Three years ago we met a tiny girl from Gyumri…
The girl and her Dada
The girl and her Mama
The three of us
…and a kitten
Take the road less traveled, Beth
Three years ago we met a tiny girl from Gyumri…
The girl and her Dada
The girl and her Mama
The three of us
…and a kitten
Take the road less traveled, Beth
During the years when I longed to be a mama, but wasn’t, I felt like an outsider to a secret society: The Commune of Motherhood. I sat–metaphorically–on the sidelines at my neighborhood ‘Moms Night Out’ and ‘Mamas with Cameras‘, a monthly meet-up. I consciously chose to participate in both of these groups, despite my mama-wanna-be status, in an effort to make some mama friends, which I did, before I became an adoptive mom.
Of course, I didn’t think I’d be “expecting” for four years, but that’s how it my journey to motherhood played out. It wasn’t easy to be a fly on the wall as moms debated sleep schedules, shared parenting woes and tips or passed around photos of their adorable children. I was envious.
Being a paper pregnant adoptive mom isn’t the same as being belly pregnant, in a number of ways. For one, nobody “knows,” unless you tell them. Strangers might approach a pregnant woman,even if sometimes she wishes they wouldn’t, and ask “So…when’s the baby due?” I wasn’t sporting a visible bump, so no one had a clue I was hoping to be “in a family way.”
Slowly, while I navigated the interminable wait, I made my way to a small nucleus of moms who had adopted children from Armenia or, like me, were in the process. Some of us found each other through our adoption agency’s closed Yahoo chat group, and one or two contacted me via my blog.
Before I knew any of them, I was an adoptive family lurker. I’d spot an obvious, or so I thought, adoptive family ‘in the wild’ (read: park, grocery store). Occasionally I’d muster up enough courage to say something like, Where’s your child from? Sometimes this tact led to a supportive conversation though not infrequently I ended up with my foot in my mouth: I’m the nanny or My wife is Chinese, said to me, with obvious annoyance, by an older Caucasian dad at a park when I tried to show I was a kindred spirit, “What part of China is your daughter from? My sister adopted a girl from Guangzhou.“
Four years passed before I was able to meet any of these amazing women in person, save one, who coincidentally grew up in Seattle, and even more coincidentally happened to be in Armenia on one of our trips. In the meantime, we emailed each other, sometimes frequently. Threads with a hundred or so emails over the course of a week were not uncommon. Through our email conversations, we became friends, and some of us became very close friends.
These women saw me at my worst, through loss and dark times as I waited and waited and waited. Until one day I was–at long last–a member of the club, wiping my daughter’s snotty nose, shoving morsels of food in her mouth, hoping she wouldn’t fall to her death at the playground. I was a mom just like the rest of them.
So on this, my third Mother’s Day, I want to express gratitude to the Commune of Motherhood, mama friends –adoptive or not–who stood by me before I became a mom, and who keep me afloat now.
And to Sherri, Maribeth, Shelley, Denise, Bev, Theresa, Molly, Vivian, Elizabeth, Jackie, Carrie and Katie: You are my tribe.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Take the road less traveled, Beth
April 8, 2012
This is the first time our daughter set foot inside her crib. Her crib in a room of her own.
I’m sure it was a shock to her, arriving at this new, strange place with sounds and smells she didn’t recognize. Big Papa and I were elated to be in our home and sleep in our bed. We’d just spent 26 hours (with all of us sick) traveling from Yerevan (where we awoke at 3:00 AM to no heat and no water), through London, before landing in Seattle (where it took forever to pass first through U.S. Customs and then U.S. Immigration). But for our daughter, this was the beginning of a new chapter.
I try to imagine what it might have been like for her to spend the first year of her life in a room filled with cribs, lined up in rows, literally side-by-side, surrounded by other children, many nannies to care for her, but not one person who was hers and hers alone. No one with enough time to read her a bedtime story, a bottle propped against her chest with which to soothe herself.
April 8, 2014
Baby Bird has been in and out of her crib over a thousand times. She hosts tea parties, sings songs, and occasionally practices acrobatics inside her crib. Every nook and cranny of her room is familiar to her, and she will notice immediately if anything is amiss. The concept of “mine” is firmly set (sometimes maybe a bit too much so). Together we’ve read countless bedtime stories and have shared innumerable meals.
