By Meika Rouda
I haven’t been writing much this year. A slow spell of overwhelm came over me and I found it hard to muster the energy to write. It felt selfish of me, a purely indulgent act when so many other things needed to get done. First off are the kids, they need, well, everything. Food made, butts wiped, shoe laces tied, booboo’s kissed, nightmares scared off, hugs and kisses and books read constantly. Then there is housework, the laundry, the bills the groceries and the dinner to be made for my husband not to mention the bonding dinner time conversation so we can continue having a loving relationship even though I just want to go to bed and read a book alone. The writing was for me and me just isn’t a priority right now. I don’t mean to sound like a martyr but I realize I am always in a rush, not just on a daily basis to get the kids to school or be at an appointment on time but in a rush to make things happen. I want to finish my book and move on with other projects. I want to see The Next Family Anthology come to fruition and be published. Everything feels like it needs to happen now or else. Or else what? Maybe rushing isn’t what it is about? Right now I need to think about my family, my son’s multiple doctor’s appointments to treat his self control issues, my daughter’s gymnastic classes, my husband’s demanding job and allow myself a stint on the sidelines. I haven’t exercised in ten months and the lines on my face are growing at an alarming rate but still I am grateful that I have this life. That these children who tirelessly need things are my children. I am grateful to have this time to be with my kids even if they drive me crazy sometimes. I know that my time will come, my time will come.
By Meika Rouda
While last month’s Supreme Court decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act received much due attention and celebrating, there was another Supreme Court decision that also deserves a toast.
The Supreme Court had an adoption case pending regarding the rules of the Indian Child Welfare Act. Veronica Capobianco nee Brown was adopted at birth. Her biological mother placed her with a family she had chosen in South Carolina. Veronica’s biological father, Dusten Brown, who is part Cherokee Indian, relinquished his paternal rights through text message to Veronica’s biological mother before she was born. Dusten Brown served in the Iraq war, never paid any child support and didn’t request to see his daughter until she was 22 months old and he learned that his ex-girlfriend had placed her with an adoptive family. Once he learned of the adoption, he claimed he didn’t understand he was relinquishing his parental rights and tried to regain custody under the Indian Child Welfare Act whose intent is to preserve Native American families. While Veronica is 3/256th Cherokee, the court sided with the adoptive parents, saying that the biological father had given up his rights to the biological mother so the ICWA does not apply to this case.
Supporters of adoptive parents have a lot to celebrate. While Mr. Brown is now trying to adopt his daughter through the Oklahoma courts, it seems unlikely that he will succeed and she will be placed back with her adoptive parents.
The victory here is that so often with adoption, the biological parents have many rights and adoptive parents usually don’t. In this case, since the biological mother technically had sole custody and chose to place Veronica with the Capobianco’s, the adoptive parents have rights too. The Capobianco’s were at Veronica’s birth and raised her for the first 22 months of her life. They are her parents too. And while I am sorry that Dusten Brown has regrets about giving up his parental rights, and perhaps he should have had more information or counseling before making that choice, it does not excuse the fact that he never paid child support nor even asked about his daughter until she was almost two years old. The Capobianco’s are her parents and she deserves to be reunited with them. Cheers to the Supreme Court for making not one but two good decisions this summer.
By Meika Rouda
I have a good friend who is single and in her early forties and wants to be a mom….now. She is divorced, just moved to the Bay Area leaving her comfortable apartment and lucrative career in New York. For two years she has tried to conceive both the natural way with different partners and with IVF so now it is time to move to the next phase which is adoption, just not the typical kind.
She would like to adopt a child but is worried she won’t qualify since she just moved cities and has no job currently. So she is going to adopt an embryo. The clinic she found near Sacramento will give you three tries for the price of one IVF cycle so it is a good deal. When she first told me about it I had trouble understanding why anyone would do this.
“Just go adopt a baby.” I said.
“I won’t qualify. Besides who will pick me, I am a single mom in my forties?”
“You will be picked, it might take time but you never know what resonates a birth mom. Or do the closed adoption route and get matched.”
“I still don’t think the state will approve my home study. I am living in a studio apartment the size of a closet and have no income.”
“You can get a job.”
