Friday, August 30, 2013

Beautiful girls

Last weekend, Jenny Edwards took some beautiful photographs of the girls (and even a few of me) one late afternoon at Horn Pond, a local treasure.  No PhotoShop, no frills.  Rather, jeans and tees, minimal make-up, great light, mostly happy kids, a patient photographer, and some fantastic luck.  She captured my girls and their unique personalities beautifully.  

Next challenge:  How to get a picture of all 4 children?  That might require two miracles: a cure for autism and one for sibling-squabbles.

Enjoy the images of my beautiful girls, readers!

E, almost 13, grade 7

S, age 11, grade 6

J, almost 16, grade 10

Jenny Edwards can be reached at

Thursday, July 18, 2013

An adoption reflection: From where I came to who I am

I am not an adoption blogger.  I have not strived to be a human being who dissects her life based on my first seven months of life, the cumulative effects of those, and existing as an international adoptee.  In retrospect, I've not given them the roles they deserve by acknowledging how they have shaped my life as a whole.  It's never been forefront in my thoughts beyond what I think are the typical loss and abandonment stuff most adoptees probably think about when they are feeling down.  Yet, now, I see my adoption as a puzzle, one which affects so many differences pieces of my existence, my thought processes, my values, and my parenting.

In addition, life parenting a child with autism and parenting in general, along with a slew of other joys and challenges, has certainly been enough to occupy my little part of the blogosphere.

I was given up.  For good or for bad.  It is what it is.  The first experience in my life is that I was given away.  The good is I found my way to Mother Teresa's orphanage in Kanpur, India.  I don't know anything about it, but I'd like to imagine it was a place where babies were held and played with, not where they were kept in their cribs 23 hours a day, the only toys ones hung on the wall.  (My adopted sister lived in *that* kind of orphanage, as did kids I work with now).  I have this fantasy that nurturing women, likely nuns, held me when I cried, played peek-a-boo, laughed when I made a funny face, or tried their dardnest to make me laugh when I was on the verge of tears.

What I also DO know is my given name: Shantini.  Folklore says this is the name my birth mother chose.  (My adoptive parents kept it as my middle name).

I also know one more fact:  I arrived here as a baby, adopted by white parents into what was then a *very* white community.  This leads me to say with certainty: I am the whitest brown person you will ever meet.
Naturalization Day... clearly I was impressed.

Sure, there were the Indian meals my adoptive mother tried to make, the Indian dance recitals and cultural festivals we went to, and the one or two sets of Indian or 1/2 Indian/1/2 American couples my parents knew and we socialized with.  I once was given a sari- I think someone once helped me put it on.  I loved to watch my friend S perform beautiful, classical Indian dancing.

But, I never went to "Indian School" like all the other Indian kids did.  I was disconnected from the culture.  For this good reason, it's still quite foreign to me.

There were definitely attachment issues at play.  With my adoptive parents, with extended family, then with men I dated, and finally, as a mother.  In a nutshell, it's hard to trust when you've been abandoned once (and I can't go to that "happy place" of "Isn't it wonderful your birth mother gave you up and brought you where she did?"). 

It's why relationships with my children, and parents, require a lot more effort - and skills I even need to work on.  Trusting someone is going to be there, as the child or the parent, when you been through abandonment is not something I'd wish upon anyone as it's a challenge.  My children mean the world to me, but this "tween/teen" thing may just do me in in a quicker, more stabbing fashion than autism.

Then, there's dating.  It's amazing I got married and had these beautiful children.  I trusted that vow was forever and no one was going to leave or "check out" of the marriage.  It's awful to think, more or less write, but sometimes I wonder if I got married because someone loved me unconditionally.  Me, this not-so-attractive brown person in a very white world, was worthy to a few people.

And then, there was me.  A caretaker by nature, someone who not only loved being part of a family, be it a home unit or a church family.  I truly enjoyed my female friendships; what I gave to and got from them.  

Then, my marriage ended, along with the "happily-ever-after", something we both hold responsibility for.  

So, what did I do?  I got involved with someone just as lonely as I was, even for similar reasons.  He had the same personality and make-up of my husband.  Both very nurtured and loved by their (biological) parents, there were no abandonment issues with either of these men.  I again fell, willingly, into that warm, enveloping feeling of being loved and taken care of.  I don't know how that feels for anyone else, but for me, someone who had been abandoned, it was the safest feeling *ever*.  Forget the physical and emotional attraction and/or compatibilities, I was with someone who did the opposite of abandon me.  He protected me and said he was never going to leave.

