[Girls Only Please] My Personal Lunapads Story

LunapadsWhy I do I use reusable cloth menstrual pads, you may ask? Well, let me tell you!

It started when my fertility doctor suggested that, because of my endometriosis, I stop wearing tampons. (Keep in mind that this was just one doctor’s opinion.) He believed that tampons could exacerbate the symptoms of endometriosis for several reasons. First, we don’t know what causes endometriosis, and adding the chemicals from tampons might not be a good idea. Tampons have some pretty controversial (i.e., toxic) chemicals in them. Second, endometriosis comes with painful cramps, so using my muscles down there to hold in a tampon might worsen the cramps. I had never thought about it before.

Ok, I thought, what do I do now? I had used tampons since I was about 14. Pads were gross and they were for babies. I reluctantly re-taught myself how to use pads. I hated them. It was gross, stinky, uncomfortable, and sweaty. Somehow, I came across the Lunapads site. I had never heard of reusable pads. For the cost of several months’ worth of disposable pads, I got enough reusable pads to last indefinitely.

They were super cute! I loved them. Suddenly, my period seemed a little more fun and a little less gross. They were so cozy. It was a little weird getting used to the whole thing, but I felt weirdly happy about it all. They were a little bulkier, but I got used to it. Now, when I have to wear a disposable pad or a tampon for some reason, I am pretty grouchy.

The Lunapads come in different sizes, shapes, absorbencies, patterns, and colors. Later, after I really got into this way of doing things, I tried the Lunapanties, which are padded underwear that can hold reusable pad inserts. Now I think all underwear should be slightly padded. Come on, let’s be honest, women are messy! The Lunapads company also sell reusable Diva Cups, which are an alternative to tampons.

When my first son arrived (via adoption: no postpartum bleeding from him), I continued to use the Lunapads. I switched to cloth diapers for my son for a little while, and, I must say, reusable pads are WAY easier than cloth diapers. And cloth diapers aren’t too bad, really, but they do have toxic poop on them. At least your Lunapads won’t have that fate. If you use cloth diapers on your child, why on earth wouldn’t you consider cloth pads for yourself?

When my twins arrived a couple of years later (via my body), I had ten weeks of postpartum bleeding. Ten weeks! While these soft flannel pads are much kinder to a postpartum body than disposable pads, I have to admit that particular time in my life was too upside-down for laundry. Unfortunately, I mostly fell off the reusable wagon for a while. Now that things have calmed down a little, I am now (happily) back in the reusable pad saddle.

And my health? I truly believe that quitting tampons has been good for my health. I am not a doctor, and this is *not* medical advice for you, but in my personal down-there life, reusable pads have helped me. I find that my symptoms of endometriosis are more manageable with Lunapads. Just as the doctor predicted, my cramps are somewhat lighter without the tampons. Additionally, I find that I am getting fewer urinary tract infections since I ditched all disposables. It might be a coincidence, but I don’t think so!

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I have never used my blog to sell promote something before, but I have been so excited about these things for so long and never knew how to talk to people about them. I finally have my chance. If you want to try them, please use the discount code below, which is linked to ME, and I will get a little kickback from the company for referring you. Win-win. If you are unsure if you want to try them, and you’re local to me, I have UNUSED, NEW samples of the products that I can show you.

What do you think? Would you ever consider reusable pads? Why or why not? I’m curious! I am happy to answer any questions you have!

Enter this code at checkout for 5% off: 515013

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Fine Print:

-I am not a salesperson. I do not sell any products, and I am not trying to get anyone else to sell any products. However, I am an official “Lunapads Ambassador”, which means that I promote their products. I do receive a straight percentage of each purchase I refer.

-My views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Lunapads company.

-I am not a doctor and I do not offer medical advice for anyone else’s body other than my own.

If you wouldn’t say it about a boob job . . . (a guide for adoption questions)

Genius. Here is what not to say about adoption, using a boob job as a guide.

And, yes, I have been asked most of these questions about my firstborn, who arrived in our family via adoption as an infant. Many of the questions have tapered off now that he is old enough to hold my hand and call me “Momma” in public, but I am preparing for the next round when he starts school. Would it be appropriate for me to just give him a tablet with this video on it and he can just show it to curious onlookers when needed?

 

Reblogged from Rage Against the Minivan

Video credit Jesse Butterworth

Demanded-Out: My Messy Beautiful Submission

Touched-out? No. Demanded-out.

My brain is touched-out. Your body has probably felt touched-out, but what about your brain? That little baby’s body, attached to your body for nine months of pregnancy and a year of infancy, can leave your body feeling a tad smooshed. But, now that my babies aren’t babies, I need a new phrase to describe how my brain feels touched-out from all these motherhood demands. I need a phrase to describe how my brain feels “demanded-out”.

My brain seems to have a limit on the amount of tantrums, demands, requests, tears, pleas, hand signals, cries, speeches, and barks it can accept. After a certain point, I feel like my nerves become raw. After that point, I think my eyes go blank and I just try to survive until bedtime. My son knows that face, no matter how much I think I’m hiding it. I’m sure every mom goes through these same exact things in the same exact order.

Mr. Okayest doesn’t understand why I can’t just ignore the demands like he can. He really is amazing. He doesn’t get sweaty, like I do, when all three cry at the same time. He doesn’t get shrill, like I do, when everyone needs something at the same time. Just ignore them, he says.

He is so smart and so supportive and so observant, but I don’t think he will ever empathize with this mom feeling. Sympathize – yes. Empathize – maybe not. I try to explain to Mr. Okayest that, as a mother, I have no choice but to respond. I don’t necessarily blame hormones, because I felt this same way when we adopted our oldest. However, there is something hard-wired into our mom-brains that makes us have to respond.

I have to respond to their cries, either to shush them or to hug them. I have to respond to their sign-language requests for more milk, whether I get up right now or in a minute or never. I have to respond to the barking dog, whether I put her in her crate or put her shock collar on. I have to respond to the phone ringing, either to look at the caller ID or to decide not to answer it, even if I am feeding a baby. I have to respond to their cries in the night, even if I am a firm believer in “crying it out” (which I am), and even if “respond” simply means I wake up with them and lie there in the dark until they fall asleep again.

There is no ignoring of anything, even if my choice is not to meet that request. Every demand is catalogued in my brain. Every single cry, plea, bargain, and questionable poop noise: it’s all getting catalogued in my brain and silently prioritized. With four children under four in our house (adoption + my niece + IVF twins), every single moment is a list of needs from an army of small people. In my brain. All the time.

I don’t know how to stop it. My senses got messed up during my horrific twin pregnancy and the whole almost-dying-during-childbirth thing. I think most new moms feel this way: everything was too bright, too loud, too rough, too shrill, too painful. But my senses didn’t seem to right themselves after recovery was over. I entered a fight-or-flight feeling that went on for a year. My adrenaline never stopped pumping. Even after my twins started sleeping through the night at seven months, I couldn’t relex. Even though my job was done at 7:30 PM, and I knew they would sleep for twelve hours straight, sometimes I couldn’t stop pacing the house until my husband literally took my hand and pulled me down.

Finally, around the twins’ first birthday, my own psychology degree hanging on the wall convinced me to talk to the doctor about that feeling. I work on that feeling every day. Sometimes I have to call my husband at work to give me the “pep talk”, but I have come a long way.

No matter how far I come, though, I don’t think I will ever be able to relax all the way. Moms have to prioritize every messy moment of every messy day. I am so demanded-out. Some nights I become zombie-mommy as I go glassy-eyed at the last of the day’s cries/pleas/tantrums/barks. But I’m alive, I’m here, I’m okayest, and I’m not going to ignore this messy beautiful life.

Even though maybe sometimes I wish I could.

 

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project from the Momastery blog. To learn more, CLICK HERE. To learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir “Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life”, CLICK HERE.

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My Infertility Through Scripture

alone togetherDuring my desperate phase: “Give me children, or else I die!”Genesis 30:1

Rachel had beauty and the love of her husband Jacob, but no children. Her sister, Leah, who was married to the same man, didn’t have the love of her husband, wasn’t blessed with beauty, but had seven of his children. This particular scripture, “Give me children, or else I die!”,  is Rachel beseeching her husband. The next scripture tells his response: “And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?” (Probably like a modern-day husband would respond if you screamed something so dramatic at him.) Like Rachel, I was desperate. I felt like screaming, “Give me children, or else I die!” to my husband and to God. I probably did.

adoption of RUpon adopting our firstborn: For this child I prayed.Samuel 1:27

I didn’t pray for just any child. I feel like I prayed for him. His soul was meant to be here, and it didn’t matter in what body he arrived. He is our firstborn son.

This particular scripture is not about adoption,  but it was how I felt about my firstborn son. This scripture is about Hannah. The Lord loved her but had “shut up her womb”. When she “wept sore” about her infertility, her husband said, “Am I not better to thee than ten sons?” (I must confess, Mr. Okayest is kinda even better than ten sons. )

twin pregnancy bellyFinally pregnant: “And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.”Genesis 30:22

Eventually, Rachel conceived. Eventually, after much trial and tribulation, I did too, with the help of modern medicine (which I believe God wants us to use and has given to us as a blessing).