“I will. But I also want to be pregnant, it is nice to have some control over how my child is growing in utero even if I have no biological connection.”
“So it is the same as adoption except you are giving birth.”
“Yes but I can bond with the baby while pregnant and make sure I am eating well and taking my pre-natals. You can’t make sure a birth mom is doing everything you might do if you were pregnant.”
This is a good point. A birth mom may not make the same choices you would if you were pregnant and giving birth is an amazing experience to share with your child.
Yet is also confounds me in many ways, how medicine has totally changed how we create families. It used to be adoption was the only other way to have children if you couldn’t conceive naturally, then IVF, then donor eggs and donor sperm and surrogacy and now both donor eggs and sperm and even then sometimes a surrogacy..
“Do you tell the child that you aren’t their biological parent?”
“I don’t know.”
When she went to the clinic the first time for her interview, she was given a questionnaire on profile characteristics for eggs and sperm; for her baby. She chose a very tall sperm donor because she is short and likes tall men and was open for her egg donor as long as she was healthy.
She was just matched yesterday with an embryo that has a 6’4 college student sperm and a 22 year old mixed Latina and white egg donor. This embryo is fertilized and is ready to go, just waiting to be placed into her uterus.
I was with her when she got the email describing her baby, “Mom is 5’3, dad is German and Irish 6’4…”. It felt a lot like reading a profile of a prospective adoption.
“Should I get two eggs implanted or one?” she asked.
“Do one and then if it doesn’t work, do two next time. You get three tries for the same price right.”
So that is the plan. Next month, this embryo will be implanted into my friend and hopefully by Mother’s day next year she will be a mom. And if it doesn’t work she still has two more tries for the price of one. You don’t get that in adoption.
By Meika Rouda
I heard a story on the radio the other day that made me cry. It was on StoryCorps, an amazing program of personal stories, recorded and archived through the Library of Congress. It is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind and is open to the general public for free. This particular story was a father being interviewed by his ten-year-old daughter. She was asking him about what made him decide to adopt a child.
“I want to tell you something. You have absolutely changed my life. The most interesting thing for me was the idea of the Red Thread. In Chinese adoptions and in the Chinese culture the Red Thread means that we are, with our souls, connected to a specific person. And we got you. And I am so pleased that you’re part of my life. I just love you so much.”
I had never heard about the red thread before. It is such a simple idea that I know every adopted parent would agree with. We are bound in a predetermined sense with our children, adopted or not. When you adopt a child, it does feel like a soul connection. A connection so strong and so much larger than yourself, it feels destined. It also truly simplifies the complex reasons for adoption, that sometimes people can’t get pregnant while other people may not be able to parent at a certain time in their lives. Adoption is complex, but when I am explaining to my five-year-old why he was adopted, I think the red thread is a beautiful metaphor for the invisible link we feel with our children. While I don’t want to oversimplify it, I know there is plenty of time in the future to discuss the details and feelings of his adoption. For now, while he is five, there is the red thread.
By Meika Rouda
As an adoptee, I never felt like an outcast until I started attending adoption conferences. It seems silly that I, an adoptee and adopted parent, would feel like an outcast; I am intrinsically ingrained within the topic of adoption. But when I attend these conferences, I am chastised for not seeking out my birthmother and having a “reunion” with her. I have friends who haven’t spoken to one of their parents for years but no one is on their back for a “reunion”. I am even more judged for not having an open adoption or communication with my children’s birthparents. I am neither for nor against open communication, it just didn’t work out that way in our adoptions.
So, I just got an email announcing a new adoption conference called “Adoption: A Lifelong Journey”. I was immediately put off. Why does adoption have to be a lifelong journey? It sounds awful, like a condition one suffers from. Again I feel myself, alone, beating my own drum, saying “Get Over It. Adoption is natural in many ways and has been in almost every culture since the beginning of time.” I realize some adoptees have had difficulty with their adoptions, never felt one within their adopted families and yearned for their biological mother. I know this can be very real, it just isn’t real for everyone and the idea that it is, that all adoptees will have a lifelong journeyis not true. Everyone I know is on a lifelong journey, whether adopted or not. And to quote George Bernard Shaw, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
The journey part is one thing but then the conference really took a turn for the worse when they described the breakout sessions including choosing the right school for your adopted child. What? How is it any different to choose a school for a child who is adopted than for one who is not? Apparently this session focuses on how to tell if a school will be “adoption friendly”. I don’t think adopted children are any different than any other child and should never be made to feel that way. In my son’s public school classroom, there are, coincidentally, four adopted children, almost a quarter of the class. It would seem to be an “adoption friendly” school but frankly it is just the local public school down the street from our house in the suburbs.
