Friday, August 5, 2011

Open Adoption Roundtable #28

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It's designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don't need to be listed at Open Adoption Bloggers to participate or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you're thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table.

"Lori of Write Mind Open Heart, an adoptive parent in two open adoptions, has up at her blog a set of eleven questions about open adoption which were posed to her by JoAnne, an adult adoptee in a closed adoption. There are some questions there about the role adoption professionals played arranging contact in your adoptions and how you understand the legal weight of any open adoption agreements you may have."

My responses are listed below each question.

1. Can the adoptive parents really go back on their word after the adoption has been finalized and do whatever they please in regard to updates and pictures? 

Yes, they really really can. Baby Girl's parents did this to me. During my pregnancy we (myself, my big kids, and my mom) were all promised over and over that we could see Baby Girl "whenever" we wanted to and all we had to do was to call, text, or email to set up a visit. As time went on it became glaringly obvious that Baby Girl's adoptive parents were pushing our family further and further away. At her first birthday dinner when we expressed a desire to see her more, we were told that they thought that our contact had been sufficient. A week later I received an email from Baby Girl's adoptive father stating that we would no longer be in contact and I was free to mail pictures of our family for Baby Girl.

After looking further into the laws in my state I discovered that it doesn't matter that we signed an agreement about the frequency of visits and contact because in order to enforce it I would have to go to court. And even then there's not a whole lot that can be done to enforce the visitations. 

2. Who is the go-between for communication with most Open Adoptions: the case worker, the placing agency, or the lawyer handling the adoption? 

Baby Girl's adoption started out private because I knew her parents. I went to church with them and we were friends of sorts. During my pregnancy we decided to go with the agency that they had used for their previous adoption because it was just easier for everyone involved. My primary contact was my caseworker, but more often I spoke directly to Baby Girl's adoptive parents. I haven't spoken to my caseworker in probably a year or more because I feel like she lied to me and used me and I'm still so angry with her and the agency that I have no desire to speak to them at all. 

3. What are the advantages and disadvantages for each of the above contact persons? 

The only advantage to using a 3rd party for contact is that you don't have to tread quite as gently when you're communicating with the adoptive parents. With the caseworker I can say whatever it is that I'm feeling and how much I hate what's happening and tell her what I want, and she communicates all of my thoughts and feelings in a very non-confrontational way. 

4. How can case workers be involved in Open Adoption as well if DHS are already so understaffed and the budgets are maxed out for the thousands of forgotten children lost in the system? 

Since my daughter's adoption was not through DHS and our agency is a private adoption agency, I don't have an answer for this question. 

5. Is there an incentive such as money for the adoption agency to be still involved indirectly and indefinitely for an Open Adoption? Does it cost the prospective adoptive parents more money upfront for it to be an open adoption? 

As far as I know there is no ongoing cost or higher initial cost for an open adoption instead of a closed adoption. Even with a closed adoption the agency is required to maintain records for a certain number of years. And it seems to me that open adoptions tend to fall into 2 camps after a while: they either close at the request of the birthmother or the adoptive parents or the relationship becomes open enough that the agency isn't needed as a go-between any more. 

6. If the contract is legally binding, what happens to the adoptive parents if they don’t follow through? Is there really any legal recourse for both parties that are clearly spelled out? 

As with any legally binding contract, enforcement comes through the courts. If the adoptive parents aren't following through then the birthmother/birthparents will have to take the adoptive parents to court. That requires money for attorneys and time to go to court. And all kinds of hard feelings are caused and dredged up. Since the primary reason for birthmothers to place their babies for adoption is financial difficulties, most birthmothers don't have the required resources to pursue legal action against the adoptive parents. And if the birthmothers could take the adoptive parents to court, and win and have the agreement enforced, then the adoptive parents are all mad at the birthmother which makes everything more difficult. So, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. Isn't adoption fun? 

7. What deters the birth parents from coming to your house unannounced? 

As a birthmother, this question is rather insulting. I know and understand that Baby Girl is part of two families now: her birth family and her adoptive family. I don't show up at people's houses unannounced anyway, but I wouldn't do that to Baby Girl's parents either. The main reason is because they hold all the power in their hands. If I make them angry enough they can take away what little contact I do have with my birthdaughter. I'm between a rock and a hard place and I have to behave myself. 

