can thank me later.

Right, now I'm going to get back to my holiday...

Monday 25 October 2010

A Virus, A Win and Several Fails

The babies and I have been playing pass the parcel with a whole range of viruses for about 8 weeks, now. It's been pretty unpleasant. Last week was my turn again. I got this virus (and yes, I totally lucked out and got the ulcers and the tonsil blisters) which means that I spent most of the week popping codeine and covering my tongue in what is basically krazy glue, while ranting at my immune system for not rejecting what is supposed to be a childhood illness.

Thank you, virus, for ruining my week. The virus is why it has taken me so long to count up the entries (and the happiness tips), go to, press a button and come up with the winner for the happiness giveaway. But now I've done it and can tell you that it's Imgnyc, aka Leigh! Email me your address, Leigh, and your book will swiftly make its way to you on the wings of the morning. And the rest of you all win too, because you all get to read this luminously beautiful post that she wrote a few weeks ago. I've been wanting to link to this for ages, but never quite had the right context. Well, now I do, because she won my giveaway. Huzzah!

Okay. So. Another thing I'm going to blame the virus for: I've come to think that I possibly should have dialled down the pain meds before pressing 'publish' on my last post. I've always felt pretty strongly about that issue, and I've been meaning (for more than a year) to write something about it. I was hoping that it might be helpful for people who haven't yet adopted to have a point of view to consider when thinking about how to deal with the issue when it comes up. What I really, really did NOT want to do was pass judgement on anybody who has made a different decision from the one that we made.

Another thing I really, really didn't want to do was to lay guilt on anybody. I really hadn't considered that I might hurt people who have talked (to parents, friend, whoever) and now wish that they hadn't. I'm really sorry for this - it wasn't my intention.

A few people asked for advice about what to do in this sort of situation. All I can think of is this: we all mess up. Parents mess up. Adoptive parents probably mess up more than average, not because we are worse people but because there is more stuff to mess up. I don't know what your personal messing-up areas are, but I know that I fail daily. I have ordinary motherfails: I lose my temper. I can be lazy. And while I may not face privacyfails yet, I have what might be pretty serious adoptomotherfails too, things I feel too raw or embarrassed to write about here. And I could try justifying them, but that's not the point - the point is that I have failed, and continue to fail. These things may be things that my children grow up to grieve far more than they would have if I had nailed their birth history to our front door. And it may be that there will still other things that I never considered that do it instead. What can I do about this? I can't turn the clock back.

I read a parenting blog ages ago (I can't remember which one, or I'd link) that was talking about goals for raising children. The author was writing from a Christian perspective, and she said: our aim as parents isn't to stop our children from sinning, but to teach them how to deal with their sin. (And a pretty basic definition of sin is failure to do what we should do, be what we should be). And as I've been thinking about my own failures this week, and pondering questions about privacyfails, I've been thinking a lot about this. We're never going to raise perfect children, and that's probably just as well because we are never going to be perfect parents, either. I'm not going to do a perfect job of being my children's mother. Not in the everyday ordinariness of parenting, and not the specific adoption parenting bits either. Please believe that I know I do not have all the answers. Far from it.

This is complicated, because while parenting failures are not unimportant, they are inevitable, and it's in facing our own human imperfections that we can help our kids to face theirs. A way I can really help my children deal with their own imperfection is to let them see me deal with mine. Firstly (and I'm going to keep this as brief as possible) I need to admit them - often out loud, to the person we've wronged. I think this applies both to small things like being unreasonably cranky (I'm embarrassed by how often I need to apologise about this to my children) or large things like talking out of turn. Secondly, our apologies mean nothing if we don't strive to correct ourselves. I'm working on getting less cranky. If you've been more talkative than you should have, you can not do that anymore. Thirdly, we can seek to set right any wrongs we have done. A few people asked about what to do when words have already been spoken that they now wish unspoken. All I can suggest is to speak to the people you've talked to, explain why you wish you hadn't and ask them to keep quiet about what they know. As several people have pointed out (on this blog and others) people do generally mean well. Trade on that. Fourthly, if you're a Christian, parenting drives you again and again and again to remember what it means to be forgiven because boy oh boy do I need forgiveness day by day for all the ways that I fail.

Adoptomotherfails. Crankyfails. Privacyfails. We need to face them, because they are a daily reality. Turns out this parenting lark is a whole new journey of humility. I was reading The Gospel Centred Family yesterday and there was a prayer in there that sums up exactly how I feel about parenting:

"Dear God, please have mercy on my children, because with a parent like me, they are sure going to need it".

