April 11, 2012

When I say the words “the situation” what comes to your mind? Do you think of that dude, Michael Sorrentino, from the MTV reality show “Jersey Shore?” Or do you think of something adoption related? Maybe you think of both? Neither? Something all together different?

Today when I heard the words “the situation” I first thought of adoption, felt a bit sick and then thought of Mr. Sorrentino, who is sometimes, call The Sitch. While the colorful reality star has nothing to do with my work place, I will share why I thought of him. I will explain to you my situation (pun intended).

Not quite a year ago, I hired a supremely talented woman to join my web team (I manage a team of web editors).  I liked her immediately not only for her education and experience but her style, her personality. She is someone I would have had as a friend had we met under different circumstances. She is friendly, creative (has these great chunks of red color on her dark asymmetrical bob), fashionable, an English major, web junkie, mother of two young sons and around my age. We have lots in common. During the year or so she has worked for me she has completed an amazing amount of work including helping us push our way into the mobile application space by writing content for our soon to come mobile app while simultaneously managing the editorial efforts of our member portal. Like I said, cool, amazing, talented, someone I really like.  As such, I was a bit nervous when she approached me and asked if we could “talk”. I said “sure” and invited her to sit down on my cushioned file cabinet/seat.  She then asked if we could find a room and talk in private. It was at this point my internal manager alarm went off and I said “uh-oh” quietly to myself.  This type of request usually means, in my experience, someone is resigning or has some other major problem.   We found a room.

“So, I don’t want you to be nervous or anything. It is nothing bad” says editor extraordinaire.

“Okay. So what’s up?” I ask.

She appears nervous and a bit jumpy. This is not her usual style.  If she is not resigning, it’s nothing bad, what is making my usually calm, cool, collected editor so skittish?

“Well, my husband and I are adopting a baby. We just got called a day or so ago. It was a complete shock. We had registered with an adoption agency several years ago. We were able to get pregnant via IVF and have our sons and it was long and hard and expensive but we did it. We totally forgot to take our profile off the active registry with the agency and they called us. They have a baby girl for us…Utah…end of May…leave of absence…situation…four kids…mom 26…dad in his 40… “she says.

She is speaking a bit rapidly (which is normal for her, another thing I like about her as I do it as well) but rambling. Or maybe it’s me?  Normally I could follow her but the adoption word has unnerved me and done something strange to my cochlea.  I am hearing her yet simultaneously reeling inside and trying my best to keep my professional shit together.


I notice my breathing is a bit rapid and shallow.  I let her ramble on while I get my internal feces collected so I can be the professional manager type and not the teenager girl traumatized at the loss of her child that the adult mother found and was told by that child to please go away, I don’t think of you or adoption, like ever.

By listening and doing that internal feces collection, I learn:

  • Baby girl due end of May.
  • Will be induced (kid cannot even pick her own birthday!)
  • Parents are not married. Mother is 26. Father is in his 40s. They have one child, six years old that they are parenting. They have surrendered four (FOUR?) children already. Due to their “situation” they are placing this one as well.
  • She has been invited to be in the delivery room. Squeee! She feels so honored!
  • Oh, I should see the picture of the six year old. The agency sent her a picture and the six year old is all malnourished, unwashed and clearly abused. (Why is the agency sharing a picture of an allegedly abused child and NOT reporting that to authorities?)
  • Mother and father are in Utah.
  • Staff member and her husband are OH! SO. HAPPY.  They are going to proceed ahead with the adoption for clearly this was meant to be.
  • She would like to know if she can take a few months off for adoption leave and come back.

As she finishes and she sits in front of me, waiting for my response, the first words I can muster are:

“Do you know my background?” I ask.

She is clearly utterly confused. What does MY background have to do with what she just told me?

“Huh? What? Uh, no” she responds.

So I tell her.  I share I have a daughter, surrendered to adoption when I was 18 after a five month stay in a maternity home located one thousand miles away from my family and support system. I tell her my agency was a baby broker that coerced mothers, lied to them, made promises and then sold the children to families who had money. I tell her I am an activist in the adoption field and that I support adoption only as a last resort and even then I believe all ties to the family of origin, medical history, etc. should be maintained. I tell her my husband and I are in the process of forming a not for profit foundation that will provide education scholarships to single moms struggling to parent and finish their education.