I know these conferences have good intentions, but I think they miss many of the potential issues in adoption by not addressing all sides. I have offered several times to talk on one of the panels, to provide a different and positive view on adoption but the organizers have always declined. I guess I don’t fit the mold. Talking about adoption and the positive effects it can have on a person and a family just isn’t as interesting as choosing a school for your adopted child. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to get back to my lifelong journey and pick up my son from his adoption friendly school.
By Meika Rouda
Lately I have been posed with the Do I mention my kids were adopted or not? quandry. I was at the dentist the other day and my hygienist who I have been seeing for the past few years was looking a little round in the belly. She is a little younger than me, smiley, always cheerful and I wanted to ask “are you pregnant?” but knew better. Maybe she had a huge lunch? Isn’t that what the celebs complain about when Star magazine says they are pregnant but really they just had a bowl of pasta and are bloated? Anyway, while my mouth was hanging open, I noticed the engagement ring on her finger and managed to say “You are engaged; congrats!” She smiled and said “and I’m having a baby in May.” She rubbed her belly. “I noticed you were a little rounder but didn’t want to say anything just in case.” She laughed. “I have had the strangest cravings! Licorice, something I don’t even like usually, I just can’t get enough. It is so strange. I feel like my body has been invaded.” She is talking to me while poking at my gums. I can’t say anything because I have a suction tube in my mouth so she continues. “And apples, this baby, oh he is a boy, he just loves apples. How were your pregnancies? Did you have any strange cravings?” This is when I have to think, do I just say “my pregnancies were easy”? (which they were since I never was pregnant). It is a half-ish truth but evades the issues. Or do I just say “I never was pregnant, we adopted both of our kids.” As is my tendency, I went with the latter. She looked at me and said “Oh- I forgot, you told me that before. So you did have easy pregnancies then!” And then inevitably the conversation switched from pregnancy to adoption. How long it took. How she knows a friend who has been waiting forever for a baby. How she knows someone who adopted form China. I wish we could just talk about pregnancy and not worry about that fact that I didn’t give birth. It isn’t a delicate subject to me but I can’t really explain that to my hygienist.
Later that same day I was at school picking up my son who I have mentioned before is tiny. As he was playing with another boy from his class on the playground, the boy’s mom said to me “he is so strong for being so small.” Kaden has mastered the monkey bars even though he is the size of a 3-year-old. It is amazing to watch him. “Yes, he is.” She turned to me and said “Well, you and Chris are tall so he will have had a growth spurt. At least you don’t have to worry.” Then of course I just had to pipe in and say “Actually, he may be small. Both of our kids were adopted and his birth mom was only 4’11″. ” She looks at me wide eyed and I realize she is shocked. It just never occurred to her that he was adopted and why should it? I didn’t mean to be so forthcoming; it is just the truth and I know my son will be in school with these kids for the next eight years so why not be straight up? Plus if I am coy about adoption that makes me feel like there is something to be ashamed of and I don’t feel that way. I feel like it is something to share and celebrate. So I am going to tell. Even if it makes people uncomfortable, that is their issue not mine.
By: Meika Rouda
Adoption is expensive. Even on the lower cost of the spectrum, you are paying for the homestudy, outreach to locate a birthmother, birthmother expenses, and the legal fee for finalization. You are looking at at least $10k. It is a lot of money to gamble on a process that is not regulated at all. I can’t tell you the countless stories I have heard about couples paying $20K to a facilitator for a baby, a baby that doesn’t even exist. It is outright fraud but no one is doing anything about it. Why is that?