All I can say is: Amen.

Thursday 21 October 2010

The One With All The Privacy

Before we met the babies, before we knew anything about them, I spoke to a group of friends who had adopted the previous year. I asked them if there was anything they would have done differently in their adoptions, if they were doing it all again. One told me: "I wouldn't have been so quick to tell people everything we knew about our baby's background". The other one agreed, saying "In our case, I wouldn't have been so quick to tell people that we didn't know anything, because it turns out that is a pretty big thing to tell, too".

We took this to heart, and J and I agreed, long before we got a referral, that we would keep all of our child's information private. We're glad we made this decision. Our reasoning is simple: it's not our story to tell. If the babies want to share, later, they can do that. If we do it now, and they wish we hadn't, we can never un-tell. Information only goes in one direction.

And so we brought the babies home, determined to stick to this.

"So why were they adopted? Did their real parents not want them?" a friend asks me casually. I draw in breath. Does he have any idea what he is asking?

I think about my babies' story, and I suspect not. Their story is not unusual for an international adoption. But stories that end in adoption are never happy stories, are they? I wish I could tell my children a story about their beginnings that wasn't going to cause them pain. But any story that ends with 'and then we took you home on an aeroplane' is going to start with something pretty difficult. Our children are too young to understand any of this yet, but one day, one night, they probably will lie awake wondering "Did my real parents not want me?" I feel sick at the thought, and I feel angry that my friend has been so casual.

I try to imagine anything in this man's life that might be a similar source of pain. I know he had a difficult breakup, a few years ago. He's never talked about it. Maybe I should ask him about that. Maybe I should ask him for details about why his girlfriend left. Was it because he had gained weight? Was it the back hair? Did she find him boring? Maybe I should think of every painful possibility, everything that keeps him awake at night, and use them to scrape my fingernails down the blackboard of his mind. Scritch. Scratch. And see whether he thinks that's an appropriate topic for small talk. But even that wouldn't really be equivalent, would it? Because he could tell me to shut up, or refuse to answer. No, I should strap him in a pram, gag him, and then ask his mother about it. And then see how he feels when she tells me everything she knows.

Okay, Claudia, calm down, I tell myself. You know he meant no harm with his question. And honestly, it seems that very few people do. It would be easier to shut these conversation down if the person asking was being rude, but most aren't. They might be asking about a painful thing, but their intent is not to cause any pain. Some people want to know about the babies' story because adoption is an interesting social experiment, and okay, they are a tiny bit nosy. Some people want to know because we are stuck making small talk and they have run out of things to say. Some people want to know because we are in the queue in the supermarket and they are just passing the time. Lots of people want to know about the babies' story because they genuinely care. Whatever the reasons, it does feel that pretty much everybody wants to know.

This means that sticking to our resolution not to talk needs committment because it is hard. It's incredibly difficult to refuse to answer a straight question. It's very socially awkward, because it implies the question was rude and Miss Manners will tell you that letting another person know they have been rude is, well, rude. It sounds trivial, but try it - it's not easy. And this social difficulty of refusing to answer is one of the big reasons we decided not to tell anybody at all the whole story, not even the grandparents.

Okay, maybe we had a specific reason for not telling the grandparents. When we started our adoption process, we hardly told anybody. We did tell some family members, making it clear that they weren't to tell anyone else. And yet, one of them did. And I've forgiven her*, but I've learned something too - other people don't care about our personal information as much as we do. Every degree of separation tends to make people fractionally less determined to keep what's private, private**. So I would remind prospective adoptive parents that before you decide to tell the proud grandparents-to-be everything in your child's referral packet, know this: your parents' friends will ask them, all interested and concerned, about what happened to that precious baby before it was lucky enough to get adopted by you. They will not mean any harm by this, but they will do it. And unless your mother has nerves of steel, it's unlikely she will be able to find a way to deflect the question because, well, it seems so rude. And then your mother's friends Raymond and Darlene will know, and maybe your cousin Jeanette, and then Jeanette's children. And after a few of these conversations, the person at the end of the chain has no committment at all to your children's privacy and it's just an interesting story to talk to their hairdresser about. And maybe your children won't mind about that, but maybe they will. I much prefer knowing that my parents, and J's, are saying "well, I just don't know what happened, Raymond and Darlene, because my freakish child refuses to tell me". I'd much rather be my parent's freakish child in this situation than my children's unthinking parent.

