Monday, April 10, 2006

Adoption conference review

When I drove down to Bellingham on Saturday morning, I followed a steady stream of cars and minivans off the 495 exit. We drove straight, turned left, and came upon the big, new, beautiful high school where the ODS adoption conference would be held. Once I found a parking space, pulled in, and shut off the engine, I just sat there for a minute to gather my thoughts. "Be brave," I encouraged myself. "Put yourself out there--don't be shy."

I walked inside the building and looked around the lobby. It was a mostly white crowd and I was one of the youngest people there, but I saw folks in Mickey Mouse t-shirts and folks in Brooks Brothers suits; folks wearing Birkenstocks and folks with 2-inch crosses around their necks. Who were the birthparents? Who were the adult adoptees? Who were the adoptive parents or waiting adoptive parents? It was impossible to tell and useless to speculate.

After checking in and leaving my donation of school supplies, I headed into the bookstore, which was held in the school's library. Once inside, I was floored by the sheer number of titles. The bookstore was set up with sections on general adoption, various countries (China, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, etc.), multiracial families, LGBT adoptive families, and so on. I'd read many of the general adoption books and several of the children's books, but there were many small press titles I'd never heard of. I got a little overwhelmed and teary at the sight of so many adoption-related books, but I circled the tables anyway and wrote down names and titles of books I hoped to read (ODS has a lending library for its members). In the end, I only bought two books, We See the Moon by Carrie Kitze and I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla by Marguerite Wright.

After leaving the bookstore, I headed into the huge auditorium and took a seat. I looked around and was shocked by the sheer number of people--hundreds of folks were there, all of whom were touched by adoption. It was so powerful to see a living, in-the-flesh community that I got a little weepy all over again.

Once the keynote address started, I was riveted: Marlou Russell, author of Adoption Wisdom, spoke about her experience as an adoptee and about the complexity of emotion and circumstance in adoption. She talked about the pairings of love and loss, of grief and hope, and I started to cry again. When Marlou told us it would be "an emotional day," I laughed and muttered, "Ya think?" which made the woman next to me smile. After the speech was over, she asked me, "Is this your first conference?" My transparency made me smile through my tears.

My first session was about the impact of equal marriage on LGBT adoption, and I was the second person to make it to the room. I laughed again when I saw a box of Kleenex with a sticker reading "Provided by ODS ACONE" at the front of the classroom. Since I'm all about Being Prepared, it felt like they put out a little welcome mat just for me. Amazingly, one of the next people to walk in was a woman I recognized from a party at a mutual friend's house 3+ years ago. We reintroduced ourselves and took each other's email addresses, which was wonderful. Immediately, I felt the isolation begin to lift.

My first workshop was memorable for its presentation on Oklahoma adoption law (co-parent adoptions by same-gender parents aren't recognized in OK), but it was the connections I started to build with other prospective parents that really made me feel good. I talked with 2 men from Arlington who are also adopting through DSS and well as with a woman whose 2 sons were adopted from DSS. It's crazy how much more supported I felt after the session.

My second session was about motherhood, and it was led by an adoptive mom whose kids are now in their 20s. She shared some personal experiences with us, which comforted me, but it was the self-care stuff I really found helpful. She helped me realize that people in my life don't necessarily know how to respond to my plan to adopt, so it's important for me to tell people what I need from them (hello, Mom!). She also validated my increasing awareness that this period of waiting is comparable to biological pregnancy in many ways, and that I have a right to the excitement and fear I'm feeling. I'd been a little skeptical about this workshop when I chose it, but it turned out to be very powerful.

Lunch came next, and by this point I felt so overwhelmed I seriously considered going out to my car for some alone time. I could feel the tears welling up, and I thought I could use a break. As I tried to decide what to do, I heard a shriek and looked over: it was my friend N., a new friend I've made here in Worcester! Both of us were overwhelmed and emotional, and we talked briefly about the intensity of the conference. Connecting with her made me feel a million times better, so I ran out to the car to get my lunch and raced back to the cafeteria to fuel up for the afternoon.

