Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My Not So Perfect Life

Did you know my family is crazy?  We’re dysfunctional.  We make huge mistakes.  We can be irritating and annoying.  And we are so far from perfect or anything close to it.

And yet, as one who was literally saved from becoming yet another “unplanned pregnancy” lost to adoption, I am so thankful for my family, all the good AND all the bad.

We had another big family wedding over the weekend.  It was my cousin’s wedding on my maternal side and since my mother is one of seven siblings, I have an abundance of aunts and uncles and amazing cousins that flood such family events.

I used to take it for granted . . . the crazy, wonderful, irritating family I’d been blessed with.  As a child, it was just my life.  I didn’t know any different.  Didn’t know any better to know different.  I had absolutely no clue how close I came to being separated from my own family.  Forced to suffer the loss of my heritage, my roots.

And then when I was just sixteen, pregnant and vulnerable with my oldest son, I went through the damaging “options” counseling provided by the multi-billion dollar adoption industry.  Counseling created to destroy the importance of one’s natural family.  To lead vulnerable, pregnant mothers into believing they and their family really mean nothing to the child they are carrying.  Created so mothers caught in crisis situations while facing an unexpected pregnancy come to believe the problems and struggles they and their family have are terribly wrong and that there are better families, more deserving families, out there who are more worthy of their unborn child.

So I spent many, MANY, years taking my family for granted.  Never truly understanding how blessed I was to be allowed to have them in my life.  To have never known a life without them.

And, worst of all, I spent many years never realizing just how terrible of a loss I caused my oldest son when I gave him up for adoption.  When I cruelly caused the very loss for him that I had been spared.

It’s times like this . . . my cousin’s wedding . . . when the reality of what I had that I denied my own child hits me the hardest.  Because I’m there, he’s there, surrounded by all our family.  And there is no denying that I was saved from losing everything I forced him to lose.

And there is nothing good in that.  Nothing to be grateful for.  Not a single moment to ever justify giving up my own child to a heart-breaking loss I was saved from.

Over forty years ago, my fate came so close to being one of terrible loss.  My mom was a good Irish, Catholic teenager who became pregnant on the night of her Senior Prom.  Her fate was set.  Plans were being made.  She was to be sent away to a Catholic Maternity Home where she would give birth, give up her child and then be sent home as if nothing had ever happened.

But I was lucky . . . so damn lucky. 

My dad, a good Italian, Catholic boy, went to his dad (my amazing grandfather) and asked for help so he wouldn’t lose his child.  And even though, as the father, he had no right to me, his own daughter (much like it is in today’s world when it comes to adoption) my  maternal grandmother and my paternal grandfather planned, instead, a quick marriage between their daughter and son, saving me from being given away to strangers at the time of my birth.

Instead, there was a rushed wedding and a full-term yet “pre-mature” baby that came soon afterwards.

That was how my life started.  I was an unborn child, considered nothing but a shameful pregnancy to be hidden away by my maternal grandparents so that my mere presence would not embarrass them.  A baby born to a mother and father, never really in love and yet forced to marry because of my impending birth – the one act that saved me from becoming another child lost to adoption.

I was born to two teenagers just out of high school with no money, a scam of a marriage, no future and absolutely no idea how they were going to raise a child.

My dad was far from a faithful husband.  My mom worked hard, long hours.  There were fights that I remember hearing coming from their closed, bedroom door.  Memories of my mom’s tears, my dad’s anger.  And by my kindergarten year, they were separated and divorced just a year later.

There was nothing perfect about it. 

And yet, none of that, absolutely none of it, could ever justify anyone believing that I somehow belonged with some strangers who society deemed as “better” than my own mom and dad.

Because if there is one thing I have learned in this adoption journey of mine it is that the hard times, the dark, desperate times come and go but the parents, the family, you are born to, is forever.

Sure, I could have been given away to the older, wealthier, happily married couple who was next on the list to get a baby.  I could have known none of the struggles.  Been shielded in some society-perceived vision of what was the “better” life for me. 

But then I would have missed out on everything I had been blessed with by being allowed to stay with my natural family.  My own heritage.  My roots.

I would have never had the close, amazing relationship I have with my mom.  My best friend.  The one person who is so much like me that she understands me better than anyone.

I would have never become the one person in my dad’s life who knows exactly who he is and understands, when nobody else does, just how much sacrifice he has put into his long-time position as a police officer.  Who shares a unique bond with him.  Who, even with all the ups and downs we’ve gone through, knows him, understands him, in a way so many never can. 

And even my other dad - - - step dad. 

Because even living through the struggles of being raised by young, teenage parents, going through divorce and remarriage, still doesn’t change my thankfulness that I wasn’t giving away to strangers to be adopted into a falsely-perceived “better” life.

If I hadn’t gone through that, I would have never known the love of my other dad.  And boy did I give him a hard-time to even be my dad.  I fought him at every turn.  Tested him.  Turned away from him.