I think the point I'm making here is that I find it very difficult to politely, cheerfully put down a conversational roadblock when people start asking these questions, even though I'm extremely motivated to do it. If you want any privacy at all, I would advise thinking twice before expecting family to make this same committment.

And then there's yet another layer. When I think about the schools that our children might go to, I realise that they will probably be in the same year group as the children of a few of our friends. This concentrates my mind somewhat. As I watch people interact with their growing children, I realise that most people will tell their kids pretty much anything they ask. So I know that if we tell our friends what happened to our children, why they needed new parents, then their children will know as soon as they are old enough to ask the questions. I think it's a very rare person who can say "well, honey, that's an interesting question but I think that might be L and I's private information. We don't really need to know, do we?" I love my friends, but I don't think many of them are quite that rare.

And you know what? I don't want my children's friends, or even their cousins, knowing all there is to know about them. When I think about my children in a school playground, I don't want the other children to know things about them that would hurt. I feel like the bare fact of being adopted is enough to contend with. And being transracially adopted is more than enough to contend with. Personal details, the whole history, the what and when and why, the hard and scary stuff, that seems like too much.

I probably haven't made it clear enough that we don't want the babies to be ashamed of their story, or to think that it is a secret. Privacy and secrecy are two very different things, and it's the first one that I'm aiming for. I want them to be able to talk about these things to people that they trust, but I want them to be the ones who make the decisions about who deserves that trust. I don't want this to be a cloud that hangs over us; I don't want to be always hovering over them saying 'No! Don't say that! You might wish you had kept that private!' But neither do I want to regret that it was me who spilled all the beans when they are dealing with the fallout.

Because here's the thing: I don't get to decide how the babies are going to deal with their losses, and their story, in the future. I hope I can support them as they do deal with everything, but it's not up to me to decide that they aren't going to find some bits of their story hugely challenging. Origins can be an enormously important part of self-concept, and I can only imagine how hard it might be for them to work through all of this as they grow up. As if puberty isn't enough, kids, have fun dealing with this too! No, seriously, you're welcome. If it was me, I think I can guarantee I'd have gone crazy. But here's the other thing: these children aren't actually genetically related to me. There's a very good possibility that they won't inherit my tendency to overthink everything, and who knows, they might not inherit my tendency towards obsessive privacy either. My decision to keep their story private is definitely coloured by the fact that it is what I would have wanted done for me, if I was in their shoes. But they may be happy to share their story with everyone. Hey, they may just be happy**.

They may be. They may never see privacy about this as an issue. But I don't get to decide this in advance. I don't get to decide that they aren't going to want to keep their story to themselves, or at least restrict it to their close friends. And so I feel that it's just not my place to tell it. That's their decision to make. In the meantime, I'm keeping my trap shut.

And yet people continue to ask. I think that lack of respect for privacy about the babies' history stems from a lack of understanding about the losses involved in adoption. I think - okay, I hope- that if people understood what they were really asking about, they wouldn't ask. If they realised that they were asking for access to information that's actually very personal, they would be much less likely to do it. "This isn't really a suitable topic for chit-chat!" I want to say, but I never do. Because I know that honestly, I'm no different. I'm sure that I ask inappropriate questions about other people's lives, and they are endlessly patient with me. If it was my friends adopting, not me, I'm sure I'd want to know what happened, why these babies, where are their real parents?

So I'm facing my friend, and I reply to his question by saying what we always say. Big smile first, then: "I hope this doesn't sound rude, but we've decided not to talk about the babies' story to anybody else until they are old enough for us to talk to them about it first". And he looks at me a bit funny, but he shrugs his shoulders and says "Fair enough."

And really, I think it is.

*Honestly, I have.
**Ruth left a comment a few posts ago with her own harrowing grandparent tale, which kind of made my hair stand on end. So this one is definitely not just me!
***And speaking of happiness - you've got about 12 hours left to enter the giveaway!

To reward you for making your way through all of that, here is a gratuitously cute twin pic.

Friday 15 October 2010


A few months ago, I was in Anthropologie. I picked up a book that looked interesting, opened it in the middle and started to read. The author was talking about happiness, and the chapter I had opened to was about money and happiness. I only read a few pages, but I remember the author talking about how people have different approaches to purchasing - that they tend to be either satisficers or maximizers - Satisficers have criteria they are seeking to meet with their purchases (eg: I need a red shirt, not too low cut, flattering) and once they find something that meets their criteria they buy it. Maximisers, on the other hand, think I am looking for the ideal red shirt and will leave no stone unturned until they find it. The interesting thing about this phenomenon is that satisficers tend to be happier with their purchases, because the maximiser may have bought something nicer, cheaper, whatever than the satisficer but they are still thinking what if there was something better out there and I missed it?