Two years ago she had nothing she could lay claim to and call her own. Two years ago we had an empty crib and room in our hearts.
And now we have each other. Bed. Home. Family.
Take the road less traveled, Beth
Pampers and Pakhlava is one of a number of blogs featured in the November SixSeeds.tv in celebration of National Adoption Month, which takes place each November. National Adoption Month started in 1976, when Gov. Michael Dukakis announced an Adoption Week for Massachusetts, and President Gerald Ford proclaimed a national celebration of Adoption Week. In 1984, President Reagan again proclaimed a National Adoption Week. As more state participated, more festivities were planned. President Clinton proclaimed November as National Adoption Month in 1995. The celebration usually includes National Adoption Day with courthouses throughout the nation participating and hundreds of adoptions being finalized simultaneously.
In celebration of National Adoption Month, SixSeeds interviewed a number of adoptive families about their adoption experience. Here’s a bit about SixSeeds: We are a national, non-profit organization which aims to entertain and inspire with a fresh look at culture, sports and politics – and to have a ton of “good, family, fun” in the meantime!
Each adoptive family who was interviewed was given the opportunity to donate $2 to the charity of their choice, for each reader who comments and leaves an email address. My donations are earmarked to benefit ‘Passports with Purpose’, whose fund raising efforts in 2010 will support LAFTI (Land for Tillers’ Freedom). The goal this year is to raise $50,000 and build a village for Dalit (untouchables) in India. This village will provide homes for those who never had a roof over their heads!
Here’s a bit about ‘Passports with Purpose’:
100% of contributions to the Fund goes to the charitable recipients. In our current start-up phase, our operational costs are being covered by our founders.Last year, Passports with Purpose raised nearly $30,000 dollars and built a school in rural Cambodia. The Passports School opened in early October, and now there are a few hundred kids learning, reading, gaining the opportunity to thrive.
Passports with Purpose is now in its third year and hopes to support LAFTI in building a Dalit (untouchables) village in India. $50,000 is needed to make this effort a reality.
So read, celebrate ‘National Adoption Month’ and donate to good causes all around!
Putting together a room for our child-to-be and collecting many of the various and sundry things we’ll eventually need has been a bit by bit process. Big Papa and I have resisted doing up the bedroom entirely or purchasing some of the “big ticket” items (crib, stroller) only to sit and stare at them as months pass while we wait. Every now and again, I allow myself a few purchases, sometimes that reinforces the feeling that I’m “doing something” for the adoption and to keep it tangible, literally. On occasion, something pops up at a yard sale or in a store that I know we will need and is at such a good price (or free) that it seems crazy not to get it.
A few days ago I saw a used ‘Bob stroller’ on a moms group Yahoo listserv. I know they are decent strollers and costly new. This one was being sold for a great price and would likely disappear quickly, just like the used Stokke high chairs that sell within minutes. I fired off an “I’m interested” email with my cell phone number and left for the gym, fully expecting to come home only to find a new posting that read: “Bob stroller taken.”
Imagine my surprise when I discovered a message from ‘J.’ on my voice mail when I got out of my spin class. J’s message stated that I had been the first responder to the ad and the stroller was mine for the taking if I wanted it. I immediately polled a couple moms from my spin class who were milling around: “Would you buy a used Bob stroller?” One said yes and one said no. The ‘no’ was followed by: “Too risky. You don’t know the original owner and what the stroller has been through.” Fair enough, but I still wanted to check it out.
I drove over to J’s house and knocked on the door. The door opened and lo and behold, there was my friend, ‘T.’ “What are you doing here?” I asked. “What are you doing here?” he replied. A moment later, J poked her head out the door. T and J have a child together, however they live separately. I’ve never been to J’s house so it never occurred to me that the ‘J’ on the phone was this J just like it never occurred to her I was that Beth.
It’s been a number of years since T and I were close, but we’ve run into each other on occasion. The last time we chatted, Big Papa and I had gone over to T’s house to talk with him and J about parenthood. Their daughter was a couple years old at the time; they were both first-time parents at mid-40something and Big Papa and I were in the stage of our parenthood journey where we were still considering pregnancy using a donor egg. Our decision to head down the adoption fork in the road was still around the corner.