But he was always just “there” through it all, loving and supporting me even as I fought him with every step.  Again, it was far from perfect.  But, boy, I love him, so much.  And I can’t imagine the reality of how being given away for adoption would have stolen my chance to ever know him.

And there is even so much more . . .

Memories of the little girl who hung out in dispatch at the police station, colored at the Chief’s desk, knew every cop in the (then) small town police department where my dad worked and, as a single dad, brought me with him to the station.  Picked me up in his squad car for lunch with the officers he worked with.  Gave me a childhood, surrounded by cops, police stations and the law that could never be replaced.

Or my mom who was always there.  ALWAYS.  If I hurt, she hurt.  There was nothing more important to her than her own daughter.  And I always knew that.  Still know that.  She built a wonderful, successful career for herself, against all those that said it wasn’t possible because she was a teen mom, and yet still never left me to face my troubles alone.  Always supported me, guided me, helped me through whatever I faced in life.

And family.  Crazy and irritating.  Messed up and loving.  Never perfect.  But always mine.  No matter what.

My maternal grandparents . . . so ready to have my mom give me away when I was the “shameful child” she was pregnant with . . . who spoiled and loved me.  Who, after they moved away to Montana when I was only five, I continued to travel to and spend my summers with until my teenager years when I decided, because of a boy crush, to not continue the tradition.

And my Aunt Jack, only five years older than me, always treating me more like an annoying little sister than a niece when I was growing up.  Our relationship is one that is so hard to describe because of the love, the closeness between us.  I couldn’t imagine not having her as a phone call away.  Always there.  Always supporting.  Always just my “Aunt Jack” no matter what.

And my Uncle Jerry, just a couple years older than my mom.  So unique.  So just him.  All of us nieces and nephews are perfect in his eyes.  We’re family and, to him, family means everything.  And that’s all he needs.  We’re his by blood so we are all special.  All worthy of his praise.  His constant bragging to everyone he knows.

I could go on and on . . . Two uncles, only eight and nine years older than me.  Always protective.  Always looking out for me.  An Aunt, the oldest of all the siblings, with the kindest sweetest heart who we lost to cancer just a couple years ago.  Amazing, wonderful cousins who I share so much in common with.  Love like crazy.

All of that I could have lost.  Every one of those treasured memories of my family could have never been if the adoption industry had been given their way.  If they had succeeded in making me unimportant to my own family so that I could be given away to another PAYING family which they would have profited off of.

I am one who, in so many ways, shows the reality of what it is to be spared an unnecessary separation from her family.  I’m one who realizes, after so many years in the reality of adoption, exactly what she was saved from.  Who is thankful for it everyday.

And as a mother who learned too late the importance of family.  Who suffered through the terrible, coercive counseling of the adoption industry.  Who knows, first-hand, how vulnerable, pregnant mothers are led to believe they, and their families, aren’t good or worthy of their own children.  How so many, for survival purposes, will hold on to that false reality just to stay sane, to spare themselves the horrible pain of facing the truth.  I see that side so clearly as well when adoptees seek out their families.  When they are turned away by their own flesh and blood or decide, themselves, to turn away from their original family.

I think of that.  Especially when I’m surrounded by my far-from-perfect family.  I think of how, being given up to what I had been told was a “better” life, I would have proclaimed how happy I was not to have to go through the hard times that were a part of my life growing up. How I would have so terribly judged my family by their failures without ever realizing all that was amazing about them.  How I never would have known that one of the best parts of our family is that we know we all fail and we are there, every time, to support and love one another through whatever failure they might face.  No matter how “bad” society might view it.

And when I’ve seen, over and over again, how deeply the loss caused by adoption changes those in a family.  Closes them off to protect the hurt.  Shields them behind the coercive beliefs fed by the adoption industry  so that the true heartache doesn’t have a chance to break through.

What I know now, as a child saved from adoption, would be completely different than what I would have found had I been given away and forced to search for my natural family later in life.  And yet, more than likely, I would have judged the life I “could have had” on the family I found after the loss of adoption and judged my fate based on that.  Never having any idea of the true reality I was blessed with because I was spared such a terrible loss.  My family was spared the loss.

Yet, none of that saved my oldest son.  Where I was blessed with our wonderful family, he was denied in the worst of ways.  Because I gave him up.  Because there weren’t, even sixteen years later, protections for him, for me, to make sure unnecessary adoptions didn’t happen.  To prohibit a multi-billion dollar industry from profiting off of taking innocent infants away from loving families to satisfy the desires of their paying customers.

It doesn’t take away from what I did.  Doesn’t change the fact that although I wanted my son more than anything the minute he was born, it was his adoptive parent’s feelings I put before what I believed was best for my own child.  That I walked into that hospital nursery, placed my own son in the arms of someone who was a complete stranger to him at that time and turned my back on him and walked away.