 

 

feeding timeAt naptime with three boys on my lap: “I will…open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”Malachi 3:10

Even though this scripture is technically about tithing, this still expresses how I feel each naptime, when I settle three big baby boys on my lap for their milk. Combined, they weigh almost as much as I do. They take up all the space on my chair. My lap literally cannot hold them all. I get weepy and emotional each day during this rare quiet five minutes. It’s the only time of day I get to cuddle them all. I think of this scripture each day during this time, because there is “not room enough to receive” them all. My arms are full. My lap is full. The windows of heaven opened, and, I must say, we worked really really hard to open them.

I understand that not everyone will get the blessings for which they pray, or even the blessings that they deserve. I don’t know why my particular trials happened in this order, other than it may have been the only way our oldest son could make it into this family. Perhaps I had to go through infertility to bend enough to consider adoption. I have been taught that God always answers our prayers, but not necessarily with an affirmative. Sometimes the answers are “no”, and sometimes the answers are just “not yet”. For many years, my answers were “no” and “not yet.” Then, three times, my answers were “yes.”

I have also been taught that if we do not receive the blessings we ask for and deserve in this life, that we will receive them in the next life.

The trial that was infertility is over for me. If it is still happening to you, I hope you will gain strength from my story. I have other trials now – and here’s to hoping you will, too!

Setting the Record Straight

Sometimes people misunderstand my snarky tone. I hope I can write well enough that everyone understands my intentions. My intentions are to convey the absurd in my daily life. I want to be truthful. The truth is:

1) I love my kids. This is indisputable. Everyone loves his or her kids. Every parent wants to do his or her best for  the children. If I wrote a blog about that, it would be really boring.

2) What I do is really hard: There are only 2 people on the whole planet, besides myself, who have done this job alone all day (my husband and a friend from church). Usually it takes 2-3 grandparents to replace me for a day. Having three children under three, or three children in diapers, does not occur often in nature. Number 2 does NOT NEGATE number 1.

3) What I do is really ridiculous: My daily life is absurd. It’s weird. It’s crazy. Normal people do not live this way. If I didn’t find humor in what is happening here, I would crack. I might literally crack in half from being tense. Number 3 does NOT NEGATE number 1.

My blog is trying to tell the truth about numbers 2 and 3. I have mothers all over the world messaging me about how grateful they are that I am telling the truth. I have infertile women all over the world telling me that they are sobbing while reading my story because someone finally understands them. I have friends telling me they are crying with laughter or crying with tears at something funny or sad that I wrote. How are we supposed to help others if we don’t tell the truth? How can we relate to others if we don’t show our weaknesses?

If you have read my “about me” page, you know all this already. I have overcome trials as we struggled to build our family- some of which include infertility, miscarriage, adoption, IVF, carrying twins, and almost dying. I want to tell my children what it was really like to “acquire” them.  It was hard, sad, funny, ridiculous, embarrassing, and wonderful. I also want to record what these early days were like for us. Soon enough, they will be in school, and none of us will really remember these painfully beautiful and painfully hard days. I have a bad memory, and I am seriously sleep-deprived –  both of which indicate that I will not remember the majority of what is happening here.

A friend of mine has a sign on her wall that says, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

This blog is written for my children. A question I answered in my “What Happens When You Start Blogging” post was, “Why are you writing in a public forum if the information is really for your children?” The answer is that I have discovered that I am incapable of keeping a private journal for them – I just don’t make the time. However, when I am blogging, I know I have followers who are waiting for my new posts. I currently have just shy of 1500 followers. People tell me that they eagerly anticipate the email notification that I have posted something new. That knowledge is excellent motivation to keep writing. So, yes, this information is recorded for my children, but you readers are the motivation. And I thank you for that!

With all that cemented, let me set the record straight by doing something I never do: brag about my children. Here are some amazing things about them… just so you know they are loved. wink wink.

My oldest son (R, age 4):

  • Has a very long attention span
  • is obedient, despite tantrums
  • has excellent motor skills, both fine and gross
  • can recite some scripture stories and knows how to pray
  • can talk about Jesus and Heavenly Father
  • is very thoughtful
  • has favorite foods that include salmon, blueberries, falafel, quinoa, and veggie juices
  • doesn’t know what a “Happy Meal” is (even though he loves french fries, I admit)
  • does not watch TV (but does watch a limited selection of DVDs)
  • does not know how to manipulate any sort of smart phone, computer, or device (this is my choice)
  • protects his babies from all sorts of dangers
  • has an above-average vocabulary (according to a speech therapist) and even understands a bit of Farsi

My middle son/oldest twin (E, age 16 months):

  • looks exactly like my husband’s baby photos, but with lighter eyes and hair
  • is a hugger. He will even pause to hug the stairs, the wall, or a boot
  • has a lower lip that slays me
  • rubs two fingers together when he is nervous
  • is much larger than almost all singletons his age
  • is already learning to share and take turns, because he has no choice
  • has favorite foods that include avocado (he can eat a whole one every day), eggs (he can eat 3), salmon, falafel, and plain yogurt
  • does not watch TV
  • knows a small amount of sign language and says many words

My youngest son/youngest twin (G, age 16 months):

  • looks exactly like my baby pictures, but with darker hair and eyes
  • is quick and sneaky, like a ninja – or a chess player.
  • has the most kissable head… His oldest brother calls him “baby doll head” (he made that up)
  • was in charge in the womb and is in charge now
  • is much larger than most singletons his age, but is way smaller than his twin
  • has favorite foods that include all the same healthy foods that his brothers like
  • does not watch TV
  • knows a small amount of sign language and says some words

I love my kids (duh, boring), and what I do is really hard and really ridiculous. There you have it. The record is straight.

Childproofing is Stupid and Overrated… for Moms of Singletons. Twin Moms Need Hot Lava Moats.

I got desperate while cooking one day. PS, This did not work.

I got desperate while cooking one day. PS, This did not work.

Childproofing is stupid and overrated for moms of singletons. Childproofing is necessary and underrated for moms of twins (or triplets in my case, as my niece lives here too). Some children need it; some children don’t. Twin moms, however, are in another category altogether.

We have considered hot lava and sharp rocks to keep my twins (triplets) in line.

My oldest son barely needed childproofing. We might have added a few outlet covers here and there, but, whatever. In order to be approved for adoption, we had to put child locks on our cabinets and prove that we had childproofed the house to our social worker. Do you realize that this means that we childproofed our home BEFORE he arrived? Eighteen months before he arrived! What is this, New York City? We are not the kind of family that childproofs before a baby starts crawling – much less before a baby arrives – much less 18 months before he arrives. The irony of the adoption home study is somewhat cruel and ridiculous.

Needless to say, as soon as we were approved, those cabinet locks came down. After placement, we figured that we would re-childproof when he started to crawl. We soon realized that, while our son was a whole lot of work, he was just not a climber, or a sneak, or a runner, or a hider. He was never far from my hip, either. He was content to play with the pots and pans while I cooked, and didn’t need to take dinner prep a step further by pulling a chair over to climb on the counter to reach the knives. He was content to read his own books, and didn’t need to take story time a step further by scaling the bookshelf and tearing my novel pages from bindings. He was content to play with his toy tools, and didn’t need to take home repair a step further by sticking real screwdrivers into outlets. He had his challenges, but he was obedient. I knew I was lucky.

Children should be free to explore their environment! Children should be a part of their own homes! Children will never learn safety skills if they live in a bubble! Children should not be gated off like dogs!

Enter twins. Other twin moms warned me: twins will work together to undo child locks. Twins will always have an audience to impress, and will do naughty things from a very young age to make the other giggle. They were right. At the age of 16 months, one of my twins is the ringleader of all three of my children, and I knew that would be his role when he was still in the womb.

Enter triplets. When my niece, who is not much older than the twins, moved in with us, I suddenly felt like I had triplets.

I cannot look three (four) directions at once. I cannot move three (four) directions at once. Not all the children are old enough to understand or obey. Childproofing became an absolute necessity.

We started out normal enough. Outlet covers, cabinet locks, and we’re good to go, right? Wrong. Anything that is plugged in will be yanked out, and then overturned for the sheer testosterone-y pleasure of it. We had to get those covers that cover the entire outlet and whatever is plugged into it. Later, we just had to get rid of anything that plugs into the wall. The cabinet locks can be undone by the most vigorous twin, and now he can open drawers too. He can pull cutting boards off the countertop onto his head. He comes running for splattering oil and the open door of a 450 degree oven. We gave up and just gated off the whole kitchen. Sadly, that involved drilling into our cabinets. Sigh. No worries, though, because now I will cook long, luxurious meals just so I can have an excuse to stand in there alone.

