Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What National Adoption Month Means to Me

For over two decades, National Adoption Month has been celebrated every November in communities across the country. Many national, state and local agencies will help spread the word through programs, events, and activities that help raise awareness for thousands of children and youth in foster care who are waiting for permanent, loving families.

For us, it’s just another month in which we are so grateful that adoption exists because it was the perfect way for us to grow our family.

After Allie died, we were searching for answers and clinging to hope that we would be able to honor her and have another child. Nothing worked, and for a time, it seemed like nothing would. When we were ready, adoption was there for us. We turned to it not as a final straw, but as another avenue.

Our second daughter is now four and a half years old. She is a happy, carefree spirit that has dramatically changed the course of our lives. I barely remember a time without her, and I know my life is better having her in it.

This past Halloween, after we went trick or treating and the rest of my family was sound asleep in a sweets induced coma, I settled in to watch “This Is Us.” I enjoy the show very much and often find parallels to my life in it. 

One of the main characters in the show was adopted. His adoptive parents had triplets, and one of the babies was born still. So they adopted a third baby who happened to be born on the same day and needed a home. They brought them all home from the hospital together. When the child (Randall) grew old enough to ask, he wondered to his mother what happened to the third baby. Did that baby get lost and then Randall somehow got found?  

His mother replied, "We didn’t lose him. Not like that. He didn’t live. Sometimes that can happen. Sometimes a baby dies right at the beginning. But your dad and I had all this love in our hearts…and we saw you and met you. So yeah, you are a miracle. But you’re not instead of anything.  You are the way it was always supposed to be.”
 
My daughter knows the word adoption, and we have visits with her birth mother twice a year. She knows she has a sister who lives in heaven, too. She has not yet put together that her sister’s death is what lead us to know without a doubt that we wanted to be parents and ultimately led us to adoption and to her. She will learn it all soon enough. The few times we have tried to explain it to her so far, it’s just been too overwhelming.

In this same television show, same episode, in fact, they talk about the child that died, and that his name was Kyle. That is virtually unheard of, even now. To name a baby that has died makes that child live on and I think you can ask any loss parent and they will agree. It's so beautiful to see these nuances played out on the screen. 

I was meant to be a mom to my two girls. To the one who shares my DNA and only lives in my heart as well as to the one who looks nothing like me but shares my love of life.

I am glad months like this one exist to spread awareness, and I am glad that TV shows like this one also exist to share their messages. Most of all, I am glad adoption exists because I love my family so very much and can’t imagine us any other way.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Learning How to Share At Any Age

I understand how important it is to share. "Sharing is caring!" I often remind my daughter when she has cousins or friends over and "forgets" to let them play with her toys. 

Before I was a mom, sharing was not very easy for me. I was never one to want to order two dishes at a restaurant and share my plate with someone else - not even my husband or my best friend. I was always worried there would not be enough for me.  

Now when I have something particularly yummy on my plate, and my daughter inevitably wants it, I share it with her without even thinking about it. Often, I anticipate her wanting what I have and automatically slice her off a piece or set aside something of mine for her.

I grew up in a relatively big family. We all had to share. There was no way around it. And yet, if I am honest, sharing sometimes makes me want to pout.

Let me give you a recent example. This past weekend, we had a visit with Miranda's birth mother. It was a nice visit overall, and Miranda soaked in all the extra attention that she was given. I, meanwhile, was a giant bundle of nerves, hovering in the corner, feeling inadequate and out of place.

I know this is ridiculous. I know it makes no sense. I know I drive Gary nuts during these visits. I can't help it, though. I hate sharing the single best thing in my life. My daugther.

I can share her with Gary. No problem. I can share her with our friends and family. Duh. I struggle, though, with sharing her with the woman who gave her something I could never have given her - the gift of life.

Instead of being grateful and feeling blessed that this woman chose Gary and me to raise our daughter, I feel insignificant and alone and afraid. 

I think we have maybe one more visit before Miranda asks who M is to us. There are no other kids at our visits, and she is always the center of attention. When we see M in October, she showers her with holiday gifts. When we see M in March, she showers her with birthday presents. Sooner or later, Miranda is going to want to know why we see this woman at all. 

We talk about adoption a fair amount. We have yet to connect the dots, though, and explain that Miranda is in fact adopted. It's hard to understand at any age, let alone four. We are on borrowed time, though. Miranda is becoming more and more inquisitive and we owe it to her to share her truth with her.

Upon leaving our visit, I remarked to Gary that I dreaded having 14 more years of these visits. To which Gary replied, "It's 56 hours. Total. Our visits are 2-3 hours each, twice a year. That means it's about 56 hours that M gets with Miranda. We will have that by Tuesday."

Then I felt foolish. He was right, of course. We get EVERYTHING. She gets a few hours a year. 

It's not a competition. I am her mother. M is the woman who gave her life. Miranda will be able to have room for us both one day. Of this I am sure.

I wish I was better at sharing. In time, perhaps I will be...

At our visit this past weekend

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Let's All Be Kids Today

I like Halloween. Always have. I like dressing up and pretending to be someone else. It's like an all-day acting class for me and being voted "Most Dramatic, Class of 1992" for North Penn Senior High School, it should come as no surprise that I like to put on a show.

Today is the first year that Miranda will be in school on Halloween. That means she gets to participate in the Harvest Parade around the school's parking lot and attend the party in her Pre-K classroom afterward.

I packed her Moana costume with such care and I told her that she will be able to spot me right away in the parking lot because I will have the most massive grin and (probably) the loudest cheering voice.