Well, that fairy-tale didn't have a "happy ever after ending", either. (You know, Patrick Dempsey in Ever, Ever After is just a nice, juicy fantasy).  What I may have correctly originally perceived as care and commitment I believe was real.  What ended up just as real was a lot of control towards me.  I was used to being in control; I was running a household of four young children.  I was not used to being controlled.  And I was *petrified* of being abandoned again.  It was like turning into that scared little girl I must have been at some point.  Yet, I was a grown-up, with children to raise and other people's children to help care for.  For these moments of joy with him, and many moments of joy with all the kids, there was this insecure piece of my heart which didn't want to be broken, no matter the cost to my person.

So, being the responsible adult I was, I tried to juggle and exist in that "happy" role.  Then, the facade started cracking.  On Christmas Eve, kids away at church with another parent, the best birth control of a tubal ligation in place, I got pregnant.  I  ended up in the unenviable position of being the one to consider giving away a child, abandoning him or her.  The other two choices (parenting or termination) were not real options those first few months.  And then things went terribly wrong.  The pregnancy ended in a way I won't ever write about here.  That was another loss, alongside that relationship.  Trust= absolutely shattered.

How much does being an adult adoptee filter into the lens I see parenting through?  More than I thought.  My children have their own stories to tell, different from mine in many ways, and they've experienced a different type of loss: divorce.  What I strive for is to give them the reassurance they are loved unconditionally.  (This doesn't always mean I or others like what they do, nor should it).  But I will never choose to give up my child, or give up on my child.

My ex-husband taunts my core belief that it's important to me to have a village surrounding my family.  Maybe he's right, as many in that village (I think of our long-term church family) simply disappeared after our less-than-harmonious divorce.  Yet, my friends have gone off in different directions, too.  I don't fit in to the "mommy" groups, married women who balance kids, typically hard-to-manage husbands, and households, if not work, too.   I don't neatly fit into the "autism group" stereo-type as I am a strong believer that there is no vaccine-autism link, but I am also not a card-carrying member of the "neuro-diversity" club, either.  The latter is because my son evidenced delays almost immediately after birth, the former because he is not high-functioning and I doubt will ever be able to speak about "Autism and What it Means to Me".  Or even define it in an essay.

Ironically, my son is the one person on Earth I doubt will ever choose to abandon me.  My daughters, collectively, resent him and what his autism has taken away from their lives.  My ex-husband has never accepted him for who he is, and therefore can not manage to care for him for any extended period of time.   Finally, that baby that never was born, who would have been born with genes from two parents who hold autism in our genes, lives in my heart.

I think about Mother Teresa often; more often I think about going back to India and visiting the orphanage.  Yet, if it is not what I expect, that idealized image of care and joy ingrained in my soul non-existent, my heart would break.  It would be easy to say "who cares" about any of this?  The past is the past, that book has already been written.  I can only someday write the chapters of the book that have yet been lived.

Living without an identity IS something I haven't thought about very much.  But, upon reflection, it absolutely is something which contributes to the fibers of my soul, my thoughts, and my choices.  As a woman.  As a parent.  As a partner.   As a professional.

That is the truth.  For some reason I can't pinpoint, simply writing about it makes it hurt a bit more.   Writing about it, however, takes away a lot of the shame.

Author's note (7/21/13):  There is quite a miraculous and intense footnote to this post.  Thanks to social media, connections were made, one incredibly meaningful.  I haven't processed this enough, and my thoughts are too jumbled to coherently write at this point  Two final thoughts:  1.  Never lose hope. 2.   Miracles apparently do happen with one just finding its way into my life.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

mothers, un-mothers, and walking together

At some point, many mothers no longer feel like celebrating birthdays.  Some times, it's due to the number of candles on the proverbial cake.  Other times, our birthdays are not celebrated because moms, in particular those who happen to be single, of children with special needs are responsible for ALL the day-to-day needs of our children. We're tired or (perhaps relatively) struggling to provide.  I'm not trying to be a party-pooper, for I love a good party.  After I had kids, the focus (and money) of birthdays/parties went towards them. 

Then there is "Mother's Day".  I am just not into the huge celebrations.  It's fair to say that my mothering is loving and joyful, but filled with parts grumpy, impatient, and frazzled.  It’s an especially stressful time/month in our family’s life and my work.  Every day, being Andrew's mom is work, but there is often feedback, overt or direct, from school that I am the worst. mother. of. the year. 

Caretaking was always important to me.  With church or friends, helping, especially kids, was part of what I happily did.  As a stay at home, married mom, my life was about my kids first.  For 10 years,  however, the goal to be a good mom has been work.  I'll always try to take care of kids, mine or others.  Seeing kids smile or successful is the greatest measure of success.