As it turns out one of the reasons they are off-loading kid stuff is J’s impending move to the San Francisco Bay area. Plus their kiddo, ‘N.’ is closing in on the age where she’ll no longer need her stroller (though in fairness N was quite vocal about her reluctance to part with it). J told me that it was bittersweet to be selling off N’s baby gear and it made her feel better to know the much loved (but still in fine condition) ‘Bob’ was going to a “good home.”
Knowing (and trusting) Bob’s former owner gave me greater confidence in the hand-me-down I was about to purchase and the karma surrounding it all put a smile in my heart. I felt like this Bob was meant to be my Bob.
Later that day, J emailed me to let me know eight women had contacted her hoping the Bob stroller might be theirs before she could post ‘Bob sold’ that afternoon. She wrote that if I hadn’t been the first person to respond to her Bob request she may have never known where we were in our parenthood journey. “And now when I think of the future life of some of N’s baby things, I can anticipate a whole other story about to unfold.”
I like to imagine that serendipitous moments, such as this one, are the world’s way of showing me I’m on the right path. And, while there are days when the wait feels like it’s dragging on forever, there will be other days when a door opens and a friend reaches out to lets me know everything’s going to turn out fine.
A couple weeks ago, I was telling an acquaintance about the infant boy with cleft lip who Big Papa and I visited last fall and talking about our decision not to pursue adopting him when we discovered that he also had significant cognitive challenges. After I finished my story she said to me “Well, at least you had a choice.”
I didn’t sleep well that night. The whole “you had a choice” thing really stuck in my craw and I’ve been wrestling with it ever since. Yes, Big Papa and I had the luxury, if you will, to say “yay” or “nay” about whether or not we would parent this kid. Not that it was an easy decision; it was heart wrenching and I still grieve about it.
As an “older” (45+ in both our cases) recently married couple, our choices had their limits. Since we are adopting internationally we are able to specify whether we want a boy or girl and an age range for the child we would adopt (obviously with a domestic infant adoption, you get what you get). We are also able to check off a list of medical conditions that we are “ok” with: cleft, clubfoot, rickets, and so on.
Here’s where we do not have a choice:
Country: Most countries set upper age limits and marriage requirements. China was out because you couldn’t apply until you’d been married two years, but you couldn’t be over fifty. By the time we’d have been married two years, I’d be fifty. India stipulates that the age of the husband and wife, combined, cannot be greater than 90. Haiti requires ten years of marriage. On and on it goes. Our “short list” of countries was very short.
Birth mother’s health: Big Papa and I cannot influence whether the birthmother drinks, smokes or eats well during her pregnancy.
Kid’s genetics and family background: We can’t choose our kid’s biological parents…how smart they are, what their unique abilities are or their propensity for chronic disease.
Orphanage care: While the orphanages in Armenia are good in comparison to most and the care excellent, it is still an orphanage. Most children in orphanage care are delayed in development one month for every three months spent there. We have no control over how the child we’ll adopt is cared for from the time of his birth until we bring him home.
Picking our kid: Adoption is not like shopping at the supermarket. We are not able to weigh the merits of ‘Kid A’ against ‘Kid B.’ We are allowed one referral at a time. Of course, in some countries, prospective adoptive parents aren’t even allowed to say no to a referral, at least not if they want to bring home a kid at all. Someone else half the world away (in some cases whom you’ve never met) will choose our child for us and send us his information.
When we become parents: I will not have the nine-months-and-we’re-parents window. I am not able to say to my husband, “Hey, wanna make a baby-NOW.” We started this process three years ago (with our home study). That’s one loooong pregnancy!
It’s true that folks who birth their kids experience a whole truckload of unpredictable outcomes too. Down Syndrome, Autism, birth defects, difficult pregnancies, challenging births, miscarriage, stillbirths and–just like adoptive parents–infertility. The road from coupledom to parenthood isn’t always smooth.
That said most adoptive parents come to the table with limited options, having experienced infertility or another significant reason which made biological pregnancy impossible. Choice in adoption is something of an oxymoron because many decisions are made for you. And sometimes, much of the time, control is completely out of your hands.
Happy Birthday Pampers and Pakhlava! Today my blog turns one.
It seems like just yesterday I was sitting in front of my computer screen, forefinger shaking as it hovered over the ‘publish’ button. I’d never written about something so personal in such a public venue. This was a big leap. I was full of nervous excitement, like a kindergartener on her first day of school.