This is how the process usually goes: When you are looking to adopt a baby, you can do the outreach yourself or with a certified agency. The wait tends to be long and by the time you pursue adoption, you have probably already waited several years during unsuccessful IVF treatments to become parents. You are vulnerable and want a child as soon as possible. Then you hear about a woman who is a facilitator and has birthmothers lined up. She needs to find homes for these babies. Voila! This is perfect. So you call the facilitator and she gives you her shpiel about the birthmother, the baby, the chance that the birthmother might change her mind but she doesn’t think she will because she seems committed to an adoption plan. So the couple signs up only to get a call a few months later to say that the birthmother decided to keep the baby or maybe that the birthmother was actually never pregnant at all. Now they are out $20K and back where they started with no baby and no birthmother and little hope.
Domestic adoption is a shady business and I mean that when I say business. It is no longer run by non-profits and churches and social service agencies, it is run by individuals, who in the best case are attorneys who can actually give you legal services as well as help you find a birthmother, but most of the time are just some average Joe who decided to go into the business. It is lucrative, $20K just to hook up a birthmom and a couple; they don’t do any of the paperwork or help you navigate the sometimes complicated relationship with the birthmother. They are like a dating service, you pay the fee, they get you a date, and what ever happens from there is up to you.
We were very lucky to get hooked up with an honest and respectable facilitator. The only way we found them was through the non-profit agency that did our homestudy. But I spoke to several facilitators before finding them. People who just felt dishonest, they felt shady even though what they were doing was helping babies and families find each other. They had no credentials, just “years” of experience working with birthmothers. They worked out of their homes and made a lot of promises. They always wanted cash upfront.
I wish that there were a better way to put couples and babies together. It is important for birthmothers to have counseling and support around their decision and even then, they may change their minds. But I feel any woman who thinks they should place their baby for adoption, probably should place their baby. There is a reason they feel that way, they aren’t ready to be parents, they aren’t stable financially or emotionally, they have too many children already. There are many reasons. And we need to make sure birthmothers have the right support to get on their feet after they make a difficult decision like placing a baby. But we also need a way to help potential adoptive parents feel like they are diving into a system that works, not a process where a random $20K price tag is acceptable just because.
Why isn’t there a certifiable group that facilitators should be a part of? Lawyers and doctors and social workers have licenses to practice, is there any reason facilitators shouldn’t? Wouldn’t birthmothers also feel better working with a certified facilitator? Maybe there is some education facilitators need to have in order to do their job instead of sticking a sign on their front door and hitting the pavement searching for pregnant teenagers. I don’t know why the government or respectable adoption groups like the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute doesn’t make this more of a priority for legislation. By protecting birthmothers, potential adoptive parents, and babies we are building happy, healthy families and forming a safe structure that normalizes and secures the process. It could also potentially bring down the cost of private adoption, making it more affordable for more families interested in adoption. I realize there will always be the case of a birthmother changing her mind, that is her right, but there is no reason a family has to be out their life savings for nothing. I hope I never hear another story about a family putting up the cash and getting taken advantage of. I like happy endings and adoption should be a happy ending for all.
By: Meika Rouda
I have been doing some research on a book I am writing and heard an interview with Nancy Verrier, the author of the seminal book “The Primal Wound” which made a huge impact in the adoption community when it was published in the 1990′s. I haven’t read the whole book, just parts, but my understanding is that all adoptees suffer from a primal wound since they were taken from their mothers at birth. This wound lasts a lifetime and manifests in many ways, like people feeling sad all the time because innately they are missing their biological mother. Or that adoptees have various personality disorders because they don’t know who they really are and spend their lifetimes seeking an identity. Often, according to her theory, adoptees have trouble committing to things like jobs or relationships and don’t have concrete opinions or likes and dislikes because they have no true sense of self. The adoptee will suffer from loss and grief their entire life.
This is pretty sad I have to say. But thankfully as an adoptee I don’t feel that way. What I wonder about her thesis is how the adoptee compares to those born to biological families. I know many kids born to biological parents who have no sense of self, tons of identity issues, lots of abandonment fears, and can’t commit to anything. So how are these traits solely attached to adoptees?