However, that didn't keep Baby Girl's adoptive parents from showing up, unannounced, at our house on Christmas morning. Don't even get me started on how hard that was for my family and me to handle! 

8. Do you know if there are any court cases where it’s obvious that there are loopholes in Open Adoption that need to be addressed? 

I'm not sure what kind of "loopholes" this question is asking about. Loopholes that allow the adoptive parents to take advantage of the birthparents, or loopholes that allow those evil birthparents to contact their children? Loopholes that let the adoptees find their birth families? I think that, overall, most states are pretty good at making sure that the birthparents have few enforceable rights, with no loopholes to speak of.

9. Just like there are issues with closed adoptions and we have the outspoken activists’, etc., are there any Open Adoption opponents or vice versa that are working to be the voice for the birth mothers as well as the adoptive children and their best interests? 

I don't know if there are official organizations for birthmothers or not. I know that as a birthmother who was burned by the process and by the system, I use my voice to educate people about the process and what really happens. I can't say that I oppose adoptions 100%, but I do think that there needs to be WAY more transparency in the process so that birthmothers truly understand what they are getting into. And I think that the laws need to be changed so that it's not so easy for adoptive parents to say what they will to get their babies and then walk away from the birthmothers.

10. When is the adoptee old enough to choose if they want contact or not? What if they are the ones who want to break off ties with the bio parents?

I think that age probably depends on the adoptee and how he/she is feeling about it. At age 18 when the adoptee is a legal adult, he/she can decide to seek the birthparents and there is nothing that the adoptive parents can do about it. If an adoptee is younger than 18, the adoptive parents can restrict contact if they want to. But with things like Facebook and email it's getting easier to find people and harder to control who is contacting whom.

I think that all birthparents understand that their child may not want to know them later on in life. It's a deep fear that we all have. With one hand we hope for a future with our children in it, and with the other we hold the fear that we will never really know them. If the adoptee breaks off contact then there's nothing the birthparent can do. Stalking your child won fix it. You have to pick up the pieces of your heart and move on. 

11. Are there any support groups/legal aids for birth mothers where they can get honest answers with their concerns for open adoptions?

I don't think there are. I researched open adoption like crazy when I was pregnant and I didn't come across anything like this. I got the most honest answers from other birthmothers that I knew. But wouldn't it be great if there was a place for potential birthmothers to go for a host of honest answers about open adoption and what it looks like and feels like?

My Love/Love Less Relationship with Breastfeeding

This week is World Breastfeeding Week and all over my Facebook news feed have been articles and blogs and thoughts and pictures about breastfeeding. I decided to throw my own two cents into the large assortment of breastfeeding stuff out there.

I knew as a little girl that I would breastfeed my babies when I grew up. It was how my mom fed my sister and I, and how all of her friends fed their babies. My mom tells me that I didn't even see a real baby bottle until after my second birthday and I was fascinated with it because it was so strange.

Being a mom that has breastfed my two big kids, pumped exclusively for my birthdaughter and is now breastfeeding my new baby, there are things that I love about breastfeeding, and some things that I love less. I won't say "hate" because really there's nothing I hate about breastfeeding.

In no particular order...

1. I love that it's free. Not only do I like saving money, free is my all-time favorite price. Throw in being a perpetually broke single student momma and free looks better and better. I stopped nursing Hannah when I went back to work when she was 8 weeks old. I didn't have a good pump or good support on how to pump and store, so I didn't. I tried valiantly with the little manual Evenflo pump that I had, but it just wasn't enough. We went to formula, which was about $20 for each large can of powder. The can would last for about 4 days, which meant that we were buying about 8 cans of formula a month. That's $160 a month just to feed one tiny little baby. With breastfeeding I feed and water myself, which in turn feeds my baby for no extra money. Plus, breastmilk comes straight from the tap so I don't need to buy bottles or bottle warmers or anything else to get the food into the baby.