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A gated-off kitchen makes a happy momma, and that makes happy kids.

We have a brick fireplace hearth that spans the length of the entire living room, and the right angle of the brick is just at the right height to cause brain damage to whatever neck would land on it wonkily. So we got that “edge-proofing” cushion stuff, which is held on by double-sided tape. That tape was not enough to stop my kids. It came off immediately. Then we tried taping on pool noodles cut in half, and, when that didn’t work, we bought some sort of adhesive pipe cushion for plumbers. No use. Then we just let them hit their heads for a while, until wintertime came and we needed to turn on the fireplace. Now the whole thing is gated off by a long fence. Same story with the TV/music room: we tried to make it work, gave up, fenced it off. My square footage is shrinking.

Please note the use of plywood, bungee cords, a heavy ottoman, and a changing table to keep that fence in place.

Please note the use of plywood, bungee cords, a heavy ottoman, and a changing table to keep that fence in place.

The kids started climbing on the kitchen table, so we decided to stop using it. Now we eat in the formal dining room that has been gated off… but first we took the rug out. We can’t have four kids under four eating on a rug three times a day. Now we can actually set the table and clear the table without my El Diablo twin pulling a bowl of hot Iranian green chilies onto his face.

The dog crate that fits a 100 pound dog… end tables… record album collection… diaper pails…vent covers: there is no end to the things they try to conquer. (I’ve already retrieved bread, duplos, blocks, and sippy cups from inside the vents.)

Maybe because they are boys, they just want to mount, climb, stand on, or smash every single part of this house. (And, yes, they have plenty of toys, but they prefer the house itself as a toy.) They are like goats who are always trying to stand on the highest tree stump.

endtable probsFor example, when they started to climb on top of the end table, we took the glass top off so they wouldn’t shatter it. Then they just started to stand inside the open top of the table. Then they started to stand inside it together and practically fist-fight inside the end table. Then we just removed the whole table. Who am I to think I can have “triplets” AND end tables? Silly me!

We are constantly removing furniture and adding baby gates and fences. Subtract, add, subtract, add: that’s what childproofing is all about. We have a guest room full of end tables.

We had to lock the toy closet, too, because they would dump the bins. I worked at a Montessori school, so I know that bins are bad – they are just an excuse to dump. Ideally, we wouldn’t have bins of toys. But this isn’t a Montessori school, dang it! My oldest was wonderfully trained to pick one toy, use it, clean it up, put it away, and pick a second. Somehow that is not translating to the “triplets”. What is worse is that now my oldest has even lost his ability to play with one toy at a time, because he is caught up in the chaos! Now we have child-locked even the toy closet, and we adults choose one or two bins to take out for them to play with that day.

I hate hurdling over baby gates to get to the fridge. I hate opening the plastic fence when I want to watch TV at night. But, no matter how much I hate this stuff, I feel the worst for my oldest son. He never did anything to deserve this level of lockdown (not even as a baby!). Before all this childproofing nonsense, I had taught him how to get his own (pre-poured) milk from the fridge, get his own snack from the pantry, make his own sandwich (kind of), get his own books, and get his own underwear and clothes if he needed a change. Now, the kitchen is gated. The upstairs – and, thus, his bedroom – is gated. Even his books with “paper pages” (i.e., not board books) are behind the dang baby fence! And he can only see half the TV when he watches it, because all the media is behind a big fence too. He has lost a lot of his hard-won independence, but he doesn’t complain. Well, if by “complain”, I mean “tantrums”, then yes, he does complain sometimes.

We have considered alternatives. Instead of gating off most of the house, why aren’t we gating them IN? Why don’t we put the baby fence in a circle and trap them inside? Well, that would be a good solution if we wanted to hear even more loud screaming. Also, with twins, one pushed the whole playpen around, while dragging the other twin down behind him inside the fence.

Other alternatives  we’ve considered include hot lava moats, electric fences, and sharp rocks on top of the couch, like anti-pigeon spikes.

My ponytail looks like this at the end of the day. I usually say something to my husband like, "Honey, I will try not to look so crazy tomorrow."

My ponytail looks like this at the end of the day. I usually say something to my husband like, “Honey, I will try not to look so crazy tomorrow.”

Googly-Eyed

In church today, I was sitting behind my friend Jill as she held her newborn. I noticed all the women in front of her, beside her, behind her, and across the aisle from her staring at her baby with googly eyes. They were women from all seasons of life. Every one of them looked like someone had shot her with a oxycodone dart. They each had the same gooey-eyed expression and small satisfied smile on their faces. They each seemed to be silently sighing instead of listening to the lesson.

I admit: I was one of them.

Whaaaaat? I have four toddlers living in my house right now (adoption + IVF twins + my niece). I change 8+ poopy diapers per day. And, yet, I was one of the googly-eyed women.

Some of the women have grown children. They still stared. Some of the women have small children (ahem, me). They still stared. One of them women has NINE children. She still stared. Actually, she stared the most of all.

IMG_4174I can’t remember my babies being that small. I see the pictures, and it was only a year ago, but my body seems to have no memory of what it felt like to hold an eight-pound baby close. And I certainly don’t remember holding twin eight-pound babies close. Did it really happen? Was it all a dream? I try to hold Jill’s baby and my skinny arms and bony chest have no idea how to comfort him. I have rocked mine and held them and nursed (some of) them and cradled them, but I have no muscle memory of it.

It was the hardest time of my life. I slept 1-2 hours per night until I cracked. I experienced fear and isolation and despair and …. All I can remember is smelling their heads. Inhaling them.

Helping with HouseworkWhat I know now is chubby toddler arms around my neck. Mashed avocado between chubby fingers every night. Sharp teeth biting into my collarbone. The floor under three highchairs that needs mopping three times a day. Anticipation at opening the twins’ door every morning to twins jumping in identical cribs with identical grins on their (not identical) fat faces. Toddle-running so fast that their cheeks wobble. Watching one twin be so overcome with love for a brother at mealtime that he has to stop eating just to rub his head on his brother’s head and say, “awwww”. The pep talk I give myself when I have to go get them up from naps (“You got this! You can do one more round!” and making a sound like a football player ending a huddle). Vacuuming while all four follow behind me, stepping on the cord,  and imitating me (if, by “imitating me”, I mean: pretend-vacuuming with a duck while naked).

I am overwhelmed with hard work, love, exhaustion, and the terrifying passage of time. I am like every other mother in the world.

I am destined to be the googly-eyed lady for the rest of my life.

Guest Post: One Adopted and Brown, Then One Birthed and White

This article is the fouth in a series of guest posts. I have invited a few select friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them.

 Allow me to introduce you to my college friend Claire*. We lost touch after college, but found our way back together when we realized that both of us had our first child around the same time – and both those children happened to be “brown”, adopted, and male. We both went on to birth white children. Here in this blog post, she has the guts to say many of the things that are in my heart. It is good to have a friend with a trans-racial family. Here is Claire’s point of view:

I have two kids, both boys. One is almost four, and the other is almost two. The first and oldest is adopted and brown. The second and younger is birthed and white. There is a long version of how my husband and I ended up here, but I have a short version too. Essentially, my first post-college career was foster care social work, which led me to wanting to adopt through foster care and not have bio kids. My husband, Jim, knew this because we’ve known each other since always. He was totally up for adopting, though he did want one birth child so we could have a variety of experiences. After five years of marriage, we became foster parents. Our son, Nicholas, was placed with us as a baby, and we adopted him when he was a toddler (shortest version ever of the hardest 15 months of all of our lives). Shortly before the adoption was finalized, Jim convinced me that Nicholas needed a sibling close in age and whom we could raise from infanthood. And we were lucky, or whatever you want to call it, and became pregnant right away. Our son Alexander was born six days before Nicholas turned two. That’s how we ended up with our two sons. And yes, we do expect to foster and hopefully adopt again, though we want to parent a teen next. Our son Nicholas also has special needs, while Alexander does not. All of this about fostering and special needs kids is its own topic, however, and I’m here today to write about how parenting adopted and brown versus birthed and white. Nicholas is Cherokee, Korean, black, white, and Hispanic. Alexander is European white bread.

1. What goes on in my head around this topic?

On an everyday basis, I think a lot about books for my kids. I like to spend time thinking about the things I can actually control, and for me for right now that means deciding which books they borrow from the library or own. We read a lot at our house, and I like having books that align with the subjects Nicholas is learning about in preschool. For money and shopping week that meant books about going to stores, for October that mean autumn and Halloween books, and last week that meant books about different types of houses and house-building. The trouble has been that most books do not include people of color, and I’ve had to search to find the racially-inclusive books that I want in our home. I have found some good ones: Gabe’s Grocery List by Jenck; Fall by Roca; and Wonderful Houses Around the World by Komatsu. We also end up with a lot of books about animals because I just cannot buy another book with an all-white cast of characters due to how many we already own. I love having the opportunity to show Nicholas people in books who look like him, and I’m excited that Alexander is also being exposed to more racially diverse books.