For the many adoptees who have difficulty processing their adoption and feel this primal wound, I am glad this book has helped them. And truthfully, I worry that although I don’t feel this way, my children may. I can’t protect them from feeling this, I can only help them accept who they are and show love and compassion and understanding for how they feel. When I read adoption books, there always seems like there is something broken about being adopted. Like what Nancy Verrier is saying, that unless you know where you come from, you can really never know yourself. You spend a lifetime trying to figure it out. Perhaps. But even when you do know where you came from, it is still a journey figuring out who you are. It seems that from the start, adoptees are at a disadvantage because they had the trauma of being separated from their birth mom. It breaks my heart to think of my children, quietly suffering everyday with this primal wound. I have often asked myself if there is a wound I am not accepting about myself, that I may be in denial about my primal wound but I don’t think that is the case.
Will my kids be the same as me or will they spend their lives longing for their birthmothers? This I don’t know yet and it worries me to think they will have a lifetime of suffering. But as humans we are wired in many ways; yes things that happen to us as a baby or child affect us and that doesn’t have to be negative, it can be part of our strength too. I am not convinced that biological families are always best for people. While it may seem pollyanna-ish, I believe in the spirit’s ability to heal and in human resolve. That love and understanding is a powerful antidote to any wound, primal or not.
By Meika Rouda
I’ve always hated my nose. It is short with a wide bridge that plateaus off the tip landing with a thud. There is nothing elegant or sculpted about it, unlike my mom’s nose, which could have been the prototype plastic surgeons used for rhinoplasty in the 80’s. My nose has no structure or shape that gives it any dignity. There is nothing as righteous as a bump. It is just shapeless, with round nostrils like a baby’s.
As much as I admired my mother’s perfect profile, I never wished it were mine because it couldn’t be. We don’t share the same DNA. I was adopted. Now I know DNA doesn’t really mean much. Not everyone relates to their family, but at least you know where the manic depression, extra long second toe, or hairy arms are from. You have someone to thank and to blame for your assets and deficiencies. A cord of disheveled genetic code that makes you… you.
While I enjoyed the uniqueness of being me, I also realized that I looked different than my family; my skin a shade darker, my eyes and hair a milk chocolate brown. My parents are both fair-skinned and light-eyed, while my adopted sister has blonde hair and blue eyes. It didn’t matter to me though because my parents loved and adored my sister and me. They rejoiced in how lucky they were to be our parents. Adoption was something to be proud of and we did feel proud. Our family was full of love and affection and generosity and even though we didn’t look like one another, we did fit.
But people were always curious about my background. I have that mysterious brown palette that makes strangers ask “where are you from?” Over the years, I have had many people guess my heritage: Indian, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Turkish, half African American, Cherokee. I had a guy come up to me once, randomly, and ask if I was from Genoa. When I replied that I didn’t know, he assured me I was Genovese and that everyone there looks just like me.
My friends have also called me in a frenzy convinced they had seen my biological mother somewhere: a stewardess on a Greek airline, a retail worker in a mall along highway 80, an actress from a TV movie. While I know they meant well, I didn’t know how to break it to them that I just wasn’t that interested. I liked my parents, my family, my home. The truth is my biological parents did the right thing giving me up and I was dealt a royal flush by ending up with my family. Besides, what is so great about looking like someone else really? It doesn’t mean you like them.
But then my husband and I decided to try and have a baby and suddenly I was curious. Maybe I should know more about my peeps if I plan to pass on these esoteric genes. And it wasn’t so hard to find out because coincidently, my dad’s law firm handled my adoption so he had all the forms, photos, and birth certificates in his office. That is how things were done in the 1970’s. So, I asked my parents for my file and much to my surprise, they said “sure”. I was worried that I would hurt their feelings by requesting it, like I was insinuating that they had failed me somehow but they were happy to help.
A few days later, we were at the theater and as my dad struggled to tuck his well worn briefcase under his seat, the one I used to pull around the house when I played “lawyer” as a kid, he mentioned that he had my file. It was 3 minutes before the show was going to start and my mom excitedly said, “Well, let’s see it!” I held back and let them review it all, squirming in my seat not to peek; I never imagined finding out my nationality minutes before a Broadway musical. But as they “Oooohhh’d” and “Aaahhh’d” and showed the photos to the strangers seated in front of us, I couldn’t resist. “Okay, let me see” I said, surrendering to my fate. There were 3 photos of my biological peeps: one black and white of my bio-mom in her very serious senior high school portrait; one color photo of my bio-dad looking jovial at a party and a third shot of them standing together on a suburban lawn. In this third photo, he was dressed in a suit, she in a yellow mini-dress and they looked like they were going to a high school formal. There were three rays of sun damage splayed like fingers across the print, leaving a ghostly sheen to their faces.