What a difference a year makes. I’ve hit ‘publish’ countless times now (89 posts for Pampers and Pakhlava blog and 56 posts for the Urban Cabin). I still get a little nervous before I send my missives into the ether, but blogging has been a wonderfully rewarding experience.
I’ve met (both in-person and online) awesome people I might not have otherwise known and rekindled friendships from years gone by. My soul has been warmed by the heartfelt comments I’ve received from readers. Having a ‘community’ online and behind the scenes has made the difficult moments in our journey easier to bear.
And “what a long strange trip it’s been!” I’ve felt guilty at times that I blog on a women’s travel website, but all too rarely find myself outside the city limits. Yet my journey to become a mom has been, without question, the mother of all trips. It has taken me literally, figuratively, physically and emotionally to places I’d never imagined.
Last April when I published my first post, I wondered if I would find enough to write about, whether people would read my blog and, if so, what they would think about my musings. As it turns out, I never find myself short on words, it’s cathartic to give my thoughts solid ground, and hearing that some of my posts strike a chord with others is immensely satisfying.
Blogging about our adoption has helped me keep my sanity, through I-800 applications and updates, lost referrals, failed trips, and the sweet highs of hopeful expectations. For Big Papa and I our journey to adopt from Armenia has been the road less traveled. What lies around the next bend? I can hardly wait to find out and share it with all of you.
So thank you friends and family who faithfully read what I write. Thank you Beth W.: Wanderlust and Lipstick is a warm nest for my words. My heart swells with pride as I hit ‘publish’ today. ONE YEAR, Pampers and Pakhalva! Here’s to looking at you, kiddo.
Our adoption agency sent an email letting families know that the new laws regarding Armenian adoption have been published and there are several changes to update families on. They will be sending each family a personalized letter with their current status, place in ‘wait’ and details about how the new laws will impact them. All we’ve been told at this point is that the new laws and time frames should significantly reduce the waiting for families once officially matched to a referral. The letter describing all of this is slated to be sent out next week.
We wait with bated breath. Can I just say for the umpteenth time how much I struggle with waiting? Whether it’s waiting to get our U.S. Immigration approval for the required annual update to our home study, waiting for a referral or waiting to become parents, it just seems like adoptive parents-to-be do a heckuva lot of waiting.
I’m not trying to look a gift horse in the mouth. Reduced time frames would be absolutely fantastic. I can only imagine how tough it will be to wait once we have a solid referral. At this juncture, time from referral to court dates and then homecoming has been taking anywhere from four to eight months.
Sitting here, know our child is sitting there will be excruciating. Missing months of developmental milestones makes me sad, so if changes to the laws translate to less time waiting, more power to ‘em.
Even though our trip to Armenia this past September was painful, I am thankful Big Papa and I had the opportunity to visit one of the orphanages and see the excellent care the kids receive. I can now picture what it looks like in my head: the rooms, the caregivers, and where the kids sleep. Knowing they are in competent, caring hands eases my anxiety to a degree.
Still, waiting to adopt can feel endless. I guess a lot of things in life that. Whether it’s waiting to find out your mammogram results, waiting to find out if you got into your number one choice for college, or waiting to meet the person you want to share your life with, waiting is a big part of the program. Minutes feel like hours. Hours feel like days. Months feel like eternity.
You’d think because of all this practice, I’d learn some patience. I try so hard to cultivate my ability to stay present. I don’t want to miss joyful moments that are in my life each day because I’m so focused on this one thing that I can’t see the forest for the trees.
There are days when I find patience easily and other days, not so much. Something shifts my focus enough and I become hyper-aware that we’re not there yet. It could be news that a good friend just had a baby or I might see an adoptive mom at the market. Finding ourselves faced with yet another task to complete for the adoption (such as the recent update to our home study) or news (like this week) that changes are afoot with regulations in the country we’re adopting from, sets me off too. Or it could be a casual conversation with a caring friend who asks: “What’s happening on the adoption front?”
It’s a funny thing, this adoption journey. We wake up and our day looks just so…until one day it doesn’t.
Nothing happens, and nothing happens, and then everything happens.