In terms of books I’ve read, my favorite book on parenting in a multi-ethnic family is “Does Anybody Else Look Like Me?” by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. The book discusses the ways that multi-ethnic kids are objectified, and it provided me with useful ways to handle those situations. It helped me think and talk about things that were already on my mind, and it gave me more to ponder too.

I also think a lot about how the world sees my kids, in terms of the opportunities that are available (or not) to them because of race and racism. There’s so much to say here, I’m not even sure how to begin. I think about things that people talk about often, like hiring practices when my boys look for jobs someday. And I also mean things that I haven’t heard people talk about, like when Nicholas is older and makes new friends who are people of color, and those friends then learn he was adopted by white parents. What about when he is dating and eventually looking for a mate? What will those people and their families think of me and our mostly white family? Will he be seen as “other” because his identity is that of a multi-ethnic person in a mostly white family? What will they think of us white people? The stuff about employment opportunities and such bothers me of course, but I spend more time thinking/worrying about the implications for Nicholas’ identity and his personal relationships with everyone he’ll bump into in life. I have none of these worries for Alexander.

I sometimes think about Bruce Springsteen’s song “American Skin (41 shots)” and it gives me the chills and sometimes tears. I don’t want to talk about the particulars and the politics of the police shooting death of Amadou Diallo in 1999, but the lines that speak of a mother sending her son out into the world are hard for me to stomach. This is the verse that’s really hard for me, “Lena gets her son ready for school/ She says “on these streets, Charles/ You’ve got to understand the rules/ If an officer stops you/ Promise me you’ll always be polite,/ that you’ll never ever run away/ Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight”” I would not have the same reaction to those words if I, as a white woman, only had a white child. I often think about my boys when I interact with authority figures, and I know that Alexander will be privileged in interactions with authority figures while Nicholas will not be.

2. What do we talk about with Nicholas and Alexander?

We have always talked to Nicholas about being adopted. And he was aware of his coming brother when I was pregnant with Alexander. Because of hard things about the situation and events that took place, Nicholas doesn’t yet know details that relate to foster care and his birth family. We have a good deal of contact with his aunt, whom both Nicholas and Alexander refer to as their aunt because we’ve encouraged them to do so. But other than that, Nicholas knows only that he came to us when a social worker brought him to our house. The story goes like this, “When you were a tiny baby, you needed a family and so Diane brought you to our house. She drove her car into our driveway, and Dad went out and took you and the carseat out of her car. He carried you into the house, and then we held you. You were so little that you needed to eat a lot in the middle of the night, so we would feed you and then change your diaper, and then put you back to bed. When you were older and almost ready to walk we went to the judge together and the judge said we were a family forever. That was when you were adopted and we knew that we could stay together forever.” Nicholas knows that story and loves to hear it, particularly the part about us feeding and holding him at night. He seems to find comfort in hearing about the care we gave him as wee one. He also knows that Alexander grew in my belly and then came out when he was big enough and strong enough. While I was pregnant, we had talked a lot about what it means to be a family and have a younger sibling. Nicholas understood more than we had guessed. When Jim first brought Nicholas (who was still a week away from turning two) to visit Alexander and me in the hospital, he was already protective of his little brother. He’d seen Alexander fuss and cry when the nurses came in to do all their checking. When another nurse entered the room, Nicholas pushed the bassinet on wheels away from the nurse, shook his chubby little pointer finger at her, and said, “No, no, no!” He did not want anyone else coming near his baby. And so Jim and I witnessed the first of many, many moments that have displayed the boys’ strong bond. On the one hand, sometimes it is odd to think of our boys as having two different birthmothers when they’re clearly so connected. On the other hand, it does make sense because it isn’t blood that makes relationships; it’s all the choices we make to love, protect, and serve one another.

Right around the time he turned three, Nicholas seemed to notice skin color for the first time. He and I were at the pool at the local recreation center, and he saw a boy with dark skin. I should say that we live in a state that is 80% white, with the other 20% being a fairly even mix of people who are black, Asian, Hispanic, and multi-ethnic. Our town’s demographics reflect that of the state in general. At the pool that day, everyone other than Nicholas appeared to be white. Then the boy with dark skin arrived. Nicholas soon noticed the boy’s father (a very dark skinned black man) and mother (an extremely pale skinned white woman). Nicholas was fascinated by the family and clearly had a lot of questions, but one of his challenges is an expressive language delay so unfortunately he didn’t have the language to express his ideas. We have learned Sign to enable Nicholas to communicate, however, so I gave him the language (in oral English and in Sign) to be able to communicate about skin color. I gave him the words for skin, dark, light, and brown. At the pool we had some conversation about the skin color of that family and our family, and that conversation ended up continuing for weeks. Mostly he wanted to review the concept that people have different colors of skin and that this variation, even within families, is fine and good. We still talk about skin color, of course, but Nicholas has moved on somewhat from his fixation on skin color and now has questions about eye color. Most people in our immediate and extended family have blue or blue-green eyes, and Nicholas has very dark brown eyes. He wants to know why he has dark eyes but pretty much everyone else has light eyes, and so I point to his birth aunt and also Jim’s sister-in-law who have brown eyes because we want him to feel like he fits. He also wants to know why Buzz Lightyear has blue eyes, Jessie has green eyes, and Woody has brown eyes even though they all have light skin. Preschoolers have so many questions and notice so many details! We work with an adoption/attachment therapist regularly, and she’s helping us traverse this complicated ground of having differences because of adoption. Being an individual and being unique is important, but so is fitting in and feeling like you belong. Alexander looks like Jim and me, especially like me, but Nicholas of course does not. It will probably always be easy for Alexander to feel like he fits. One of our main strategies, based in the work we do with our therapist, is to focus on the behavioral ways that we’re all alike. Nicholas is the one who has my temperament and interests, so we have no trouble identifying many similarities in those areas.

3. What’s it like to interact with strangers?

I very much like talking about adoption and foster care, but much of that conversation is not appropriate to have in front of young children because of the topics it encompasses (e.g., teen pregnancy, abuse and neglect, and choices about contact with birth family). Additionally, these aren’t topics I want to discuss with strangers! Anytime Nicholas is with me in public, which is pretty much all the time, people ask a lot of personal questions and objectify him because he’s obviously adopted and because he’s multi-ethnic. They act as if he is not right there, and they act as if he isn’t a person at all.

First, there’s the way people love to ask questions about adoption or make observations because we have one adopted and one non-adopted child. Here’s a common one, “I’ve heard of so many people who adopted and then ended up getting pregnant!” This is still completely offensive even to me as a person who hasn’t struggled with fertility challenges; a whole lot of assumptions about extremely personal things are wrapped up in this comment. It ignores the science that says you don’t actually magically become pregnant because you’ve “relaxed” (as people love to tell me) after adopting. Plus, it assumes that I wouldn’t have wanted to adopt Nicholas if I could just have had Alexander by birth first! In response, I always say something like, “Hmm, I have heard of that happening too, but I don’t think fertility is usually affected by adoption. And in our case we were really excited to adopt, and that was our primary goal. Alexander came along later because we found it so special to know Nicholas as an infant, and we wanted to be sure we could have that experience again.” Primarily, I want my kids to hear me, but I want to tell those nosy folks a thing or two as well.

Another topic on strangers’ minds is Nicholas’ ethnicity. One common question is, “Where did you get him?” This is framed in a way that sounds like someone is asking me where I acquired a pack of gum or maybe a pair of shoes. “Get him?” Is that really a way to talk about a person? Jim once told a woman in a store that we found him in a vending machine, and he told another woman, “You see, there’s this thing about a sperm and an egg…” but then she walked away. And there was also that time he told someone, “Earth.” Jim tells me that if they ask a stupid question, they will receive a stupid answer. Sometimes I wish I could be that sassy, but most of the time I just smile and walk away in response to those crazy questions.

“Where is he from?” is the same question but packaged slightly better. I always say, “He’s from here.” I mean, what are you even asking??? He was born in the capital of the state in which we live, so answering “here” seems like a good enough answer for a complete stranger. Okay, okay, I know what they’re asking: they want to know about his ethnicity and what country we adopted him from. It’s just none of their business so I mostly refuse to provide information. This is Nicholas’ story to tell, not mine. And I can’t imagine him wanting me to tell strangers all of this stuff. Another good comment along the same lines is, “He’s so exotic!” Oh, or the one we received at the hospital the other day when we were checking Nicholas in for surgery: “Are you his legal guardians?” Nope, I did not hear that one asked of the other families around us who had kids with matching skin color. And of course every person at the playground, grocery store, library, post office, etc. loves to ask me about our boys, “Are they both yours?”

But my favorite question ever was, “Are you his personal trainer?” Nicholas and I were at the pool together, and since we are different colors clearly I could not be his mother. Therefore, I must be his personal trainer. Because three-year-olds have personal trainers?! I would bet any amount of money (by which I mean up to $50 because I’m cheap like that) on the side that says I would never have been asked that question had I been with my white son.