"Huh!" I thought. "Interesting". And I kept reading, and there were quite a few other things that made me go "Huh!" again. And then I put the book down, and continued my quest for the perfect red shirt.

I found myself thinking about this book quite a few times over the next few weeks. I told my mum about it - my parents are trying to build a house and can't quite make up their minds about what it is that they need. I even used the concept I'd read to bring my 6 month sofa search to an abrupt end by saying to J: "Hey! This perfectly adequate sofa is hugely reduced! Let's just buy it!" and we did, and we're really happy with it. Without this book, I suspect I would still be googling "UK sofa vintage leather" in my spare time and frankly I'm glad I'm not.

Now, I wanted to read the rest of the book. Of course, I had no idea at all what the book was called, or who wrote it. And I wasn't motivated enough to do anything useful like call the store (which is in London), ask them to open up all their books to the middle, find which one talks about purchasing styles and then post it to me. So I kind of forgot about it.

Then, on Saturday, I was in London again, vaguely cruising for the perfect handbag. I found myself in Anthropologie again and there it was! The book!

It's by Gretchen Rubin, and it's called The Happiness Project*.

I forgot all about my handbag quest, went to the till and gleefully purchased it.

Then I got it out to read and thought what have I done? She's got this lovely, perfect life and she wants me to follow along on her quest to be more happy? Give me a break! and then I saw that someone had compared it to Eat, Pray, Love on the back cover and my heart sank even further because while I've never actually read that book, I've read this and enough similar opinions to make me pretty sure I would hate it. So I'm thinking Okay, it's got some good stuff about shopping but what have I done?

And then I started to actually read it, and it was wonderful. It's not a book about depression or adversity. She is very open about the fact that she has a great life, and talks a lot about happiness as a duty. My life is great, she is saying, I ought to be happy. I have no excuse not to be. And so she spends a year alters her own attitudes and actions. The most surprising thing about this book is that she is largely focusing on altering herself, not her circumstances. She writes about becoming happier in her marriage not by finding someone else but with the resolutions: Quit nagging, don't expect praise or appreciation, fight right, no dumping and give proofs of love. It's not about trying to change him, but changing herself. Each month focuses on a different area of life. I liked that she is so honest about how difficult this was. If she had said, at the end of the month 'and then everything was PERFECT' I would have been ill inclined to keep reading. But it's not that simple. She acknowledges all the complexities, and keeps on going.

When I began to love the book, I did find myself wondering, at times, how well this totally secular quest for happiness fits into my Christian worldview. Should I be loving this book as much as I am? She's wanting to be happy, but largely ignoring God. (I'm a Presbyterian at heart. We struggle with these things). And it's true that I did find the chapter on 'Contemplate The Heavens' the least satisfying. She learns a lot from reading about a saint, but has made what must be a very deliberate decision to totally leave out any discussion of God himself. Commercially, this was probably a very good choice, but I found myself thinking 'there is so much more here!' But while I was reading about her efforts to be happier - which are largely efforts in unselfishness - I found myself thinking that a lot of what she is striving for is what the bible describes as the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, patience, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. This book is full of practical wisom on encouraging these characteristics - that has to be a good thing. And Christians, we should be happiest of all, and so often we are not. Sometimes I say I'm looking for 'contentment' in life, when really what I mean is that I'm trying to spiritualise my grumbling. As a Christian, I felt hugely convicted by this very secular book - she is absolutely right. Happiness is a duty. Not selfishness, but happiness. When I confuse the two, I'm getting something very wrong.

I found this book compelling because so many of her struggles are my struggles. A sharp tongue. Cynicism. Well, when I say struggles, often I'm not struggling at all, I'm just coasting along and not dealing with them.

A quote she comes back to several times is: "It is easy to be heavy, difficult to be light". I keep finding myself thinking about this. I know how easy I find it to become negative about things. For me, this is the lazy option. It really is difficult to be light. And sometimes, recognising something as difficult is a good start in moving towards it. It's easy to think 'perhaps I'm not that way because I'm just not made that way'. But no - for me, I'm not that way because too often I'm lazy about it. I find it easy to think about what upsets me, what annoys me. I've always had trouble with Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." I'm rarely thinking about such things. I'm usually criticising them in my head, instead.