“Are you adopted like I am?” the five-year-old son of our friend ‘S.’ asked another little girl while vacationing in Hawaii. Their poolside conversation along with a picture was posted on Facebook, and soon a bunch of us where chiming in on how sweet we thought the whole exchange was.
A friend of S. mentioned that she too is adopted. S. replied that she would tell both her [adopted] children about this, as a reminder that their family knows lots of people who are adopted. Even though adoption is so much more common and accepted than when we were kids, S. commented that her kids still say they feel “different” from many of their friends.
Then S.’s friend offered to sit down and talk with her kids about her own experience of being an adoptee. In my opinion, that was pretty darn cool.
As a prospective adoptive mom, I’ve thought a great deal about the “adoption triad”: birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptee. Big Papa and I were required to take many hours of classroom and online training which included a wealth of information on the “losses” each member of the triad feels. But knowing about something from books is not like knowing about it first-hand.
It is my wish that our kid will find other adoptees, like S’s friend, to talk with. In fact, I plan to help our kiddo seek out adoptee “mentors” because I think talking with one’s peers is a healthy avenue for adopted kids to figure out who they really are.
Most kids (and adults) who are adopted have questions, many of which cannot be answered. Why couldn’t my birth mom raise me? What would my life have been like if I grew up there instead of here? My birth mom is Armenian but the family I grew up in is not, so what does that make me?
My wisdom falls solidly on one corner of the triad. I know mountains of paperwork. I know months of waiting. I know the yearning to be a mom. What I don’t know is the feeling of being adopted. I can only imagine what might go through my child’s head over the course of a lifetime as he explores where he “fits.”
When the day finally comes and we’re adoptive parents, we will be eternally grateful to another woman, who made a difficult decision to find a home for the child she birthed. At least three lives were forever changed by her choice.
I know we’ll do our very best to help our child wrestle with the questions. And when the answers are out of reach or understanding slips through his grasp we’ll steady him on the path to find answers that lie within.
Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.
Kazakhastan, Kyrgystan, Taiwan, Marshall Islands, Ethiopia, Georgia, Armenia – what did I know about any of these countries before I entered the world of international adoption? When you’re nearing fifty, newly married for the first time and interested in adding a child to the mix, the learning curve for adoption is steep. Domestic versus international? Africa, Asia, or South America? Boy or girl? Infant or toddler? There are so many questions to ask, information to research and decisions to be made.
Exploring this new territory helped increase my understanding of the adoption process, bureaucratic formalities (ours and theirs), along with the adoption rules and regulations and cultures of many countries I’d heretofore had very little exposure to. Not to mention geography.
It didn’t take long before ruling out China – I’d be too old (50) by the time we’d been married long enough (two years); India – our combined ages needed to be less than 90; Nepal – just starting to accept applications again and four years minimum marriage requirement (though single women are accepted); Ethiopia – five years of marriage and a maximum age of 50, and Guatemala – currently closed until compliance with Hague Convention standards is achieved. I could easily list similar requirements and restrictions for a host of countries. Additionally, prospective adoptive parents might be ruled out for being overweight (China), gender (most foreign countries do not allow single men to adopt) or income.
While I understand that ‘50’ in most countries looks quite different than 50 in the United States and marriage requirements are based on assumptions of family stability, it still feels restrictive. Hundreds of thousands of orphaned children around the world need loving homes. Though the regulations are created with the best of intentions, to prevent child trafficking and create financially and emotionally stable family units, the reality is that many families who are willing and able to care for a child are kept from doing so because they don’t meet international requirements for adoption age, marriage, gender and income.
My husband and I thought long and hard about our beliefs, our abilities, our finances, and our dreams for what our family might become. Our decision to adopt from Armenia was a good fit for us in many respects. No upper age limit or minimum length of marriage requirement. Ratings for Hopscotch Adoptions, the adoption agency we chose, were unequivocally thumbs-up. We found the topography mesmerizing and the culture and traditions a fascinating blend of old-world mysticism and new world sophistication. And Armenian kids are just so dang cute. Plus, it didn’t hurt that our weekend dinner menu frequently featured all-foods Armenian. Lamb, hummus, yogurt, and Shish Kebab made regular appearances at our table.
So we raise a glass and offer a toast to our adoption adventure. To Armenia, a match made in geographic and gastronomic heaven. To life! Genatzt!