Raising an adopted and brown child is different from raising a birthed and white one. We’re raising them together though, and I know that Alexander will benefit from the experience of having a more ethnically diverse family and seeing racism first-hand. I hope and pray that Nicholas ends up understanding that we’ve worked hard to do the best we can to protect him from being objectified by strangers, and we’ve tried to create a world in which he sees and knows people who look more like him than we do. Whatever happens, I know they have each other.

* Names have been changed.

To My Readers Who Are Struggling with Infertility

I don’t just sympathize – I truly empathize with you. I feel your pain. I walked in your shoes. Whatever you are going through or feeling right now, I probably experienced it:

…..Miscarriages, adoption paperwork, IUI, IVF, Clomid, Follistim, Bravelle, Lupron, progesterone suppositories, 1.5” needles, glass vials, cysts, insensitive comments from strangers or non-strangers, meeting with social workers to prove that my house was suitable for children, getting fingerprinted at the police station like a criminal to prove that I was suitable for children…

…Spending $1500 out of pocket at the pharmacy for one month’s medications, enduring laparoscopic surgery for endometriosis, waking up in agony after egg retrieval surgeries during IVF cycles, wasting thousands of dollars when my period started and that cycle didn’t work, breaking down in tears at family parties, screaming in pain during not one but two HSG procedures (barbaric), blood tests every other day, vaginal ultrasounds sometimes EVERY day…

…Genetic testing for me and for my lost fetus, trying to change everything from the lotions I used (parabens!) to the temperature of the water I drank (the ayurvedic doctor said only hot water!), crying  in Wal-mart because I saw a poster of a baby, wanting to run over the “stork parking” signs in parking lots, hating my body because it couldn’t do something that teenagers/ out-of-wedlock couples/ drug addicts can do by accident… (And I’m worrying about the kind of Teflon on my pots?!)

Did I forget anything?

The whole thing was infuriating, and it made me feel powerless over my life and my body and my future. I wanted more than one child, and the clock was ticking.  I even listened to my doctor say, “Well, if it hasn’t happened in five years, it’s probably not going to.”

So, yeah, I get it.

But, I am here to tell you something. I not only survived infertility, I kicked its butt! I never want to dull the pain of what happened to me, because I want to support those who are coming down the infertility path behind me. I want to be a small source of hope for you. Everyone is probably telling you stories (like “My friend so-and-so…”), but I don’t want to be that person. I just want you to know that I felt how you felt at one point, and now it’s over. It’s over. And it will be over for you someday too. I know it.

I experienced all of those things, and more. After 13 rounds of fertility drugs, 2 rounds of IVF, miscarriage, and adoption, I now have three beautiful boys. Although we haven’t used birth control in nearly a decade, none of those children were conceived in my own body. One of them came to us through adoption, and two of them came to us (simultaneously) through IVF. All of them have souls that belong in this family.

While the acute pain of infertility has ended, I refuse to forget about it. I think I know what you are feeling. And that feeling won’t last forever.

"Not room enough to receive it."

“Not room enough to receive it.”

I reflect on my infertile time each day at naptime, when I settle my three big baby boys on my lap for their milk. Combined, they weigh almost as much as I do. They take up all the space on my big rocking armchair. My lap literally cannot hold them all. I get weepy and emotional each day during this rare few moments. It’s the only time of day I get to cuddle them all. I think of a scripture each day during this time: “I will…open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Malachi 3:10) That scripture runs through my mind as they try to sit there on my lap because there is literally “not room enough to receive” them all. My arms are full. My lap is full. The windows of heaven opened, and, I must say, we worked really really hard to open them.

We may have never had this lap full/chair full/ house full of children if we had not prayed, or had miscarriages, or done the adoption paperwork, or decided to do IVF twice. I don’t know. All I know is that, in my case, I had to wait. I had to wait and learn and be patient and work really hard. But, most of all, I had to break. I didn’t bend when I was supposed to bend. I was not a strong branch. Eventually, instead of bending, I broke. But after that, I accepted my life/journey/path/challenge (ugh, each of those word choices is equally as cheesy as the next). I reached a state of peacefulness and true patience somewhere around the eight-year mark – and that’s when my children started arriving.

There was not room enough to receive them.

***

[And, yes, I do know that the verse from Malachi is about tithing, not IVF.]

How to Avoid Being a Jerk to Your Infertile Friend

infertilityThis topic has probably been beaten to death, but I’m going to add my voice to the commotion anyway. We were married for eight years before we adopted our oldest son, so we’ve heard a few things along the way. We would like more children, but we’re not sure we can conceive again. I still align myself with the Infertile Myrtles, despite the fact that I have three children in diapers (none of whom were conceived in my own body).

What Not to Say:

“Just relax.” Ummm, Do you think that a physical problem can be remedied with a long bath and a vacation? If it could, don’t you think I would have figured that out by now? I saw a t-shirt that said, “Guess what? Relaxing does not make a baby!” Also, permit me to say that relaxing while enduring daily doctor appointments, shots, and weird comments is impossible.

“Maybe you should ‘just’ adopt.” This one was my own personal most-hated phrase. First of all, adoption is a very personal decision that can only be made between the couple involved. There are many reasons that adoption may or may not be appropriate for a family. Second of all, there is no “just” involved in adoption. Adoption is called a “paper pregnancy” because the paperwork alone can take as long or longer than gestation. And you are “just” bringing a human being into your lives permanently for your next 60 to 80 years. Adoption is hard work and not for the weak.

“My friend so-and-so …”  Do not begin any sentence with this statement. Just don’t. (Anyone who has had cancer can maybe relate.)

“It was God’s will.” Okay, I am as religious as anybody. Maybe I even believe it was God’s will that any of this stuff has happened to me. (I do believe that we endured miscarriages so that our son R could come to our family through adoption. How else would he have made it our family?) But that does not give you the right to say it.

“Surprise, we’re pregnant!” It’s the “surprise” part of this sentence that is a big no-no.  If you are about to announce a pregnancy, please take pity on your infertile friends or family members by telling them personally, ahead of time, so they are not blindsided at the family Christmas party. Let them deal with their pain and sorrow in private, so they can then put on their Big Boy Panties and deal with it before the party. Sometimes, even a kindly worded email can be enough if you want to spare the person the experience of trying not to sob on the phone.

“You can always do IVF.” Um, no, you can’t always do IVF. It’s crazy expensive, especially in states where it is not covered by insurance. It is crazy hard, too. Daily injections and daily vaginal ultrasounds and daily hormone-induced breakdowns are just not for everyone. It’s also not appropriate for all medical conditions. And, how do you know that she didn’t already try it? It only works about 30% of the time… so maybe she was one of the 70% who spend ten grand for nothing and didn’t want to tell you about it.

“You should be glad you don’t have a baby. It’s so much work!” Just don’t ever say that. It does not help. I wanted to be immersed in the poop and the crying and the sleepless nights. Besides, I was not trying to have a baby; I was trying to begin a human being. I am trying to bring a soul to this family and to this world. Who cares about how much work that is? That statement is some kind of middle-school version of psychology.

“Why the rush? You have plenty of time!” The decision of when to have children is a personal one between a husband and wife, and maybe God. For me, it was a spiritual feeling that their souls were missing from our home and were trying to get here. Are you gonna argue that with me? Plus, I didn’t want just one baby. If I did, maybe I could afford to wait until I was 45 (just kidding). However, making multiple babies multiple times might mean starting a little earlier than that.

“Is it your husband’s fault?” Short answer: none of your business. Long answer: most husbands are feeling already emasculated about this whole situation, and most wives are rightfully reticent to throw their husband under the bus about infertility. I don’t think any husbands welcome anyone talking about their sperm. It’s hard enough to listen to the doctor do that. Plus, I think a good marital team adopts a no-fault system, like California divorces. Your problem is my problem and that’s all there is to it.

Okay, so now your lips are zipped and you’re too scared to make a peep. Now what? Here are some things that others said or did that actually helped me.

What You SHOULD Say/Do:

  • Yes, do invite your infertile friend to that baby shower. No, don’t expect her to come to it, but don’t leave her out either. Let her make the decision. I never ever went to baby showers, but I appreciated being included. Some of my stronger infertile friends continue to go to showers.
  • Yes, do tell your infertile friend that you are pregnant. As I mentioned above, telling her in private before everyone else finds out is the best and kindest thing. You can even tell her by email or phone. Just don’t let her be ambushed, where she would have no choice but to hide in the bathroom to avoid a public meltdown at the big family function.
  • Ask her how she is doing, and just listen. A well-timed, “Man, that really sucks” is all you need to say. Really. We don’t need advice- we need friends!
  • Check up on her often. Infertility is so lonely. Messages, cards, emails, phone calls, texts all count. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but it matters that she doesn’t feel forgotten. Just say “I was thinking about you today.” Or just say “hi”!
  • Don’t talk about babies. If you have kids already, tone it down and wait for her to ask about them. Visiting with her is not a playdate.
  • Face that elephant in the room: Although I suggest avoiding talking about your babies, this is not a license to avoid talking about her situation. You can even say, “I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know that I am your friend.” She may or may not want to talk about the whole thing, but give her the opportunity, and then follow her lead. Personally, I was an open book about it all, because that was my therapy. I had a good friend who never talked about it, and that was what was best for her.
  • If you have kids, maybe don’t bring them around. However, some women prefer some good ole’ fashioned “baby therapy” and might appreciate holding your little one. You will have to be  a good and attentive friend to figure this one out!