The woman in the photos didn’t look like me, even-though my parents thought she did. I didn’t feel anything when I looked at my bio-mom. No instant bond, or “Ah ha, this is what I look like!” To tell you the truth, it was sort of a disappointment. The mystery was gone. Bio-mom was not the exotic islander I envisioned. My peeps were whiteys. She had blonde hair and blue eyes! Bio-dad was darker, more like me and tall. I saw a little bit of myself in him, especially when I was a kid and had a pixie haircut. But I felt totally removed from them, both physically and emotionally. Nothing felt resolved, just extinguished. All of my fantasies dissolved, my curiosity cured, my unique self now not so incredibly unique. I suddenly felt average.
My bio-mom was German/Irish and bio-dad German/Italian. I guess that Italian gene was pretty strong, but German? I couldn’t feel less German. I hate schnitzel and sauerbraten and have no sense of superior order in my life. Where is the woman from Guadalajara or Tehran or Mykonos that was supposed to be my bio-mom? I felt duped. How could these be my peeps?
I suddenly realized that it is the stories I share with my family, the knowingness of what is familiar, the foods we eat, the songs we sing, the fact that we are Jews who celebrate Christmas, Easter and Passover. That is what makes me… me. These are my peeps! Family is more than your DNA; it is who you share your past with. The people who have been there to see you succeed and fail and always had loving arms for either circumstance. Looking like someone isn’t half as fulfilling as being like someone. Maybe if I find my bio-parents someday, they too will be writers or dog-lovers or have a habit of eating ice cream for breakfast. But for now, living with the question is better than knowing the answer.
Just as the lights started to dim, I held the picture of my bio-mom in my hand and looked at her nose. It was short and stout with perfectly round nostrils. And then the curtain came up.
*A longer version of this essay was first published on Fresh Yarn www.freshyarn.com.
By Meika Rouda
Last Friday I did something I never thought I would do. I signed up for a parenting class. It isn’t that I am against advice; I have a whole library of parenting books including “How To Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk,” “Parenting the Difficult Child,” and “The Wonder of Boys.” Still, no matter how much I read, no matter the arsenal of tools at my disposal, I still get frustrated, exhausted, and impatient. The newest cause for alarm is that my almost two-year-old daughter is talking, in full sentences. This has drastically altered my son’s world because before, when they would play together in their room while I was doing dishes or cleaning up or doing other mundane household chores, if I heard Asha crying I would only have his story to depend on for what happened. “Kaden, what happened?” He looks at me, big eyes, innocent stare “She fell down!” Then I would pick up the crying baby and console her, wondering how she “fell down” when they were playing on the floor and take her into the kitchen with me. Now, when they are playing and I hear crying I go in and I have Kaden’s version “She hit herself on the head!” and her version “Kaden hit me!” It is clear who is telling the more accurate account. I am troubled by him not telling the truth which I think all kids do when they have done something wrong and don’t want to fess up to it. When I get to the bottom of the dispute it usually has to do with the same theme, she got in his way while he was playing cars or she took the car he was playing with so he had to pry it out of her iron grip. I feel like a broken record reminding him “use your words” instead of force. She is stubborn and strong, traits probably mastered by having a big brother and needing to defend her space, but I would like to feel like they can play together, which they do often and happily, and not worry that it will always result in crying. So the workshop I signed up for is “Siblings Without Rivalry.” This is my hope for the workshop, that I will have special voodoo powers that make my children stop fighting with just one look or that they listen to me, the first time, when I ask them to stop fighting and yelling at each other. Or when my daughter sits on my lap, gives me a hug and declares “My mommy!” My son won’t run over, yank her off my lap by the neck and then sit on my lap yelling “My mommy!” Then they both start pulling at my arms screaming at each other “My mommy!” “No! My mommy!” My hope is that after this workshop they will both share my lap and hug me taking turns and say “Our mommy!”
Is it possible? I’ll let you know after my class tonight- stay tuned!