At this point, I realize I am rambling and vacillating between the 18 year traumatized pissed off mother and my present day self.  My voice is either shaky and on the verge of tears in one breath or firm and resolute in the next.  My cochlea must have fixed itself for now I hear not only her, but my own voice and it sounds, well, a bit scary.

Manager Professional Suz enters the room.

I try to bring it back to her request. I tell her we value her (we/I do) and that I will consider her request and share it with my boss as well. She is very appreciative and continues to go on a bit more about “the situation”.  I share a bit more including telling her to question everything the agency tells her, Utah is a major red flag, and that she should get all the medical history possible, names, etc.

She responds by stating the agency is very ethical, this mothers situation is not like mine was (she said this with a bit of a defensive tone to her voice), it’s legit, necessary, the right thing, etc.  At this point, I note that sweet sugary smell of Kool-Aid dust that wafts up into your nose when you are making, or exposed to the making, of Kool-Aid.   The suggestion that my situation is not like this one and that somehow I am unique or different or whatever has angered me (and invalidated me, thank you very much).  I realize it is time to wrap up the conversation. I let her know I will get back to her, reiterate my sincere belief and liking of her as a person and a professional and we leave.

She returns to her desk and I go to the ladies room and cry.

Adoption at work is not something I have prepared myself for.

Knowing that in a few weeks another baby girl will lose her mama and suffer a primal wound makes me sad.

Knowing that my friend, a woman I respect and admire, has sipped the Kool-Aid and may be in the process of being duped by a Utah adoption agency makes me angry.

The pressure to be the professional non traumatized “birth-mother” overwhelms me. If I could leave the office I would but it is not an option.  I return to my desk and immediately turn to my Facebook (thank goodness I work in ebusiness and we have access from work) and I vent to my private adoption list on my Facebook (you guys know who you are, thank you for being there).


I spoke briefly to my staff member today. Let her know my boss and I support her request and that we will look for a temporary staff member during her leave. I will also look at our current resource plan and see if I can adjust things amongst the other team members. She is appreciative.

I said nothing else about adoption.  I want to but I am still formulating my thoughts. I don’t want to come across as this AntiAdoptoNazi. I do respect and want to retain this person on my team. But how do I help her, help me, help that baby girl?  What do I share? How do I do it effectively and gently?

A few of my friends on Facebook recommended a few books for me to share with her. I ask you now, dear readers, what would you recommend I share with a PAP (or not)? If you were in my shoes, what would you do?

Please note it is highly probable she has, or soon will, google me and find this blog, so, feel free to write your response not necessarily to me, but to her.

Artwork Credit: Julie Rist

Reading and Remembering

I am currently reading Stolen Life by Jaycee Lee Dugard.  A friend had mentioned Jaycee’s story a while back and for reasons I could not explain I found myself wanting to know more about her tragic abduction.  In the event you have been hiding under a rock the past few years, Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped in 1991 at the age of 11.  She was abducted from her street while walking to school. Eighteen years later, her abductor Phillip Garrido visits the campus of UC Berkeley and his strange behavior, coupled with the behavior of the two young girls with him (Jaycee’s daughters) brought about an investigation that lead to finding Jaycee Lee and confirming her identity.

It is an odd, painful, sad, amazing read. I have found I have had to pick the book up and then put it down. It makes me feel sick.  I realized today, why, besides the obvious crimes perpetrated against Jaycee and her daughters, it made me feel a bit queasy.

Throughout most of the book we are forced to see the world through Jaycees eyes – first as a young girl, then a young mother, then a woman in her twenties.  Through the 18 years of her imprisonment, she becomes attached to Garrido.  Despite the horrible things he does to her, she is utterly dependent on him for food, clothing, housing and the care of her children.

And yeah, here is where I gasp.

