Sunday, January 15, 2006

"tell all the truth but tell it slant..."

i'm pretty new to this blogging business, but one thing for sure i've figured out: part of why we do this is that we get to be way more thoughtful, articulate, funny, hip -- you name it -- than we are in real life. okay, so i should only speak for myself. maybe the rest of you are really as thoughtful and thought-provoking at all times in real life as you are on your blogs. maybe you're really always that sure of yourself about the big issues in life (and especially adoption). maybe the insights trip so easily from your fingertips, on to your keyboards and through the ether to my computer screen because you really do have that sort of clarity and integrity. (come to think of it, ms. jo over at the leery polyp really is pretty much the hippest, most way-cool, thoughtful mama you'd ever to care to meet, and not even a teensy bit of a disappointment in real life.... so maybe it really is just me....)

but i'm feeling like a tiny bit of a fraud quite acutely right now, completely captivated as i am in the raw, exquisitely written but completely artless heartbreak unfolding at speaking for myself. if you haven't read her blog, you must. and then just start clicking on the birthmothers blogring, because everyone of their stories is a story that needs desperately to be told. reading their stories is certainly blowing my mind.

so, i posted something at speaking for myself which felt, when i wrote it, to be very sincere, and thoughtful, and only a tiny bit self-congratulatory. but in what julie would call a "come to jesus" moment, i'm feeling the need to tell the whole story, to straighten out the slant of that truth. it's the story of how we came to be parents in the first place, the story of trixie's conception.

we started thinking seriously about having a baby in 1994, when researching something like "lesbians trying to conceive" or "donor insemination" or "known vs. anonymous donor" wasn't as simple as doing a google search and getting hundreds of hits. in the end, friends of ours were expecting a child through anonymous donor insemination, and had worked with a local feminist health clinic (i would link to their website, but sadly they closed a few years ago), which in addition to providing gynecological and abortion services, was willing to facilitate home donor insemination for lesbian couples. this clinic had a relationship with a sperm bank in florida, and all of the donors at that bank were strictly and forever anonymous. i'm sure there were banks back then with known and knowable donors, but i'd never heard of such a thing. as far as i knew, the only way to have a known or knowable donor was to find one yourself.

we had not given much thought to this option. but in september of 1994, we were visiting our friend jennie in boston to celebrate her 30th birthday -- she was the first of our college crew to turn 30, having taken a year off after high school to live in portugal, and it was a big milestone. (hi jen! see, if you had a blog, i could link to it here!). another college friend, john (not his real name) was at the party. julie and i were not close friends with john, but he was very close to several of our friends, including jen. john had been a bmoc, with good reason: he was beautiful, smart, talented, thoughtful, and outrageously gay. he was the sort of guy you hope will pick you for his friend, and although he had never really chosen me or julie to be a special person in his life, he was kind and warm at jennie's party, and i was very taken with him all over again.

on the drive home from boston, i broached with julie the possibility of approaching john to help us make a baby. she was also excited about the possibility, and we sent him a very tentative note, asking if such a thing was even in the realm of possibility. he responded with guarded yet heartfelt enthusiasm, and we arranged a "summit" of sorts in boston some time later with a bunch of mutual friends in order to talk about what it would mean. both the big picture and the nitty-gritty logistics.

and here's the truth: the reason it didn't work was that john really wanted to be a father, and we were really clear that we didn't want another parent in our family. i wish i could fall back on the legal issues facing gay and lesbian parents, and chalk it up to the importance for me to be able to adopt our child and have a legal relationship, which would have required that john relinquish his parental rights. but as i recall, he not only was willing to do that, but would have insisted on it, precisely so that i could be a legal parent. no, all he wanted was to be a dad, to be involved, to be part of making decisions, to impart his values, to be a real and lasting part of his child's life, not as a "friend," or an "uncle," but simply as a dad. and he trusted us! even enough to relinquish his parental rights, he trusted us, if only we would say "yes, let's make that kind of family!"

but at the time, it was just too much for us. i wish i could remember what it felt like to be me then, what part of me couldn't imagine the possibility that there would be three parents in my child's life, couldn't trust that a man as good and kind and thoughtful as john could be trusted to work with us to make mutual decisions in the best interests of our children's lives. we even had a role model for this, another college friend who was just such a dad with a lesbian couple. in retrospect it was a clear crisis of imagination. it was, in many ways, the same sort of need to have the "pride of place" in our children's lives that drives so many adoptive parents to be threatened by their children's other parents. the sort of need that i would like to think i'm above.

of course, there are differences. what john wanted to be in our children's lives was beyond what even the most ideal open adoption offers to parents who place their children with another family to raise: a true co-parenting arrangement. indeed, what we wanted from john was sort of the best a first parent can hope for in an open adoption relationship: to be truly included as an important part of the family, but in the end, not a parent, and ultimately with no power except that which we, the "real" parents, might confer. and of course, take away, as our whims dictated. the fact that john declined this invitation suggests really good instincts on his part; the fact that he did so without bitterness or rancor -- indeed with tenderness and great regret --makes me only all the more sad that we didn't have more open hearts and minds at the time.

