Friday, February 24, 2006

a few thoughts on adoptive breastfeeding

afrindiemum inadvertantly set off a little firestorm when she posted about her plans to breastfeed the next child placed with her for adoption. i have to say, the responses were pretty eye-opening to me.

i think that maybe the issue of adoptive breastfeeding is a flashpoint that can serve to illuminate a lot of the bigger issues in adoption. ethical issues, such as the degree to which current infant adoption practices are coercive, for example, become even starker when adoptive breastfeeding is added to the mix, because yes, the fact that a potential adoptive mom is preparing to breastfeed could absolutely add to the coersion a pregnant woman considering adoption might feel when matched with a couple hoping to adopt before giving birth. adoptive breastfeeding can also be seen as a litmus test for a potential adoptive family's ethics around open adoption, and their respect for the mother of the child they hope to adopt: do they plan to tell the mother about their plans to breastfeed, even knowing that they risk losing the placement over this issue? is the potential adoptive mom planning to breastfeed because she wants to "pass" as the baby's biological mother? because she wants to deny the existence of, or importance of, the baby's first mom? does the potential adoptive family believe that breastfeeding will make a child they adopt more "theirs?"

in my mind, if the answer to any of these questions is "yes," that's a problem. but here's the thing: i don't think the problem is adoptive breastfeeding. the problem is the underlying ethical issues which simply get illuminated, or writ large, by adoptive breastfeeding. so, for example, say a woman would lie to a pregnant mom about her plans to breastfeed, or she really did want to breastfeed in order to diminish the role of her child's first mom. and then for some reason she decided not to breastfeed. it was too difficult. or it just didn't work. or an ugly comment from someone scared her off. so she doesn't breastfeed. does that fix any of the underlying issues? of course not. on the otherhand, say a potential adoptive mom is completely forthright about her plans, owns them as her own, goes to great lengths to make her adoption as ethical and uncoercive as possible, and breastfeeds her baby with the full knowledge and blessing of the baby's other mother. is breastfeeding still somehow wrong, or unethical? i don't think so.

i also suspect that adoptive breastfeeding illuminates the problems of adoption from the perspective of mothers considering adoption for their children. i can't help but think that if a pregnant or newly post-partum woman can't even imagine her child being nursed by another woman; that if her visceral reaction, her mama-instinct, is that this is wrong wrong wrong; then that's a huge red flag that she shouldn't be placing her baby for adoption in the first place. because if she can't imagine another woman mothering her child at the breast, then what it seems to me what she really can't imagine is another woman mothering her child. period. an ethical agency ought to listen to that, and help this mother find the resources to parent. an ethical potential adoptive mom will listen to that and say, "you owe me nothing. you need to make this decision based on what is best for you and your baby." of course, that doesn't often happen. but again, i don't think that adoptive breastfeeding is the problem; rather the problem is that all too few agencies, and all too few adoptive families, really have adoption ethics first and foremost in their minds.

over at afrindiemum's there were a wide range of reactions to adoptive breastfeeding, including some very ugly ones from people who have no relationship to adoption whatsoever. and what those reactions illuminate for me, as an adoptive mother, is that these people and people like them don't really believe i'm a mother. the arguments that adoptive breastfeeding is "unnatural," that it is "predatory," that it is "selfish"; the implication that breastfeeding, and especially the non-nutritive aspects of breastfeeding, have not been "earned" through the hard work of pregnancy and childbirth -- these arguments rest on the underlying assumption that an adoptive mother is not really a mother, not in some deep-down, essential way.

and i can't argue with that. i have no genetic connection to either of my children; they are both legally mine only through adoption (trixie through a second-parent adoption; micah through domestic infant adoption). i can't and won't make the argument that motherhood for me is "just like" motherhood for someone who gave birth to her children. i can't know that, for one, and i suspect that it isn't true, for another. i would argue, in theory anyway, that my experience of motherhood, while different, is equally as profound. that it is a deep spiritual practice. that through my children, through splitting my heart and my sould wide open to these two human beings who are not my "flesh and blood," who are not of my body, for whom no hormone or instinct or primal, genetic connection creates an attachment -- that through mothering them i have truly experienced god in my life, found a vocation, done my absolute best work. that it is inconceivable to me (literally and figuratively, as it happens) that i could love another human being in such a deep and awe-inspiring way. but even that argument is theoretical, because i have nothing to compare my experience to. not even in my imagination: i am barren, i will never give birth to a child. so maybe women who have given birth to their children really are more "real" than i am. maybe their souls have been lifted and transported to places i'll never know. on the other hand, unless those women have also adopted a child, they can never know what i have experienced, so no more can they argue that my experience is somehow less than theirs.

what i suspect, though, is that each of us is truly a mother. a biological mother who is raising her children. a first mother whose children are being raised by another mother. an adoptive mother raising children born of another mother. we can argue until the cows come home about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or we can all stand in awe of each other, and be moved by the depths of each others experiences. and realize that it's not a competition -- or at least it shouldn't be. bowing to the mother in you does nothing to diminsh the mother in me.

