By Meika Rouda
When I was in college I attended my first pro-choice rally. We wore t-shirts with slogans like “U.S. out of my Uterus” and “Uncle Sam Stay Out of My Pants”. We went to Washington D.C. and marched for women’s rights.That was twenty years ago. While abortion is still a right that we need to fight for, reproduction freedom has changed greatly. There are several new debates on the table, things that are complicated and raise intense moral questions. For example, how many fertilized eggs should be implanted into a woman? We all remember the horror of Octomom who now says it was a mistake to go back for IVF treatments when she already had 6 children. Um… yeah. Wasn’t there anyone in the fertility to clinic to talk to her, make sure she was stable mentally and financially before they implanted her with multiple embryos? What about sperm donors, should there be a limit to how many times a donor is used for fertilization? What about the concern regarding cross-pollination of half siblings, meeting and falling in love and having children of their own? What about donor eggs? And what about age? Should we limit the age that women can undergo IVF? Is it natural for a 50 year old woman to be pregnant? How does the later age of motherhood affect the current population of children?
All of these reproductive questions makes abortion seem like a simple issue. You either believe in the right to choose or you don’t. While artificial reproductive technology is a pandora’s box of topics to be considered. There are clinics that will perform low cost abortions to those who need or want one but there are no low cost clinics for IVF in the U.S.This is a business with very little ethical boundaries for right and wrong. So while we feel entitled to having our own “natural” children with completely unnatural procedures, we think little about the repercussions of those actions on our bodies and our society. In the past 35 years, since the first “test tube baby” 5 million children have been born through artificial reproductive technologies. In 2009 in the U.S., 60,000 babies were born through IVF and the number has been steadily increasing each year. There needs to be regulation in place to make sure parents and children are cared for responsibly. While women are still fighting for the right to choose and new laws are being placed constantly restricting a women’s right to an abortion, no one is governing reproductive clinics. We know Octomom and Kate Gosslin have regrets and yet the people who will suffer the most will be there children. The science has clearly gotten ahead of the ethics. IVF is something that has been accepted by society as the new normal yet abortion is still a major battle in the U.S. Does anyone else think we may have our shirts on backwards?
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: Lauren Jankowski
Not that long ago, I was reviewing some work and got distracted by a common element that turns up in just about every story I’ve written: separated siblings. It struck me because although this was completely unintentional, it clearly reflects an important, but still unknown, part of my life.
As I’ve previously written, I’m an adopted child. Unlike some other adoptees, I’ve chosen to forgo any kind of contact or reunion with my biological relations. To put it simply, I want nothing to do with them. This decision is due to a discovery that could have possibly affected my health and was undisclosed for purely selfish reasons.
Still, there is one biological relative of mine that remains shrouded in mystery: my older half-sister. All my life, I’ve known this person has existed, but other than that, I haven’t the faintest clue about her. The extent of my knowledge is that we share the same biological mother, she was given up for adoption through the same agency as I, and a few years back she was experiencing health problems. Being the naturally curious individual that I am, I’ve spent most of my life wondering about her. What kind of person is she? Does she know about me? Is she anything like me?
Perhaps, not surprisingly, this wondering plays out in my work quite often. Very few of my characters are only children. The ones that have siblings are often separated from them, usually due to forces and circumstances outside of their control. I’ve written a fair amount of stories that revolve around one sibling’s search for another, most often from the older sibling’s point of view. That’s interesting to me because technically, I play two roles in life. Among my adoptive family, the one I know as my own, I am the older sister. However, in my biological family, the alien backdrop, I am the younger half-sister. So am I writing from the mystery half-sister’s theoretical point of view or from my own?
Occasionally, I’ve found myself running Internet searches using a couple key terms and phrases. Sadly, since I don’t have that much information, these always prove fruitless. Does she run the same searches? Or does she share my distaste for our despicable biological relatives? Perhaps we’re both afraid of the same thing: that our mystery sibling is the apple that didn’t fall far from the genetic tree. Then again, maybe she is completely unaware of my existence. This seems to be the most likely scenario.
I don’t know whether I’ll ever look for her. I don’t think it’s very likely I ever will. I started to once, but then discovered the metaphorical skeletons that populate our biological family closet. That has soured me on the whole idea of any kind of reunion with anyone even remotely connected with that past of which I want no part.
I’ve come to accept that the lack of closure on this part of my past will likely continue to manifest in stories and dreams. Perhaps that’s another reason I’m reluctant to search. I don’t want to lose that last bit of mystery in my life, which can be a great driving force, creativity-wise.