2. I love that it's easy. First, let me define what I mean by "easy" because breastfeeding is not easy all the time, and certainly not in the beginning when mom and baby are both trying to figure out what they're doing. And that goes for first-time mommas and veteran mommas. "Easy" means that I don't have to pack extra supplies and equipment to feed my baby when we leave the house. I don't have to make special shopping trips to buy formula. I don't have to wash extra dishes (bottles) so that I can feed the baby. I don't have to get out of bed in the middle of the night and go into the kitchen, heat water, mix a bottle, and bring it back to my now screaming baby. At 3 am when he's hungry, I sit up a little bit, put the baby on my stomach, help him latch on, and fall back to sleep. There have been entire nights where I've apparently nursed him, but don't even remember it, and when I wake up in the morning he's sleeping sideways on me still latched on. I do co-sleep which I think makes breastfeeding about a thousand times easier.

3. I love that I can feed my baby anytime, anywhere. If we're at the lake, the pool, the children's museum, the movie theater, a friend's house, the farmer's market, the grocery store, the mall, church, or one of a hundred other places, all I have to do is stick baby on the boob. It takes seconds to get him attached and I can (usually) continue doing whatever it was that I was doing before I started feeding him.

4. I love less nursing in public (NIP). Yeah, yeah, all of us breastfeeding moms are "supposed to" love "whipping out" our breasts wherever we are to feed our babies. But the truth of the matter is that NIP can be really uncomfortable for us. People stare, and sometimes give you dirty looks. I swear that others are staring because they're hoping for a nip shot. I'm trying to wrangle a wiggly baby without exposing myself to the world and there's no way a cover works because my baby, like about 99.9999% of the rest of them out there, hates having anything over his head or face. I have managed to get my technique down much better since Baby Boy was born, and I know I had it down with my other two after the first few weeks. But I still live in fear that someone will come up to me and say something rude, or try to kick me out of wherever I am because I'm nursing my baby.

5. I love that, right now, I'm the sole source of nourishment for my baby. I love that I am forced to take breaks to sit down and feed him. That it's just the two of us, staring at each other. I love kissing his little hands and nibbling his tiny fingers while he's nursing. I love talking to him and singing to him. I love the way the weight of his little body feels in my arms and how he curves around my body. I love how we fit like two pieces of a puzzle. I get tremendous satisfaction for every ounce of weight he puts on and every inch he grows because I did that all by myself. I grew his whole self inside me, and I brought his whole self into the world on my own, and on my own I am keeping his whole self alive. It's a pretty amazing feeling.

6. I love less that I'm his sole source of nourishment. Like most anything, breastfeeding can be a double-edged sword at times. Like when I really need to get dinner made so we can all eat, or when I'm trying to email my financial aid advisor and need both hands, or if I have to pee really really badly. Some things just don't mix well with breastfeeding. It would be so super convenient to have one of the big kids mix a bottle and feed him for me. I suppose we could do that, but that's not what I want for my baby. So, I just deal with it. I've learned how to stop doing anything right in the middle so I can feed the baby and then go back to whatever it was I was doing before. I'm also getting much better at typing one-handed.

7. I love knowing that I can keep breastfeeding when I go back to school and/or work. Thanks to the modern marvel of super efficient double electric breast pumps, quitting nursing when going back to school or work is a thing of the past. And thanks to the Affordable Healthcare Act, breastfeeding is now more protected than ever because certain employers are mandated to provide time for pumping and a private location for pumping that is not a bathroom. So when I start school in a couple of weeks I'll be able to take my new BFF, Ameda, with me to school and clinicals and I can pump and store the milk. Then when Baby Boy is at daycare he'll be able to keep getting breastmilk. No formula needed!

8. I love less the whole process of pumping and storing. Pumping, like breastfeeding, can be a lot of time-consuming work. Especially in the beginning when you're still getting it figured out. I started pumping when Baby Boy was 1 month and 1 day old so that I would have a supply in the freezer ready for when I went back to school. Right now there is about 37 ounces of frozen breastmilk in my freezer, enough to last him at least 2 days at daycare, if not 3 or 4. That stash will be added to as I pump while away from him and store it for future use. Pumping can be a hassle. And hooking up to the pump almost always makes me feel like a Jersey cow. And unless I take the extra time to use a hands-free pumping bra or something, I have to hold the flanges onto my breasts for the 10 minutes or so that I'm pumping. Boooooring. However, it's pretty cool to see how much milk you're making and it's extremely satisfying to build the stash in the freezer. I could do without washing the pump parts and bottles, and hauling the pump and the accessories around all over the place, though.