With possibly one in six couples facing infertility at some point in their lives- even possibly after having a child- the chances are great that you already know someone who needs your support. Good luck!

Some Things about Adoption vs. Biology are Hard to Admit

Pumkpin PatchSome things about adoption are hard to admit. And some things about biological children are hard to admit. I hesitate to be too forthcoming because my sons will read this blog someday. (If I can ever find the time or money, I will totally make this into a book or photobook or something. They will be all like, “Ugh, Mom, that’s so stupid. Who cares?! Stop talking!”) But here is one nugget that I have recently allowed myself to admit:

I am upset with my biological sons for gaining independence, but I am proud of my adopted son for gaining independence.

By the way, I never say “adopted son” unless I’m at the doctor. But here it seemed necessary to the sentence. I don’t want to be Mr. Royal Tennenbaum and introduce you to “my adopted daughter Margot.” Just as it’s important to say “the child with autism” (rather  than “the autistic child”), it’s important not to let “adopted” become that child’s adjective. Adoption was something that happened to him one time: on the day he was born.

Anyway, about that independence… My oldest son didn’t come from my body. As a result, I didn’t have the hormones that come along with pregnancy and birth. Adoptive mothers are still given the gift of that  lovely cuddling-induced hormone oxytocin, though, so we still bonded. But I never had to wrestle with that bittersweet feeling of watching him grow inside of me, and then grow outside of me. He came as a fully separate human being from me.  Therefore, when he started to crawl and walk away from me, it didn’t hurt. It was celebratory. I cheered him on. I see him doing things by himself and I have surges of pride.

Something weird is happening in my brain as my “biological sons” (again, I promise I don’t use that phrase in conversation) are learning to walk. I am feeling a wee bit, um, mad at them. Am I crazy?! Do other moms feel this way? In the newborn phase, they cuddled me because of gravity. Gravity forced them to rest against my chest. Then, in the baby phase, they actually cuddled me because they wanted to be close to me. Now, in the toddler phase, they are separate human beings with their own will. Sometimes that stings. It stings the momma who felt like they were part of her body for nine months of gestation and then one year of baby-dom. I am proud of them, but it stings, too.

To quote Raising Arizona (the best movie about infertility and child-stealing ever made): “Course I don’t really need another kid, but Dot says these-here are gettin’ too big to cuddle.” And that’s the “crux of the biscuit” right there. (Obscure Frank Zappa reference thrown in there for my Dad.) I have mommy guilt, and now I have mommy sadness. It’s not about them walking- it’s about me! I’m so sorry, kids, but you have to deal with me putting my issues all over you.

1)      I never had enough arms or time to cuddle them the way they needed, and now it’s too late = guilt

2)      I want more children but I don’t know if I can have more children (via any method) = sadness

As anyone who has watched a baby grow up knows, once he can move, that’s all he wants to do. Babies who can move are constantly on the move. If you’re lucky, you might get a few minutes of cuddles when they are falling asleep, waking up, or feeling sick.

However, I am noticing that the amount of children one has is inversely proportional to the amount of cuddling one receives. I may get one twin to cuddle for five seconds before he is distracted by one of his brothers doing something more exciting. I have been pushed aside for the wonderful world of movement, brothers, and distraction.

It’s the natural order of things. It is beautiful and wonderful and terrible.

How I Really Feel about Birthmothers

I’m not going to talk about R’s birthmother here. I’ve said all I’m going to say about her already. Her story and her information belongs to my son. What I am going to talk about is how I feel about all birthmothers in general.

A birthmother is selfless. A birthmother chose to place her baby for adoption because she loves him so much that she wants more for him. She chose adoption out of love and selflessness. Of course she could have raised that baby. What she is doing instead is providing him with whatever she feels she can’t give him: a father, an education, stability, or maybe even protection. She is considering the needs of the baby, and not the needs of herself.

A birthmother is brave. Placing a child for adoption is probably the hardest decision she will ever make in her life. She has to live with the loss every single day of her entire life. Would I have that kind of courage?

A birthmother may be alone. The number one deterrent to adoption, according to Gordon B. Hinckley, is the birthmother’s mother. In other words, the baby’s biological grandmother is often the one who discourages the adoption. Birthmothers who choose adoption anyway may do so without the support of their families or partners. I want to give all of those women a huge hug. How’s that for bravery?

A birthmother loves her children and she loves the adoptive parents. Every birthmother loves her child. Again, she chose adoption because she loves him. Additionally, birthmothers love us adoptive parents. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t let us raise their children! When I went to an adoption conference to hear birthmothers speak, they repeatedly said versions of this statement: “I wish the adoptive parents knew how much I love them for caring for my child as their own.” This touched my heart. It made me see birthmothers more as friends and less as someone to fear.

A birthmother is facing challenges. The majority of birthmothers who place children for adoption domestically are not actually teens: they are in their twenties! Therefore, the stereotype that a birthmother is just too young to raise a baby may be inaccurate. Often, she is a full-grown woman, and she is choosing adoption for a different reason. She may be facing challenges that we can’t imagine.

A birthmother chooses adoptive parents for different reasons. We may never know why a birthmother picks a certain family to raise her child. When birthmothers look at profiles of adoptive parents, different things might impress them. For example, I heard a birthmother say that she chose birthparents who ice skated, because she used to do that as a child and wanted her child to have some of the same experiences that she did. Some birthmothers express a spiritual feeling, which helps them to just intuitively know where their child belongs. Some even express a feeling that the baby never felt like theirs, and that they were entrusted with the job of delivering the baby to his parents.

A birthmother wants to be defended. When I hear someone say, “Well, I could never give my baby up” , especially in front of my child, I bristle. I got in the habit of defending birthmothers, long before my son could understand, so that he would hear me and be able to mimic my responses later. A birthmother chose adoption out of love, and that makes her far more amazing than anyone who questions her decision.

Each birthmother has different needs. Some birthmothers need to see the baby on a regular basis; some may need to see pictures; some may just prefer email updates because pictures are too painful; some may need to distance themselves completely in order to deal with the pain. All of these are okay. I have no idea what I would need if I were in their shoes.

A birthmother doesn’t want to be forgotten. It is very important to a birthmother (and to me) that we teach the child about her. She wants him to know how much he was loved, how much she struggled with her decision, and who she was.

I have gone through many different emotions about birthmothers – awe, fear, anxiety, love, even a little jealousy. I believe that my son’s soul belongs in our family, and that it didn’t matter in what body he came here. Our bodies are just a vessel for our soul. His birthmother brought him to us when my body couldn’t carry him. I love my son exactly the way he is, but sometimes I feel a little jealousy of his birthmother because I wish he would have just come from my body. On the other hand, I also feel completely in love with her for bringing us this little soul and want to celebrate her – and her genes and her selflessness and all that she is!

Sometimes people pretend his birthmother doesn’t exist, I think, but not intentionally. I might be the only one who thinks about her every day. I have taught R to pray for her every night- both to thank her and to bless her. I have to admit that sometimes I might feel just the tiniest bit flattered that people forget about his birthmother, because that means that they truly accept me as his mother. However, I know that his birthmother is extremely important and should never be forgotten. I am teaching him that he has two mothers, two stories, two histories. He will be taught to love her and respect her.

I really only answer to my son when it comes to his birthmother. Someday, I will have to fill in more details for him. Someday, I will have to answer the harder questions. Someday, I will need to show him our correspondence and the paperwork I have. Until that day, we will talk and we will pray. And we will teach others to love and respect birthmothers.

When Twins Are Both the Problem and the Solution

Some things are actually easier with twins.

IMG_6674(Well, making dinner isn’t. Mercy. And don’t look at my counters.)

When I found out I was carrying twins, mostly I only felt grief and fear. I grieved for some lost things. It might sound crazy to grieve about twin pregnancy after doing fertility treatments for six years, but I wasn’t alone. I found entire chapters devoted to grief in my twin pregnancy books. Parents of multiples actually go through the stages of grief, often in order. We have to deal with letting go of all of the preconceived notions we had. In my case, I grieved about:

1) Future adopted children that I can’t have: We would never be able to adopt again through our church agency because LDS Family Services only approves couples who have no more than two children.

2) My oldest son: While I can’t predict how he will feel, I never intended for him to be the only adopted child in our family. I didn’t want him to be the only one who didn’t biologically resemble us.