I have been reminded at various times in the story of my own attachment and dependence on Colleen Rogers, my case worker from Easter House.  While I do not for one moment consider my own trauma to be anything like Jaycees, I could relate strongly, too strongly, to the fondness one can feel for ones captor. Jaycee is left alone in a makeshift domicile and looks forward to her captors visiting. I was sent away to a maternity home located in a large city, one thousand miles from my family, and I counted the hours until my captor caseworker would come back to see me. I smiled broadly when she arrived with gifts in hand and felt incredibly special when she took me out somewhere to eat.

I realize I am still, almost 26 years later, entangled with my caseworker and I don’t like it one bit. I disliked that I want her to talk to me. I want her to respond to my emails and my snail mails. She doesn’t and it upsets me. Like my daughter, Colleen ignores me and my requests for contact. I am a non person, I don’t exist. I want to talk with her, ask her to fill in gaps for me, answer to the things she did and said to me.  I want her to say she is sorry, she was wrong. I want her to say that I was a good person and I could have, and should have, been a good mother.  I want to read and see those letters of mine she said she kept (at least I think I do?).  I want validation from her that I exist today and I existed back then. I want her to see me as more than just an incubator for the child her employer later sold to a family from New Jersey.

The conflict inside me is intense. It is confusing. I sway between contempt for her and a desire to connect with her. I want to go out to drinks with her and reflect on my maternity home days and I want to back hand bitch slap her. Several times. I get angry at myself for thinking anything kind about her. I feel dirty for trying to justify her actions.

It makes me feel ill that the only person that I believed cared about me during my maternity home confinement was the same person that told me to abandon my child to strangers, and I did.  It makes me sick to think that there is still part of me that feels something soft and kind towards her. Intellectually I realize this behavior  is  a common survival strategy for victims of interpersonal abuse. It has been observed in battered spouses, abused children, prisoners of war, and concentration camp survivors. Unfortunately, knowing that intellectually does not seem to lessen the conflict inside me.

I am only half way through Jaycee’s story.  For all the reasons mentioned above and more, I have been reading very slowly and very deliberately.

I am not sure I will have the intestinal fortitude to complete it. Jaycees story — and my own –  may make it too difficult to do so.


The very first thing my daughters father said to me when I told him I might be pregnant was “what are you going to do?”.

This was not received well by me at all. The words, the tone of voice, the body language implied I was at fault I needed to solve a problem that he, and I, had caused.

This was the first time he could have claimed me and our daughter.

Months later, a mere few days before flying to the Chicago area maternity home, I called him even though I knew it was against the rules. The agency and my mother had given me explicit instructions not to talk to him. I followed those instructions for several months. I disobeyed them days before. I called him, from a darkened room in my parents home. In something that sounded like a whisper and a cry, I told him what was happening and where I was going.

That was his second time to claim me and our daughter.

Four months into my stay at the maternity home, the agency learns from me that I had told him where I was. They were not pleased with me. He now needed to terminate his parental rights for if he did not, he could contest the adoption later.  The agency bought him a plane ticket. My mother drove him to the airport.  He arrived in Chicago. My heart was full with emotion.  While I did not state such, inside me, I was praying to gods I never believed in that he would use this chance to stop the insanity. He would proclaim his love for me and save me and my child from adoption.

That was his third time he could have claimed me and our daughter.

He signed pre-birth surrender papers and was sent packing. I was left there, alone, again.

Two months later, less than a week post partum, I was put on a plane by the agency and sent back East. A few weeks after arriving home my father found me, alone and angry in the bedroom I shared with my younger sister. My suitcase of items from Chicago was strewn across the bed and floor. Messes were not allowed in my childhood home. My father entered, hollered at me to clean up the mess and then his eye caught the packet of hospital photos that had been sent to me.  The only photos I had of my daughter, sprawled across the bed, in the open, for all eyes to see.  His eyes saw and his face flushed. 

He pointed his angry finger towards them and said “that did not happen and we will never discuss that.  Now put that away.”

That was my dads chance, one of many, to claim me and my daughter. He could have stood up then (and even earlier) for his daughters good name but he didn’t. That memory has been permanently tattooed on my brain. That?  What that? Oh, you mean my child? My daughter? Your granddaughter?