9. I love the health benefits for both of us. Women who breastfeed their babies have a  reduced risk of developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, and cervical cancer later on in their lives. The longer a woman breastfeeds, the more the risk goes down. Breastfeeding also burns an extra 500 to 800 calories a day while you're just sitting there! Breastfeeding helps the uterus return to it's normal size after birth and it helps balance out postpartum hormones which can help reduce the risk of developing postpartum depression.

Babies who are breastfed are healthier because they are getting momma's antibodies to fight of infections. That means that momma misses less work/school which makes everyone happy. Recent studies have also shown that breastfed babies have a 73% reduction of SIDS. Breastfed babies are also getting food that is customized specifically for that baby at that time of day at that stage of development. The composition of fats, vitamins, and other nutrients in breastmilk changes throughout the day, during each feeding, and throughout the baby's nursing life.

10. I love less that I don't actually lose weight while breastfeeding. Okay, this one I might actually hate. For a large percentage of other nursing mommas out there, they can eat whatever they want while the pounds melt off of them. Yeah, not so much for me. When I'm breastfeeding I am starving almost 24/7. It's even worse right after I'm done feeding the baby. I'm not a skinny momma to begin with and it's really depressing to see that the weight I lost right after he was born has come back. I'm trying to not eat as much, but it's really hard when I feel so hungry all the time.

So there you have it! What do you love, and love less, about breastfeeding?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Back in the Saddle

Well, it's been about a million years since I've written anything here. Mostly because at first I was really busy being a pregnant nursing student. Then I was really busy being pregnant and hot and getting ready for baby to be born. And more recently I've been really busy being the mom of a newborn baby boy.

It's been really weird being the actual mother of an actual new baby. When your youngest child at home is 11 years old, and the last baby you had was placed for adoption, having that new baby in the house is a little odd. However, I am loving just about every minute of it. The couple of episodes of inconsolable crying weren't so fun for either of us. But even waking up at 3 am night after night can be fun because I get to stare at my little baby guy and memorize every little part of his sweet self.

I feel like I didn't really get to enjoy my big kid's babyhoods. With Big Boy I was 19 years old and so young that it didn't occur to me to treasure our moments together. I mostly spent my time wondering when he would go back to sleep, or get older and more interesting. We were totally broke and I was more focused on the fact that I couldn't buy lots of cute baby things than on the actual baby himself. I know now that I also had some post-partum depression that went totally unrecognized and, hence, untreated. I think that it would have helped our bonding a whole lot if I had some therapy and possibly some medication. I waited for 3 months for his "real mom" to show up! I clearly was not handling first-time motherhood all that well, and I was too afraid of looking stupid or incompetent to ask for help.

With Big Girl I had a 17 month old little boy and a husband that I, frankly, hated. I was also working full-time as the only financial support to our family while my husband got high all day long. Oh, and the last couple of weeks of my pregnancy we had his friend and the friend's girlfriend couch surfing at our house. They stayed for over a month after Hannah was born as well. Nothing like having unwanted barnacle houseguests when you're enormously pregnant and then have a new baby. And when Big Girl was only 10 weeks old I left my now ex-husband and that opened a whole new can of worms.

So many things took the focus off of my babies. I didn't know how to get it back. I didn't know that I should get it back. I was so young and so overwhelmed that it was all I could do to keep my head above water. It seemed impossible to even be a good mom, much less one of those gushy loving every second of motherhood moms.

And now here I am again. The mom of a newborn. I'm still stressed out because I'm in nursing school full-time. But I've had the summer off and Baby Boy will be 11 weeks old on the day I return to school. I've been able to sleep in with him in the mornings and spend hours a day just staring at him and cuddling him. My time off has allowed us to get breastfeeding firmly established while building a good supply of frozen breastmilk for use at daycare. This time around I'm much less focused on the stuff aspect of motherhood and more focused on the baby himself. I get to see my older children interact with their baby brother and get to know him on their own terms. I see how thrilled they are when he smiles his big gummy baby smiles at them. They'll be over the moon when he starts giggling at them, I just know it.

Here we go again!