3) The ideal pregnancy I wouldn’t have: Having two babies in there at once is almost less…. intimate. At first, I couldn’t tell who was who; I couldn’t bond one-on-one. I couldn’t really even explain it to myself, but I felt kind of outnumbered. It made it harder to bond, feel cozy together, and to imagine the future. In addition, my pregnancy was a living hell that I would not wish on anyone. I won’t go into too many details here, but I can throw out a few hellish keywords: morning sickness until 17 weeks; contractions starting at 18 weeks; choking and almost fainting while lying down by 20 weeks; being unable to walk up stairs without crying by 24 weeks; outgrowing maternity clothes and going on bedrest by six months; heart enlargement, anemia, narcotics, and an inability to sleep, shower, or care for my bodily needs in the last month. Maybe I should write a blog post about that. Let me get on that.

4) The ideal birth that I wouldn’t have: I had to give up my ideas about birth, because I knew it just wouldn’t go the way I wanted or expected. I couldn’t choose which hospital, or which birthplan, or any of that stuff. But maybe that’s a relief. I saved a lot of time not doing any research!

Ten years ago, I was so much more of a know-it-all, or a “breastfeeding Nazi”, or a no-gray-area kind of person. I think having an adopted child really loosened me up. I couldn’t breastfeed, so obviously I had to let that go. (See Tina Fey’s thoughts on silencing the “Teat Nazis” with “Adoptive Mommies” *) We didn’t have time to choose the most perfectly-rated carseat or decorate a cute nursery. We just picked the lightest-weight carseat and threw our kid in the guest room.

And, then, with the twins, I felt a similar feeling. We may have had the luxury of time this time around, but it was not a normal pregnancy. The normal rules didn’t apply. I couldn’t exercise, I had to gain more weight, my body contracted and acted like it was two months ahead of where it was, and I had to give up any ideas about choice that other moms have about their pregnancy or birth. In a way, it was kind of relaxing. It actually didn’t make me sad or upset- it made me let go and quit worrying. Too many choices make us crazy. That’s why people like Costco. (When I ask my husband to bring home laundry detergent, there are a couple to choose from, so he always gets it right. I call this my Costco Theory. )

Besides the grief upon finding out I was carrying twins, I had so many fears. I guess I had “Infertility Aftermath”. People who have been through miscarriage or IVF go through a kind of PTSD, even if they do get pregnant. We worry more and can’t enjoy the pregnancy like other people. I had so much anxiety and fear from my last miscarriage that I felt cheated out of enjoying my pregnancy.

Basically, I was scared to lose them and scared to keep them.

Other fears that kept me awake at night included:

1) Taking care of the twins + a toddler alone at night and during the day after Mr. Okayest would go back to work
2) Having to birth one twin vaginally and one through c-section (yes, it happens!)
3) Failing at breastfeeding
4) Succeeding at breastfeeding
5) Not using migraine medication during breastfeeding too
6) Having 3 kids under 3 (shudder)
7) Having 3 kids in diapers – who does that? Honestly? People have a kid, he grows, they potty train him, then they have another. It’s the natural order of things. What the heck did we do?
8) Never being able to go to the store again. At least until R is old enough to walk beside the cart.
9) Buckling 3 kids into carseats
10) That Mr. Okayest and I might be mean to (or at least snippy with) each other for the next two years
11) My body! What lovely things were awaiting me? Saggy boobs, stretch marks, exhaustion, no libido, jelly belly, blah blah blah… ? And the guilt I felt about worrying about those things when Heavenly Father has affirmatively answered my prayers- oh my!
12) You know that moment when your kid is in bed and the toys are picked up and the dishes are done and the husband’s lunch is made, and you can flop down on the couch and watch whatever mind-numbing drivel you want to? Or even read a book? Would that ever happen again? It was my favorite part of the day, no matter how much I love my kids or how long I waited for them.
13) Having the house to myself while my toddler “naps”. I doubted I would ever get three kids to nap at the same time and ever get the house to myself again.
14) Dealing with migraines with three kids under three
15) Hmmm, what euphemism to use for “marital intimacy”….?
16) Bedrest! What if I needed bedrest? It was quite possible with twins! Who would take care of my toddler?
17) Mr. Okayest’s grad school. He planned to keep going, no breaks, even when they were born. How would I handle that? I worried not only about the looooong days when he would be gone from 5AM- 9PM, but also about all the homework and papers that would require me to care for the kids on my own.
18) Cleaning. How would I keep up with keeping the house? I was already struggling at keeping up with 4000 square feet and a toddler. How would I ever find time or energy with 3 kids? (Well, it’s pretty dirty now- who am I kidding?)

Those fears came true. Well, not #2. But most of the others came true. But you know what? Now that the babies are almost one year old, I am realizing that a lot of those fears came true, but only for a short time. It was temporary, and we survived. Actually, I would say we thrived. Yes, I didn’t sleep for months on end, and I wanted to die, but the babies learned to sleep through the night by six months. Yes, I had not a single moment to myself for months, but I eventually trained all three to nap at the same time in the afternoon by seven months. Yes, Mr. Okayest still goes to grad school, and it sucks, but we also have help from my mother-in-law and from a mother’s helper. Yes, I can’t grocery shop with three little ones who need to sit in the cart, but Mr. Okayest has learned how to grocery shop (and even use coupons!). Yes, Mr. Okayest and I snapped at each other more than we ever had, but we knew it was temporary and were welded together by what had happened to us. Yes, my house is filthy, but I clean it a little bit, once in a while.

Now that they are almost one year old, I am pondering all the positive blessings that twins bring. These bonus things were not on my mind during the terrifying months of bedrest and recovery and sleepless nights. But I see them now. Some of them are trivial and some of them are amazing.

1) I never had to refer to my in-utero offspring as “it” before I knew the sex. The pronoun “they” is so much better.
2) We picked one name before the birth (to appease curious family and friends) and announced the other name at the birth (to surprise family and friends).
3) They keep each other company. They are never alone; they are never friendless or bored.
4) They don’t cry at naptime or bedtime, unless one twin is late getting into his crib. They look for each other, sigh, and just go to sleep.
5) They can entertain each other for an hour in their cribs in the morning before I have to get them up. They wake each other up with a Pterodactyl Scream of Joy.
6) They teach each other things. Watching a mirror image of himself learning to eat, sit up, crawl, and stand must really change a baby’s brain chemistry. (The downside of that is the mischief that comes on quicker!) I really hope this will be helpful during potty training.
7) They don’t mind riding in the car. Our oldest son was miserable in the car, but maybe he would have been happier if he always had brothers to look at next to him in the backseat.
8) I never waste baby food, formula, or an avocado. As soon as I open something up or serve it, I am sure it will somehow get finished by someone. (Today, my three babies ate six eggs in one sitting.)
9) I can always buy diapers and wipes in bulk to “save” money.
10) People take pity on us and donate far more clothing, toys, and gear because we have so many little ones (I think).

Forgive me for so much list-making, but I am usually typing while someone cries. I can’t always organize my thoughts.

Anyway, Okayest Mom has learned a thing or two since the terrifying moment when the doctor said, “What would you say if I told you it was twins?” I was sad; I was scared. The books told me to do it one way, but I forged my own path and became an atypical twin mom. I try to focus on the joyful moments, even if I don’t feel giddy all day long. And I am realizing that having a toddler and babies at the same time might be divinely inspired: a toddler wants nothing more than someone to watch him do weird repetitive things all day long, while babies want nothing more than for someone to do weird repetitive things in front of them all day long. I win.

***

*“Teat Nazis” , from Tina Fey’s Bossypants

These are the women who not only brag endlessly about how much their five year old still loves breast milk, but they also grill you about your choices. You can recognize the TNs by their hand-carved daggers:

“Are you breast-feeding? Isn’t it amazing? I really think it’s how I lost the weight so easily. Did you have a vaginal birth? I went natural and I didn’t even tear. Are you back at work already? Do you feel weird about going back to work? I just love my baby so much I can’t imagine going back to work yet. You’re not nursing? She’s only fifteen months; you should try again!”

Now, let me be clear; millions of women around the world nurse their children beautifully for years without giving anybody else a hard time about it. Teat Nazis are a solely western upper-middle-class phenomenon occurring when highly ambitious women experience deprivation from outside modes of achievement. Their highest infestation pockets are in Brooklyn and Hollywood.

If you are confronted by a TN, you have two options. One, when they ask if you’re breast-feeding, you can smile and say, “Yes. It’s amazing.” (You owe it to your baby to lie.) Or you can go for the kill. The only people who can shame the Teat Nazis are the Adoptive Mommies. If you have a friend who has an adopted child, especially one from another country, bring him or her around, because they make the Teat Nazis’ brains short-circuit: “How can I… feel superior… you… bigger sacrifice… can’t judge…” and…they crumple to the ground and disappear.