i bow to all of you mothers.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

the good the bad the ugly

so julie and i had an overnight by ourselves (!) last weekend, and it was divine. we drove to ohio friday afternoon/evening (about 7 hours), stayed the night with julie's sister and sister-in-law, ditched the kids around noon, and headed off for about 30 hours of bliss. we stayed at a beautiful place in holmes county called the inn at honey run, which is just the most exquisite place, if you ever find yourself in ohio amish country. ate well, managed to work in two movies on either end of the inn stay (capote, because we're trying to see most of the major academy nominated films before the awards; and firewall, because nothing better was playing at the time we had, and as bad as it was, it was still a movie!). we both feel rejuvinated, and no longer like ships passing in the night.

which is a good thing, because we were already in pretty dire need of some serious relaxation even before micah was hospitalized last week with intussusception, a condition where the intestine telescopes in on itself, causing intense, cyclical pain. micah endured this pain every 15 minutes for 14 hours after our arrival at the emergency room of the children's hospital while a trio of bungling residents wrung their hands over his confusing symptoms ("he has pain, yes, but no vomiting or diarrhea, oh dear, what could that mean???"); ordered tests and then canceled them (but not until after micah had been strapped into the cat scan machine for a good five minutes); and seemed genuinely startled when they finally witnessed one of his episodes of pain, hours and hours after we'd been telling them how serious it seemed to us ("oh, wow, he really is in pain, isn't he?"). and still it took a fellow the next morning, after micah had slept at most in 15 minute spurts, to say "of course it's intussusception! this is not confusing at all! let's fix it!" and then a couple more hours, while they roused an attending to performe a simple enema with air under the x-ray machine, which both confirmed what it was and fixed it (the air pressure pops the telescoped part of the intestine out). and then, as a final indignity, they kept us for another 24 hours of observation, and wouldn't let the poor kid eat or drink anything.

i'm not sure whether it's good or bad that i didn't understand how serious his condition was at the time. certainly, i would have been way more assertive had i known.... as it turns out, this condition is very serious, and if left untreated, will always lead to death within two to five days. micah finally got treated 23 hours after his pain began. i also read (simple google search which produced the article linked above as one of the top three or four hits) that the trio of pain, vomiting and diarrhea appear in only 21% of cases, so why those first three residents were so freaking confused is just beyond me.

i don't know what it is about hospitals that just lulls you into some sort of altered reality. maybe it's all the waiting, and the expectation that you will wait. that waiting is just part of it, and if it were truly an emergency, things would move faster. and that if you try to make too big a deal of your kid's pain, they will just roll their eyes at you behind your back and make you wait even more. i dunno. i really wish i had been more assertive. i certainly will be in the future. lesson learned.

unfortunately, micah was really the one who had to endure our lesson learned, the hard way. he's such an amazing kid. i don't think i could have coped as well as he did, nor could i have bounced back as quickly. finally i made them let us go, once they took the iv out of his hand and i could no longer keep him from dashing out of the room and laughing maniacally as he flew up and down the halls.

what a kid. i'm still in awe that he's mine.

Monday, February 13, 2006

when the injustice in the blogosphere starts getting you down....

and you find yourself consumed with anger and the need to vent -- especially if that anger and need to vent takes the form of mean spirited snarkiness -- may i suggest you have too much time on your hands?

how about logging off your computer for a few and getting out of your head? here's a handy list of things you might try, if you're having trouble coming up with your own:

1. take your dog for a walk.
2. play outside with your kid(s).
3. call an old friend or family member you're feeling guilty about being out of touch with.
4. write a letter to the same (the old fashioned kind, that requires a stamp. they're now 39 cents).
5. if you have one, get involved in your place of worship.
6. if you're a person of faith but don't have a place of worship, visit one this weekend.
7. go for a run.
8. or a walk if you don't run.
9. bake bread.
10. okay, bake some chocolate chip cookies.
11. read the collected works of martin luther king.
12. or dorothy day.
13. or read people magazine.
14. or entertainment weekly. in fact, read it weekly.
15. become a big brother or big sister.
16. have sex with your partner, whether you feel like it or not.
17. wear lipstick, even if you never do.
18. put on prince really loud and dance with your kids.
19. read a memoir or novel completely out of your realm of experience and/or comfort zone.
20. begin a spiritual discipline such as prayer, meditation, or yoga.
21. have sex with your partner again, whether you feel like it or not.
22. sign up to do a hunger walk.
23. observe lent, if you're christian, and make sure to deep-fry really greasy, sugary donuts on mardi-gras.
24. tithe.
25. watch reruns of cagney and lacey.
26. join a coalition around an issue you care about. commit some serious time to it.
27. start planning your garden; order seeds.
28. join a community garden if you don't have one already.
29. invite someone over for dinner.
30. learn how to knit.
31. or how to brew beer.
32. invite a friend out for a beer at a neighborhood pub.
33. volunteer at your local public school.
34. or your local homeless shelter.
35. read harry potter to your kids, or to yourself if they're not old enough.
36. read a classic.
37. read a trashy mystery.
38. join a book group.
39. have coffee with a friend.
40. if you don't have a friend, make one. see above, #s 5, 6, 15, 22, 26, 28, 33, 34, 38.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

i have not fallen off the face of the earth...

my server is just down. yes, for like two weeks. verizon sucks. i hope to be back soon.