I return to Chicago very soon after and stay there for years. This time of my own choosing. I return east in the mid-1990’s due to medical diagnosis my father has received. He has lung cancer and will die soon.  While I told people I moved home to help my mother, cold hard truth was that I wanted to see  him die.

He didn’t, not then.

I stay in CT and begin seeing my daughters father, again.  He is engaged to be married and yet we are seeing each other.  All the love, the emotion, the passion is there. Another chance to claim me and our daughter.

He never did. He spent the night before his wedding in my bed.  I did not see him for years. (NB, I am sharing this potentially inflammatory information because it has been shared before, elsewhere, he and his wife know this already).

Another claim opportunity missed.

The need, the desire grows strong inside me. Will someone, anyone, acknowledge me? Accept me? See me as my child’s mother?

I marry in 1996. Prior to marrying, I share with my future husband the existence of my daughter.  He cries when he hears the story. He hugs me. He appears to have empathy. I encourage prior to marriage to tell his mother, my future mother in law, about my daughter. This feels important to me. Like something she needs to know.  Future husband disagrees. He will not tell is mother. It is not her business and does not make a difference in our relationship.

But it did.  It made a massive difference. That decision by my husband was interpreted to me as shame and embarrassment and a desire to keep my dirty laundry between him and I.  It was interpreted as an act of not claiming, not accepting, slut shaming.

And I allowed it.

Years later, just as I began my active search for my daughter, my husband returns home from work very angry. When I question him, he tells me that a coworker, a successful genealogist, had stumbled across my scarlet letter status while searching his family name online.  We argue. It is left unresolved yet the message is clear to me. I have blundered again. My dirty secret it out, on the internet of all places.

I am left unclaimed again. 

I allow it. By this time, I feel I deserve it. It has been almost 20 years.

June 28, 2005 I have positive confirmation I have found my daughter. Shortly thereafter, I find her father and I let him know. I advise him that if she asks me, I will share his name and contact details. He thanks me curtly via email and I don’t hear anything further — for a while.

We remain in contact for almost two years. Again, inside me, the desire rises, maybe now he will. Maybe this is my chance. He will now claim us, me, her. He will tell his subsequent children, three girls, that they have a sister.  He will finally tell his parents, and others, that he has not three girls, but four.

He and his wife decide to keep it to themselves. Reason cited is that since our daughter has not expressed a desire for a relationship, they are not going to share the news of her existence with others.

I am distraught and again, unclaimed.

I am now divorced, beginning a journey of recovery from divorce, adoption and more.  I date online. As part of this many of the interested men ask about me, several even google me and find out about my adoption activism.  None are discouraged. Many ask very good, considerate questions.  The relationships span only a few dates for reasons completely unrelated to adoption.

I meet my now husband as part of that online dating.  I tell him of my daughter on our second date. I knew, even that early, that this relationship was serious. I knew that I had to throw all my dirty laundry on the floor, again, and let him stare at it like my father did years earlier.  And so I did.

He paused, he processed, he seemed stunned and conflicted and compassionate. We have a good conversation.  Later, he shares his own sordid past.

We are engaged months later. He travels to adoption conferences with me, he reads my blog. We have long in-depth conversations about my daughters father, what happened and more. He is fully accepting.

I have never felt judged or lesser than or as if he was uncomfortable with who I am.  Quite the reverse, I feel he is in awe of me, he loves me, he is inspired by me, he respects me – even with the knowledge of my past, even knowing I have a child that wants nothing to do with me.

This past Monday my husband was confronted, for the first time ever, without me being present, with his wifes illegitimate child. A friend, a male friend, made a comment on my writing ability. Surprised that the comment came from out of nowhere, husband questions friend and in doing so, learns the friend reads this blog (hi friend!). Husband and friend proceed to have a conversation on my blog, what happened to me, my writing and my activism.

Husband comes home later that evening and one of the first things out of his mouth is a relaying of his conversation with friend. He is not angry or embarrassed. Rather he is surprised to learn friend reads here and at the same time he is clearly proud of me, proud that I am his wife.

I have been claimed.