But, it also doesn’t take away from the fact that this sick acceptance and encouragement of an unregulated, industry that profits off of vulnerable, pregnant mothers giving up their children plays a large part in why my oldest son was forced to lose the family he had every right to, was worth being a part of just as I was.

When my mother was pregnant with me it was during the Baby Scoop Era when the adoption industry had the advantage of pregnant mothers truly having absolutely no choice.  Sixteen years later, when I was pregnant with my oldest son, the industry could no longer take advantage of the terrible reality placed on pregnant mothers for so many years.  But there were still so many desperate and willing to pay for a child that there was no push for them to do anything more than to change their ways so that they became even more coercive and manipulative to get those babies they wanted.

And those practices used against me are the same used against vulnerable, pregnant mothers today.  Which is now why I face, after three generations, yet another risk of losing a member of my family to adoption.

I was saved from being given up for adoption, my oldest son was not, and now I continuously face the horrible reality that adoption could always cause another awful loss for my grandchildren.

All these years, so much has changed, yet the reality of what adoption is, the terrible loss it can force on an innocent child, a family, is still just as real and threatening today as it was back when my mom was a pregnant teenager with me.

And it has nothing to do with what is best for a child.  It’s about the thought of what would happen to those couples wanting a child if we were to actually, finally, demand protections for pregnant mothers and their unborn children.

Because, honestly, what bad could come to any child if mothers were protected and given a right to true, unbiased counseling that centered on the crisis they were facing, and helping them work through that crisis, rather than using their vulnerable status to manipulate them into believing their only “choice” was to give up their baby?

How would it damage an innocent baby if we, as society, demanded that more support and help was provided to supporting and helping mothers raise their children?  Offering them the advantages of education, resources and support to better their lives so they can provide for their children.

And where, honestly, does it make it wrong, to make sure that fathers are given equal rights to their own children and a child’s natural family is allowed to be the first to raise one of their own over others who are strangers.

The only ones that suffer from such protections and support are those wanting – and willing to pay for - a baby for their own desires and the adoption industry that profits in the billions by taking the money from those seeking a child.

That is the reason why there were no protections for my mother, myself, and now, my own children.

I know the reality of being spared the terrible separation from my natural family.  I know what it is like to grow up in a family that is far from perfect.  To have a childhood with its ups and downs.  To know struggles and hardships as I was growing up. 

I would never trade any of that for being given away to strangers at the time of my birth.  And it angers me that society actually supported different for me, for my life.  That so many encouraged the twisted belief that I would have been better off with some older couple who had the money and careers to offer me a “better” life based solely on a material reality.

And I get even angrier to think that sixteen years later, society still didn’t give a damn about me or my unborn child.   That they still held on to the belief that there was nothing that needed to be changed in the world of adoption.  That I and my child weren’t worthy of protections when it came to the desires of the infertile couple that paid good money for the opportunity to have a child of their own.

And now here we are, twenty six years later, and I have to face the ugly fact that the adoption industry could still force the terrible loss of family on my own grandchildren as well because we still don’t have any protections in place that insure that no child is every taken from the adoption industry simply to satisfy the desires of their paying customers.

All because society cares more about satisfying the desires of couples wanting a child more than anything else.  Because they continue, after all these many, many years to turn a cold heart and blind eye to the true, terrible loss brought to innocent children and their vulnerable families when so many decades have been allowed to pass without any protections or support for them.

I was saved from adoption, my son was not, and I have lived and felt hard the truth of those realities.  And what I know, from all of this, is I am so done with the excuses.  I’m so done with the “I had a good experience so why should we care about protecting others” attitude.

I’m done with those who try to rationalize denying pregnant mothers help and support to keep their babies.  Denying them the true, unbiased counseling they deserve by those truly educated and trained to help them work through whatever crisis they are facing before ever suggesting such a permanent and desperate solution as giving up their own child.

I’m so tired, after three generations of living with the true, painful reality of what adoption can bring, to see so many who justify – with whatever excuse they can find – why a father shouldn’t have rights to his own child.  Why strangers are more worthy than he is.

And considering it was my own paternal grandfather who took the step to fight for and keep me because, to him, I was family, and it was just that simple of why I was worthy of fighting for, I’m disgusted by the many I see, over and over again, who claim that extended family don’t deserve to keep one of their own.  That so many do all they can to make sure they have no rights when it comes to their own flesh and blood.  That they will fight with all they have to try and prove that strangers are more worthy than those fighting for their own child/grandchild/niece/nephew/cousin.

Three generations, and more, of the acceptance and encouragement of adoption and the way it is practiced needs to stop.  It’s long past time.

I know the loss adoption brings.  I know the reality of being saved from that loss.  And I know the worry of my family being forced to live through that loss.  None of it is right.  None of it is acceptable.

And none of it is about what is truly best for children.