A total flashback moment ensued as I stood in the doorway to the cafeteria: how many times had I entered a school cafeteria and wondered where to sit? Should I sit by myself, which would be more comfortable? Should I force myself to sit with strangers, which might be wonderful or traumatic? Finally, I spotted the men I'd met in session 1 and made my way over to them. "May I sit with you?" I asked politely, feeling like a complete loser. Fortunately, they welcomed me warmly, and we ended up talking a lot about our respective experiences with DSS. We exchanged email addresses and promised to catch up with each other in the "Alternative Families" networking meeting later in the day.

My third session was about transracial adoption and the identity development of white parents. The presenter, a white mom of a Latina daughter, was also a therapist in Cambridge, and she and her business partner developed a theory about the stages white parents go through when they adopt children of color. It was v. interesting and gave me lots to think about; she encouraged us to locate ourselves within the framework and strategize ways we could reach the next stage. It felt good to do some work on my own racism, and I felt a little better prepared to parent a child of color.

My last workshop was supposed to be on paying for adoption, but I went to a different one instead about preparing children to answer questions about adoption. The most powerful thing I learned in that workshop was the WISE model--that when someone approaches you or your child about adoption (or about difference in general, I think), there are 4 equally valid ways to respond: Walk away, It's private, Share something, or Educate others (see? WISE). When I told Petunia about the model, she thought it would be helpful for the kids at her work as well as for Hester. I figure it'll also be helpful to me, since I have a tough time walking away or telling people flat-out that what they're asking about is private. So that was empowering, too.

Finally, the "Alternative Families" meeting took place at the very end of the day. Shockingly, I ran into a former housemate as well as a former colleague during this general discussion and networking session. There's nothing that makes a person feel less alone than realizing she's in good company! It felt great to see those folks again as well as to reconnect with C&D from Session 1 and lunch.

So that's that! That's the conference in a drawn-out, unedited, grossly verbose nutshell. I was sad that Petunia couldn't be there with me, but I was so heartened by the responses of folks at the conference. I saw old friends and made new ones, and I learned about resources I hadn't yet discovered. Also, I was (and am) so proud of myself for my boldness, for pushing myself to engage and to make connections with other people. It couldn't have been a more positive experience, and I'm so glad I went.


Blogger Hashbrown said...

There are no words to describe how honored I am to be married to such a wonderful caring woman. I love you. I am proud of you for going and for then telling us not only about what you heard but what you felt. This adoption stuff is v. hard and you are handling it so gracefully. Reaching out to others is so scary and hard but you are doing it.

4:08 PM  
Anonymous Jenny PP said...

You are such a super star AJWP.


5:15 PM  
Blogger Pearl said...

I am so proud of you for doing it, and doing it yourself! You and Petunia are passionate about having a child. I strongly believe that it will happen. And that you two are going to be great parents!

7:56 PM  
Blogger Canada said...

You're awesome, AJWP!! And Hester is going to be one lucky little kid to have two such amazing and loving mommies.

The only point on which I disagree (a teeny bit, and not in a bad way) is the comparison of pregnancy to waiting for your adoptive child to arrive. I totally agree that you experience the excitement and nerves, but in many ways, it's much harder for adoptive parents. A pregnancy lasts 40 weeks (give or take). I think that with adoption, you have to be much braver and WAAAAYYYYY more patient than any gestating woman, bacause you don't know how long it will be. It could be 5 weeks, or 65 + weeks from approval. However long it takes, though, you know I'm here for you guys (and I'm certain that I'm not putting words in anyone's mouth by saying I'm not the only one).

Looking forward to meeting Hester (and buying booties, 'cause I sure as hell can't knit!)

8:21 PM  
Blogger Psycho Kitty said...

Oh, I'm so glad it was such a wonderful experience! Can I just tell you how much I cannot WAIT for Hester to arrive!? You two are going to be such incredible parents.

2:01 AM  
Blogger Clementine said...

Thanks, you guys, for your v. kind comments about this post. When Hester Willa does arrive, s/he'll be blessed to have so many wonderful, caring aunties!

3:01 PM  

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