now of course, it goes without saying, i have no regrets about having conceived trixie the way we ultimately did, with an anonymous and unknowable donor. for if we had gone any other route, we wouldn't have trixie, which is simply unthinkable. the irony, though, of her situation, is not lost on me: no matter how she comes to feel about it later in her life, and no matter how much she wishes we might have made a different choice, it would have been impossible for us to choose a known or knowable donor for trixie. if we had done that, trixie would not exist. an enigma, for sure. the best we can do, if it becomes important to trixie some day (and so far she has very little curiosity about her father), is to help her search, and to be advocates for openness. but the truth is, unless he actively wants to be found, the chances of her finding her father are very very small. which is, certainly, a great loss for both of them.

and that's the truth. straight up.


At January 15, 2006 6:29 PM, Blogger M. said...

Hey there, Mama Marta. You keep coming up on some of the sights I like to read, and it's true - you're as good and smart a writer as they all say.

My partner and I are in the process of doing a domestic transracial infant adoption. Always great to find another like-minded woman.

At January 15, 2006 8:39 PM, Blogger susan said...

There are so many ways in which going through experiences changes us, and it's no surprise that we have failures of imagination along the way. I like the phrase, in fact. Seems like the best we can do is keep reflecting to push our abilities to think more broadly, more openly, and be gentle enough with our former selves as we acknowledge our failings and even failures.

At January 15, 2006 11:53 PM, Anonymous mamacate said...

Y'know, I posted that comment about DI and known/knowable/unknowable donors on your last post, and it was late and I re-read it in the morning and I thought, damn, that was off-base. Because, profoundly, I think the role of a gamete donor, particularly a sperm donor, is completely different from the role of a birthmother, of COURSE. And it was really a false parallel I was trying to draw. I mean, having a knowable donor was important to us, but I think adding in the complication of another parental "role" in the family (or marginally in it) is a complex thing and one not to be entered into lightly. I think that's a big part of a lot of infertiles' grief and hesitation regarding adoption or any kind of third-party reproduction. And the more involved the third party is (with sperm donors being the least) the more important and complex and emotional that involvement is.

So sorry for being a non-adoptive dork (is there an acronym for this, because I should probably know that). I was trying to connect. And I think your desire to have Micah's birthparents in his life and your reluctance to bring a parenting donor into Trixie's life, well, they make a lot of sense to me. I dunno. And there's a sperm donor registry out there, FYI. I don't know the URL, but I can get it for you if you're interested. A lot of people I know have found siblings through it. glad you're blogging. I might stop saying that after the 100th comment or so...

At January 16, 2006 7:39 AM, Blogger mamamarta said...

thanks cate, but really my post was not at all in response to your comments (which are always thoughtful and i always love to read them, you know that!). really, after i commented at speaking for myself, i just started thinking about how it wasn't as simple as i had made it out to be, to welcome another person into your family as a true "other parent." i know there are many differences, for sure. one of them that i feel fairly clear about is that even if we had started out back then skeptical about open adoption, i really believe that our experiences of loving our children would have pointed us to wanting more openness, not less. because ultimately it's about -- or certainly should be -- what's best for our kids.

i have also often thought about this from trixie's perspective, and from where she stands this is really no different than a closed adoption. although, as i say, it would have been impossible to choose a known donor for trixie, i really regret that she won't know her father.

last night i found a registry and signed up. it was the only one i found, so i bet it's the same one you're speaking of. thanks!

btw cate, i'm starting to think a no-kids, all-knitting retreat is what i really need! let's talk soon.

At January 18, 2006 6:53 PM, Blogger Jo said...

popping in belatedly to say:

see, this is exactly why you're far more amazing than you'll ever give yourself credit for. your honesty and ability (and willingness) to examine yourself and your life are like nothing i've ever encountered. so don't you dare try to say you aren't as cool as you are here, because daily i'm astonished that i get to hang out with you.

At February 08, 2006 7:49 PM, Blogger said...

I love some of the comments I have read by you and want to thank you for mentioning the natural mothers who are blogging. I also want to mention that a friend of mine is donor conceived and has a really hard time with not knowing who her father is. The law protects his anonymity and she is fighting to get that information. It is a big thing in her life, she has started a website and has hired a lawyer to help unseal the records. I don't understand why someone would deliberately do that to a child. Having said all that I find you very likeable in your blog and someone who is big hearted and loves her child very much. I don't wish to be all judgy about what you do or do not do. Just couldn't drive by without giving my opinion, hope you will forgive my forthrightness.


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