February 24, 2010

Mamma Mia

It’s my understanding (but I don’t know this for sure) that most kids go through a phase where they call their parents by their first names, rather than calling them “mom” and “dad.” It’s probably some developmental thing (at least it sounds like it could/should be) or maybe kids just think it’s funny. And really, it makes sense.

We don’t call our siblings “brother” or “sister” (unless you’re a Berenstain Bear). We do usually say “Aunt So-and-So” or “Uncle Such-and-Such,” but even then we use their name.

So, it should have been no surprise when our daughter, Ava, started calling us by our first names. What did come as a surprise was my reaction.

I was really upset by this. And believe me, I realize how ridiculous that sounds. The more I asked her to call me “mama,” the more she protested and kept right on calling me Amy. She really did think it was funny. It took me awhile—though it probably shouldn’t have—to figure out why this bothered me so.

I know I’m Ava’s mom, but because we are different colors, I want to make sure other people know I’m her mom too. Again, ridiculous; who cares, right? For some reason, I did.

Once again, I think I have a heightened awareness or hyper-sensitivity to this because our children our adopted. I am so happy, proud, excited, filled with love, and on and on, that I want to make sure everyone knows that Ava is my beautiful, amazing, wonderful daughter (unless she’s having a tantrum or serious “sass-itude” as we call it, then she’s my husband’s daughter…). In all seriousness, I just want to make sure people know that she’s mine and I’m hers. Even though rationally, I know it doesn’t matter at all what people think. I wondered if I would feel this way if we shared the same DNA, so I asked some friends how it makes them feel.

One mommy friend of mine is Italian with gorgeous olive skin and dark brown eyes. Her children are sandy-blonds with light eyes. When they were younger, they had extremely blond hair and my friend said it didn’t matter what her boys called her, she felt like people thought she was the nanny. I can relate.

A daddy friend of mine, who is black and married to a white woman, said this about his blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter calling him by his first name: I just assume people think I’m gay, and I’m one of her two dads. Ha! That never crossed my mind!

I guess what it boils down to is my own personal issue. Who knows what someone may or may not be thinking about our situation when they hear Ava call me by my name instead of calling me “mama.”

It’s time to let it go. That is, until Kamari starts calling me "Amy."

February 15, 2010

Dispelling the Myth

There’s this perception that if we physically give birth, we know what we’re “getting.” Whereas if you adopt, you have no idea, and therefore perhaps you should be leery. Hmmm. This is a perception that I like to call a myth, and I’d like to take a moment to banish that myth.

I should back up and say that, yes, sadly this is a comment I have received. Prior to adopting, I was asked if I was concerned about what I might “get.” To me, that’s such a ridiculous comment, I just can’t believe people ask it. Alas, for some reason, when it comes to adoption, most people have no filters.

I think I understand where the question might stem from: there is a perception that most children placed for adoption were taken from their birth parents (especially if the child is black, like mine) because of drug use by the birthmother. That inaccuracy is a conversation for another day, but might offer some insight into why people ask that question.

Nevertheless, I’m baffled by the question because it seems fairly obvious that you don’t know what you’re getting no matter where a child comes from. Sure, if you physically birth a child, you’ve got an idea of your genetic makeup (hair and eye color; height; weight; predisposition to X, Y, or Z; etc.), but what if you’re not sure who the father is? (Hey, it happens a lot.) You might have some info based on the two or three people you were with, but I’m going to guess if you don’t know who the father is, you don’t know much beyond hair and eye color, height, weight, etc.

Even if you’re married (with your partner, etc.) and have all the info you could want and then some, you still don’t know exactly what you’re going to get. From a NY Times article titled Genetics: Why children aren't just like their parent, Carey Goldberg had this to say : “There is a multitude of genetic variants that influence who you are, and another multitude that influence your partner, so your children end up a unique mixture that differs dramatically from each of you.” In other words, you don’t know what you’re going to get.