A Blankie and a Birthmother

At least 28 Things His Blankie Has Been:

1)      A racetrack for cars
2)      Grass for horses
3)      Fence for horses
4)      Pirate hat

IMG_6030
5)      Pirate ship
6)      Blankie

blankie blanket
7)      Pillow
8)      Sacrament
9)      Baby in a carrier
10)   Baby Bjorn front pack

blankie baby bjorn
11)   Teether
12)   Spaceship
13)   Napkin
14)   Invisibility cloak
15)   Guitar
16)   Helmet for a 4-wheeler
17)   Helmet for a motorcycle
18)   Pacifier

blankie teether
19)   Dog collar
20)   Kleenex
21)   Band-aid
22)   Saddle

IMG_6346
23)   Garage
24)   House
25)   Landing strip

blankie landing strip
26)   Tail
27)   Leash
28)   Security blanket

blankie security

Every child’s blankie (or whatever ratty thing they drag around) is special. But my kid’s blankie is more special than your kid’s blankie. We got his blankie at the hospital where we, um, got him. I hope that doesn’t sound crude. How about this: We got his blankie at the hospital where his birthmother gave birth to him. It was the last time he was with his birthmother. It was the only time that his birthmother and I were ever in the same place. I would like to take him back to that hospital one day and walk through the maternity ward together. He may never meet her, but it’s the one place that we know she occupied.

His blankie was handmade, even though it came from the hospital gift shop. I guess little old ladies make these things and donate them to the gift shop. When he was born, we were given several (or more!) handmade blankets from grandmas and aunts and friends, and each of these crocheted/ knitted/ embroidered treasures is priceless to me. However, none of them came from the place where his birthmother gave him to us.

I’ve been taught proper adoption language. I don’t say things like she “gave up her baby”. I say, she “placed her baby for adoption”. However, when you get down to the heart of it, she did give us a human being. That she made. At that hospital. Where that blankie was purchased.

My son didn’t seem to have the usual oral fixation of every other baby. He didn’t care about thumbs or binkies. To add to that, he was a terrible sleeper. I pushed the blankie on him. Around nine months, I started to hold the blankie against his cheek during every bottle and every cuddle. It didn’t take long before that thing was king. It never left his side at home. He even learned to walk with the blankie dangling from his mouth, because he needed both hands straight out for balance. Frankenstein’s monster, with a blankie stuffed in his mouth.

blankie learning to walk

By the time he was walking, at the ripe old age of 15 months, that blankie was eroding enough for me to be concerned about its future. It was also causing a major anxiety attack in its user at every wash cycle. How do you replace a handmade blankie? The answer is to call the hospital gift shop and give them a sob story. When I told the manager, over the phone, about our adoption/blankie story, she said it was no problem to mail us a second one. She took my name and address and then told me to have a good day. I said, “Wait, don’t you need my credit card information?” No, she wanted to send it to us as gift. I was overcome with emotion.

That blankie arrived, for free. We promptly sent a thank-you note with a picture of him loving on it. It took a while before he accepted it as wholeheartedly as the first one. But, soon enough, it was part of our wash rotation. We had to make blankie rules, such as No Blankie in the Car, No Blankie at the Table, No Blankie in the Bath.

He learned to talk. He couldn’t say “blankie”, so it came out as “Dee Dee”. Now, I am not a fan of baby talk. I don’t necessarily correct his speech, but I do what I was taught to do in my classroom: to repeat the phrase correctly myself, after he says it incorrectly. “Dee Dee” was the one word I left alone. “Dee Dee” can be a person’s name, I rationalized. Plus, it was so dang cute.

He is now old enough, at 3 ½, to know that he has to refer to it as “Blankie” to other people, but can call it “Dee Dee” at home with us. Dee Dee is not allowed out of the house, and never was – except for when I was in the hospital and he was a frightened little thing. (You’ll see it in our hospital pictures!) However, it has become quite a fixture in this house during both playtime and nighttime.

no last name

To him, Dee Dee represents all of the dozens of things I listed above. To him, Dee Dee represents security. But to me, Dee Dee represents the last connection he has to his birthmother, the woman who gave us our firstborn son. She is the woman who chose us, from thousands of others, for some unknown reason. She is the woman who felt that this little soul belonged with us.

She deserves her own blog post. Let me get on that.

Why I Hate My La Leche League Group… And Why I Stay

breasfeeding portrait

(what I wished breastfeeding looked like every day)

I joined a La Leche League for Multiples support group when I was pregnant with my twins. I hate it. And yet I continue to stay. Why? I stay because I seem to be the only one who says, “Don’t worry. Just do what works for you and your family!” to the poor new moms who are consumed with worry and guilt and stress. The rest of the members seem to piledrive them into ground with the “Crying-It-Out Makes You the Devil” and “Not-Tandem-Nursing Makes you a Terrorist”.

Breastfeeding can have some weird challenges. My mom says, “I don’t know what the big deal is. You stick them on the boob and they eat.” But there are a thousand things that complicate nursing – latching problems, NICU stays, tongue-ties, engorgement, mastitis, plugged ducts, low milk production. In my case, what happened to get in the way of nursing was almost dying. I needed two blood transfusions , which messed with my pituitary glands, and, therefore, my milk production.  My milk finally came in on the tenth or eleventh day, which is later than any lactation consultant ever heard. To complicate matters, I was sedated in the ICU for the first 48 hours after the birth and had one baby in the NICU. I spent a week total in the hospital, and was mostly unable to care for my babies during that time. (You can read more about my birth story here.)

Multiples further complicate the breastfeeding. How do you feed two babies at once? How do you make enough milk for two? How do you physically maneuver in the middle of the night alone? I read a lot of books about all that during my pregnancy and kind of just adopted a wait-and-see approach. I joined an online La Leche League for Multiples support group, to get ideas and friends in place before I had any problems.

If I had given birth in my twenties, I might have been one of these LLL know-it-alls. I saw the world as a little more black and white back then. I assumed I would get pregnant when I wanted and nurse how I wanted. Ha! I had a more one-size-fits-all approach to the world. Now that I am well into my thirties, and have made God laugh with all my plans, I know that everyone deals with problems we can’t see. I would never assume that I can predict my future or my reaction to problems in my future. I especially would never assume that I know what is best for another nursing mother and her family.

So where the heck do these LLL members get off?!

I would like to point out that I am not including the leaders of the LLL in my rant. The leaders – professional lactation consultants – have all been well-trained and reasonable. They have supported any of my questions, problems, and solutions. I am specifically complaining about when a member posts a question for the group and the members all leap on top of her.

I absolutely, 100%, completely, wholly, wholeheartedly HATED tandem nursing. I most certainly had to supplement my twins’ breastmilk with formula. I most certainly had to give them bottles. I most certainly had them cry-it-out when the twins were ready – and when I was about to stab someone with a fork or get really really sick from not sleeping. (Apparently, two or three hours of sleep for seven months was my limit.) I most certainly was happy to stop nursing at seven months. I had a challenging (and sometimes very sad) two-year-old who seemed to know instinctively that breastfeeding was more intimate than bottles – and hated it. I also dealt with the sorrow of not nursing him, since he came to me through adoption.

All of these things, apparently, have made me a complete rebel in my LLL group. However, I have NO GUILT for feeling or doing any of these things. (Thank goodness for my church sisters and my friends!) Only me and Mr. Okayest know what is best for our family.

Today, a worried mom posted on my LLL group that her pediatrician, who is also a twin mom, suggested that she stop feeding her 6-month-old twins in the middle of the night. Although she said she loved the idea of more sleep, she was unsure of what to do. Many members immediately posted things about  how crying-it-out should never, ever, be done under any circumstances and that it raises babies’ cortisol levels. First of all, these women are not doctors. They are just moms! How dare they contradict a doctor before they have all the facts? Second of all, this mom was truly hurting and struggling with her decision, and, if she were to choose to cry-it-out, now she would have more guilt piled on top of her guilt. I simply added to the commotion that we cried it out, it worked for us, and to just do what works for her and her family.

A few day ago, a worried mom asked the LLL group what she could do to increase her supply. She was exclusively pumping, not putting the babies to breast, because her babies had had an extended NICU stay. The members immediately criticized her for not putting the babies to the breast because, in their opinion, it was the only way to increase your milk. She eventually replied to all the comments that people might look down on her because she is a nurse and has to pump to get through her 12-hour shifts at work. How horrible is that?! A new mom is already struggling with the guilt of pumping, babies in the NICU, low milk production, and going back to work – and these women made it worse! She was apologizing for having to pump! WTHeck?! I chimed in to say that taking fenugreek worked for me, and that no one should ever make her feel badly about her decisions and that she should do what is right for her and her family.

I could go on and on with stories like this. Mr. Okayest is used to saying, “Why don’t you just leave that group?” after every time I exclaim with frustration at the comments. It’s because someone has to tell a mom to just do what is right for her and her family.

Dang.

breastfeeding(what breastfeeding really looked like every day)