By Natalie Sullivan
Our child is crying and she’s holding him the wrong way. He’s only two weeks old, but already we know that he doesn’t like to be held on his back like a baby. This is the first time she has had the chance to hold him, and she’s holding him the way she can only guess he might want to be held. For my husband and me, it’s our last time visiting with our son’s birth mother before we leave the state with our newborn son to head home many long miles away. It’s the last item on our “to do” list and her first and only precious time with her son.
Sitting in the Santa-Fe inspired lobby of our agency, I realize it’s the most uncomfortable couch I’ve ever sat on. My arms, filled for the past two weeks with our seven-pound child, now sit uselessly in my lap, with my hands neatly folded in front of me like I’m at my first job interview. My urge to reach out to my son is overwhelming, but it wouldn’t be right. We feel so awkward at this moment, even though we’re so intimately linked. My husband and I smile like proud parents as we tell his mother what our child has been doing in the past two weeks. Our child -hers and ours.
She pats him so differently than I do and bounces him faster than I do to try and soothe him, but I can’t bring myself to tell her what he’s used to. We don’t know how long we’ll be here, but my husband and I agree, with a wordless glance, that it’s not our place to end her only visit with her son. At a moment where mother and son stare deeply into each other’s eyes, I snap a picture to help him remember, and so that she- and I- will never forget.
I call her his mama, and she calls me the same as she finally passes him back to me. I lean over in her direction, using my voice for his, the way people do with babies and pets. “Tell Mama you love her,” I say, meaning her and not me. We fail to escape the brand of awkwardness as we pose for a group shot- me holding our son and his mother leaning in to the two relative strangers who will share a lifetime with her child.
As we sit in the desert-themed room, I want nothing more than to scoop up my child and head for home. Now, when it is time to leave, my heart starts to ache and the idea of her never holding her child again becomes too much to bear. We hug her. We tell her we will take care of him. We love you, we say. You are our family now. And then we leave, carrying this beloved child into our eagerly awaited future together and out of her life forever.
By: Meika Rouda
I found my birthmom on Google the other day. It was not the first time I had Googled her but it was the first time anything came up. It was her wedding announcement published in a Pittsburgh paper 35 years ago, a few years after I had been born and given up for adoption.
The more I looked the more I discovered, including the names of her four children – my half siblings. So I Googled them and found their profiles on Facebook, their smiling faces posing with friends, their eyes the same as mine. I realized I could “friend” them and wondered what it would feel like to get an invitation from someone you don’t know but who looks like you. I was pretty sure I was a secret to them.
A few search results later, I found my birthmom’s current address and phone number, learned the name of the school where she was a French teacher for 10 years, and her income for the tax year 1998. I discovered the address of every house she had lived in for the past two decades, how much she and her husband paid for their current home as well as a real estate photo of its exterior: a white stucco two-story on the banks of the Savannah, Georgia river. The house was plain, neat, and modest –the type of house that doesn’t want to be noticed.
Several years ago I had considered hiring a private investigator to find this very house, to find my birth mom. I wanted to tell her that she had done the right thing giving me up, that I was fine, very loved by my parents and know her decision was the right one for her and also for me. That I felt she was brave and selfless and honorable and that I am grateful to her. That I hoped she had gone on to finish college, get married, and start a family of her own when she was ready. That I had hoped she was not living with regret. But I didn’t hire the detective, I can’t remember why.
And now I don’t need the detective. I had just exposed the majority of her life in one 10-minute Google binge. It was the first time in my life that she became a very real person with a job, a family, a home –and not some romantic character whose narrative I had composed in my mind. She became someone I could know.
I imagined her in her house on the Savannah river, sitting on a faded plaid sofa, watching an old movie on TV or maybe reading a favorite book in French. The photos of her smiling children lining the beige walls, maybe she had grandchildren or maybe she had a dog by her side like I do. I could dial her number right now and interrupt her reading or her movie watching and introduce myself and maybe there would be silence, maybe there would be tears, maybe it was a call she had been waiting for or maybe it was a call she was dreading would come.
Her phone number started to pulsate on my computer screen, the numbers weaving in and out, calling to me like sirens. My cell phone sat ominously by my side waiting for me to seize my fate. But my hands stayed still on my lap, folded, relaxed, resigned. The moment contacting her became easy, possible, just a phone call away, was the moment I knew I wouldn’t contact her. We would never have the conversation I had always imagined; it became obvious to me that we just didn’t need to.