This is of course the same case with children who are adopted, but not because we (as adoptive parents) lack any information about the child. It’s simply for the same reason as cited above. (Note: I can only speak to domestic, open adoption, as I haven’t adopted Internationally; I realize when a child has been adopted from an orphanage or the like, there is probably little or no information available.)

In our case, we have a relationship with our son’s birthparents—and their parents—so we have access to a wealth of information about his genetic makeup, and we knew, as much as anyone can, what we were “getting” before he was born.

Our daughter’s situation is a little different, as we only have the basics—hair and eye color, height, weight, no drug/alcohol use—and a few other minor tidbits of information. Still, it was enough to paint a picture of what we might be “getting” when we brought her home.

The bottom line is that no matter where a child comes from (your belly or someone else’s), there are simply no guarantees. No one knows for sure what messed up genes might be lurking in their DNA. And genetics is a wacky thing—those genes could show up anywhere at any time. All we can do is the best we can with the information we do have.

I’ve learned to tailor my response depending on whom I’m talking with. If it’s someone I know well, or I’m in the mood to educate, I give a lengthy response (much like this post). If it’s an acquaintance or (gasp) a stranger asking, I simply say: nothing. Only because I have yet to come up with an appropriate zinger to hurl at people. I will let you know when I do, or better yet, let me know what you’d say.

February 04, 2010

Am I Enough?

I’ve been asked if I think I can love my “adopted children” as much as I would love a biological child. I’ve been asked if I have any remorse over not giving birth to my “own child.” After deep introspective pondering, I can honestly say, WTF, did you really just say that?

Yes, yes, I know. I’ll be providing adoption education and awareness—free of charge—to the masses for, well, the rest of my life. And I don’t mind, for the most part. Sometimes I get a little weary answering questions, though; questions with answers I think are no brainers. But I have to realize that not everyone shares the same perspective as I (unfortunately—ha!).

So, a refresher (as I’ve said this numerous times before): I cannot image loving anyone more than I love my daughter (and I’m sure I’ll feel the same about my son; of course I love him madly, but he’s just five months old and we haven’t finished bonding yet). She is the bee’s knees, as the old folks say. I don’t have a biological child to, uh, compare my ability to love, but (I just can’t say it any plainer), I can’t imagine loving another child more.

Next…in all honesty, the answer is no, I have no remorse or sadness over not giving birth to my “own child” (FYI, Ava and Kamari are my own children; they are mine to love and care for and raise and nurture. I know you “didn’t mean it like that,” but that’s what you said—I’m justa educatin’.). Giving birth wasn’t in the cards for me (nor was it something I was particularly interested in).

Oh sure, I’m curious what a child with my genes and my husband’s would be like, look like, etc. (I’m betting tall, funny looking nose, and slightly crazy.) But I also think that’s kind of narcissistic—I knew I wanted to be a mom (and I’m loving it!), which to me means raising a child, loving a child, nurturing a child, parenting a child. Said child doesn’t have to come from my loins for me to be a mom.

But here’s what does worry me, and on occasion, keep me up at night: will I be enough for my children (in particular, my daughter who has no ties with her birth family)? There are certain things I may not understand—identity or racial issues, what it’s like not to know your birth family—and maybe Ava won’t want to discuss these things with me. Maybe she won’t think I’m enough of a mom. Maybe she’ll think I let her down or failed her. Maybe she won’t think I gave her what she needed.

This isn’t about me worrying about feeling like a failure. Don’t all parents feel like failures at some point? And this isn’t about me needing to be her one and only “mom”—she has a birthmom out there and I truly hope she gets to meet her one day—I don’t think I’ll have a complex about that (but only time will tell!); I will always be her mom, the woman who raised her. I guess maybe I’m worried she won’t think I’m good enough for her, that she could have done better.

Yes, it seems my insecurities are getting the better of me today. But, when people ask me if I can love a child who was adopted as much as a biological one, all I can think is, will that child love me as much as a biological parent? I know my answer to the first question is without a doubt yes. I hope the answer to the second question is an enthusiastic yes, as well.