I am giddy with excitement and motivated to get all my writing done early today so that I can make it to everything on time. I feel a lightness that I did not expect to feel.

Then I realized why. Today is about Miranda. And Miranda only. It's not about what Allie should have been or would have been. It's not about the lost opportunities of my first child. It's not about my empty arms or my sometimes lonely heart. It's about the child that needs and deserves the full attention of both her parents today.

I am not sure what has changed. I am not sure if the universe shifted overnight while I was sleeping. I am not sure if it will shift back. All I know is that I woke up knowing that today was just about the little girl fast asleep down the hall and that was it.

I do not feel guilty for not making today about Allie. I feel a calmness knowing that I will not have to split my heart today. I cannot explain how or why I feel this way, so I am just going to go with it. It feels good. I feel good.

Today, we are all going to act like kids. We will play dress up and laugh and probably overeat candy. We will take pictures and soak in all the fun that we can on this one day.

Tomorrow, we can act like adults again. Or not. That is entirely up to you. I think I might try this kid thing a bit longer.

Happy Halloween!!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Surviving the Sadness

I do not know how many people die per day. I do not know how many funerals there are per day. I do not know if more people die from natural causes than at the hands of themselves or someone else or random acts. 

I do know that there was at least one funeral held today for a man I did not know. I may not have known him, but I know his wife, and I have met his children, and through them, I know he must have been someone worth knowing. 

His wife was not someone I know well. I see her once a year at our annual Pollyanna party and maybe one or two other times at a block party or some other such event. One time I accidentally sat in the same row as her at a Pink concert. Random, I know.

Since I learned of her husband's passing last week, I have not been able to stop thinking of them. Of the kids who will grow up without their dad and the wife who no longer has her partner by her side. How utterly unfair.

You would think that I would be familiar with grief by now. I know the agony of empty arms and unfulfilled dreams. I know the longing in my soul that sometimes makes something has simple as breathing seem like a chore. And yet, while I know how to grieve and miss and yearn for my daughter who died before she had a chance to be born, I can't wrap my head around this family's grief. The empty spot at the table. The quietness of his absence. 

Shortly after Allie died, Gary told me he wished he heard her cry just once. Not me, I said rather harshly. If I heard her voice, I would have wanted more. I am the type who always wants more. 

My uncle died when he was in his early forties. He also left behind two young children and a devastated wife. Maybe I am comparing my memory of what it was like to lose him and transposing it onto this family. Could be.

Death is so final. So abrupt. There is so much left unsaid and undone. 

Maybe people say that death makes you stronger. I would rather be weak and have my daughter here than be strong and live a life without her. I imagine my friend feels the same way about her husband.

I am at a loss to help this woman that I barely know. So I turned to my writing to see if it could ground me. In a way it has. Writing down how loss does not define us feels good. It feels like I am doing something instead of just being sad.

Somehow, in grief, we make it through. The hours turn to days and the days turn to weeks and then it's a month or two or three, and you have survived without that person. You feel guilty when you laugh or do not think about your loss every second of every day. Time does not heal, but time allows your heart to feel other emotions again.

Make it count. All of it. You never know when the chance you have could be the last chance you had. Do your best to survive the sadness. It's all you can do.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Letter to My First Daughter


My Dearest Allie,

It’s been a while since I have written to you. I find it easier to write about you than it is to write to you.

I have been thinking about you a lot lately. Even more than usual. This month is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, but it’s more than that.

A family member had a baby girl yesterday. I was holding my breath until she arrived. To me, pregnancy does not always equal babies, and labor does not mean babies, either. I need to know there was a cry, a scream, a noise, anything…to let me know that the baby is alive. And even then, my breath catches in my throat.

I went to physical therapy this morning for my plantar fasciitis which is not getting better and thus has me pretty irritated. No one knows there me there, and so I am a blank slate. I talk about my injury, and I talk about treatment, and every so often, I get a chance to talk about your sister. Never have I been able to talk about you. Sometimes, I just can’t.

From there, I went to get a pedicure. When you have people working on your foot 2-3 times a week, it’s key to make that foot look as good as you can. At least, that’s how I feel. Anyway, the woman in the chair next to me was very pregnant. I overheard her say she was 37 weeks pregnant. With a girl. I could not even look at her. She was me. I was her. The difference is, tomorrow, that baby in her belly would be dead if she were me. But this woman will hopefully be spared that agony and have a healthy baby in a few weeks.

I do not take anything for granted anymore. Not since the day I learned I lost you. I do not expect happy endings, although I still crave them. I am still human, after all.

Allie, your sister and I were cuddling last night for no reason at all. Just because it felt good and warm and safe (and I think she as delaying bed time, actually). I miss all of those cuddles we never got to have. I miss all the things that were taken away from us unfairly – first words and first haircuts and first days of school. I cannot even think about what it would be like if you were here and in first grade and all that comes along with it. Would the tooth fairy be coming soon? What would you want to be for Halloween?

I yearn to hold you again and wish I took more pictures of you after you were born. I wish I asked the nurse to cut off a lock of your hair so I could rub it between my aching fingers and have a piece of you that I could touch. I wish we had more time. I always wish for more time.

On Saturday, we will drive out to Lancaster and light a candle for you and celebrate the love and light you brought to us, even though you are not here to see it. We will stand with other families like ours, and we remember you.

We see you. We love you. We will never forget you.

Thank you for making me a mom, sweet girl. I love you more.

Forever and a day,

Mommy

What National Adoption Month Means to Me

For over two decades, National Adoption Month has been celebrated every November in communities across the country. Many national, state ...