This might make it sound like the book is very po-faced and worthy - it doesn't feel like that at all. It's about happiness, and it's a very happy book. One of the concrete ways she becomes happier is by targeting her time more effectively. This reminded me of the rule that J and I have for ordering in restaurants -we always look at the menu, look at each other and then say "order what you DO want, not what you think you SHOULD want". Sometimes this means I end up having a burger, even though it's a fish restaurant, but you know what? It really works. She's basically applying this principle to time - do what you DO want in your free time, not what you think you SHOULD want. Why didn't I think of focusing like that? Well, I will from now on.

I mentioned above that I felt like I was reading about my own personality struggles. Well, my most surprising moment of self-recognition was when she admitted to eating brown sugar straight out of the jar. I thought I was the only person who did that! (Yeah, don't accept cake at my house). I found myself convinced that she must be my soul sister, my long lost BFF. And I guess that is the joy of her writing - I suspect she will make you feel like that too, even if you don't have the same sugar issues that I have. She says often that what she is learning to stop being someone else, but instead to 'be Gretchen'. At the end of this book, after spending a year watching her learn about happiness, I wanted to be Gretchen. But not like a stalker, I hasten to add.

It's hard to review this book properly, because I think my babies have just woken up and there is still so much that I want to rave about. I particularly liked her secrets of adulthood - too long to type them all out here, but they're along the same lines as my restaurant rule above. Some of my favourites were bring a sweater, what's fun for other people might not be fun for you, over the counter medicinces can be very effective and people actually prefer that you buy wedding gifts off their registry. Ah, so true.

Have you realised that I think you should all read this? Since I can't forcibly march you all to the shop to buy a copy, I'm going to do the next best thing. I've never done this before, but it's my 200th post and I'm feeling a bit giddy so I'm having a giveaway. I'm going to give away a copy of this book to one of you, yes you. I'll choose a winner using a random number generator. You can live wherever you like - I don't think anybody reads this in the UK so if I closed it to international readers I would be buying a second copy for myself. I'll order the book from Amazon in your country (or post it if you don't have Amazon) so it doesn't matter. Just leave me a comment with your name - and you get an extra entry if you also leave me your favourite happiness tip, or one of your own secrets of adulthood.

You've got a week - comments close next Friday at 12pm GMT.

By the way, I've just done one of her resolutions, from November - give positive reviews. And do you know what? I do feel happier.

*Having just found this on Amazon to link, I've seen that it was a New York Times #1 bestseller. I guess that means everyone else has already read it and I'm terribly behind. I'm trying not to think negative thoughts about that.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Home Truths

Babies are such a joy. So many things in life are more fun with children in the house.

It turns out that renovations are not one of these things.

This last week, J has had our floor up. He's replacing the old laminate with oak flooring. It's going to look great. But in the meantime, I am going CRAZY. Not just a little bit crazy, but C-R-A-Z-Y. We can't use downstairs in the house at all. The living room and dining room have big holes in the floor, and the kitchen has a piano in it. Being confined upstairs is not fun. Trying to nap with a circular saw buzzing is not fun either, apparently, judging by the howling. And it's raining, and the babies are still crawling, so outside is a no-go. Being in the pram is an option, but the babies are at that go-go-go stage and they want to be DOING things, not stuck in a wheely thing. They don't ask for much, they just want some space to crawl, and right now they can't have it.

Oh, also they are teething again.

Have I mentioned I'm going crazy?

I keep finding myself thinking that this would all be so much easier if I didn't have to look after two little people. I get so stuck in accidentally thinking that the babies are the endpoint of our adoption story, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the happy ending. But on days like this my story feels neither happy nor ended and then I get all confused. How can I feel so fed up with my pot of gold? I must be a bad person. But I knew motherhood would be hard. Maybe I'm not a bad person after all. It's just that I got so sick of hearing people complaining about their children, before I had any. It used to make me cry. But then today I cried because baby I wouldn't settle and then smeared fish all over the floor. So does this mean that I think my complaining friends' attitudes were okay, now? No, I don't. I don't think it's okay to act as if children are a burden, a curse, a liability. If I didn't think they were a privilege, I would never have worked so hard to become a parent. But if I'm so convinced they are such a privilege, why am I so utterly frustrated with them so much of the time? Why do I get so resentful when they seem like such a swirling vortex of need? I just cannot deal with the cognitive dissonance.

I beat myself up about this all the time.

Am I the only one?

I'm really curious about this. Other adoptive parents, or people who became parents after a long and difficult journey - how do you deal with it? Or is it not an issue for you?