I firmly believe that Mother’s Day isn’t something we earn.   Maybe it should be a normal (whatever that means to you), low-key Sunday as opposed to a Hallmark Holiday.   What would it mean to celebrate an "un-Mother’s Day" instead of the normal flowers-chocolate-brunch festivities I hear others others partake in every year?  (To those of you who do, please read this as a coming from someone walking a different path, who wishes you much joy today if what you experience makes you happy).

An un-Mother's Day" could be indulging in activities that have absolutely nothing to do with mothering. For example, uninterrupted sleep, adult conversation, spa days, wine, high-quality chocolate, and amazing meals that someone else cooked.  In other words, a day off with considerable geographic distance from one’s progeny.

Mothers are told to consider our children "perfect" as they are.  (This reminds me of holding my babies for the first time... oh how they were they indeed PERFECT).  We're counseled that our dwelling on any extra challenges is pathetic and not PC.   The neuro-diversity movement chastises us for not looking at autism as a gift.   Yet, dwelling on versus acknowledging the differences between mothers of children severely impacted by disabilities, as we live it every day, are not the same things.  The people who usually judge are mothers of neuro-typical children who look at you as if there are 19 horns growing out of your head.  Perhaps they are the mothers of children with special needs who have a large and dynamic support system (with a great husband typically included in that), women who definitely don't walk the path alone, at least much of the time.  News flash: even with a husband, it's not like his mere existence makes life easier, especially with special needs-related "stuff".

Let's describe motherhood via positiva – what it is to be a mother.  Simplifying this viewpoint, I offer it's about love, care, nurture, and acceptance of our children.

Yet another way to understand mothering is the via negativa – what it is not. What does this day mean for those who are "un-mothers"?

  • Un-mothers could be mothers who stay in controlling and/or abusive relationships *because* of their children, terrified physically and/or emotionally to leave and cause (more) upset and disruption to their children's lives.  Maybe they stay because they are afraid to be alone.
  • Un-mothers could be women who want desperately to have children, those who suffer through infertility, miscarriage, and failed adoptions. 
  • Un-mothers could be women who have children, but have also suffered pregnancy loss.  Talk about two sets of feelings colliding- celebrating the children you have and love and mourning the child/children you never got to hold.
  • Un-mothers could be women who have chosen not to have children, feeling called to different paths. 
  • Un-mothers could be women who have suffered the loss of a child, whose motherhood has been broken and reshaped by pain and death, who dealt with burying their child, something no mother should ever have to do. 
  • Un-mothers could be single mothers, who have to give their children over to their other parent, despite the negative impact they may see after each and every visit.  For mothers of children with disabilities, this one is unbelievably painful, as we are torn between wanting our children to love and be fully loved and accepted by their fathers while knowing some co-parents can not meet the needs resulting from their disabilities (and, sometimes, don't even try). 
  • Un-mothers could be women who do not want the children they have and can not accept them.  Okay, that's harsh, but I'm sure for some women, it's real. 

Then, though not un-mothers, there are mothers who might mourn or be conflicted on Mother's Day, as they have given their children up for adoption, many of whom don't know what became of the babies they gave birth to.  How much a day like today could hurt their hearts.  As a child of adoption, whose birth mother was brave enough to leave me at Mother Theresa's orphanage in Kanpur, India, a woman I will never be able to find or know, I think of her and those who have done what she did.

While we can not walk in another's shoes, I was recently reminded we can walk with them, the mothers and un-mothers, alike.  More than anything, we can do the best we can to support them.

Don't judge, but please do remember that there are those for whom "Mother's Day" is extremely painful, a day when there is no celebration involved.  Motherless daughters, adopted daughters, mothers with kids who can't/don't "celebrate", mothers who have no villages...  I wish you all a happy Sunday.   Just please remember the moms who love their kids, try so very hard, yet have so very little to celebrate as there are few, if any, people who celebrate and love them.  "Mother's Day", ironically, could feel exceptionally lonely as the pomp and circumstance around them are stinging reminders of the loneliness they feel and live not just on Mother's Day, and on many days.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


When I think of the reasons folks go to the emergency room on New Year's Eve or NYE Day, I think "over-partying".   In this frigid weather, maybe slips on ice, or skiing, sledding, and ice-skating accidents, stuff like that  (Until now, to be honest, I never really gave it all too much thought). 

Just to add some spice to our lives, not that there isn't enough health-wise going on, I can now add "New Year's Eve Emergency Room" to my resume.  After 16 hours of unabated, sharp stabbing pain, along with nausea (which I mistook for indigestion), during which I tried desperately to make what ever was hurting stop. I took Tums and Ibuprofen. (Despite Zofran, I threw it all up anyways).  *Something*, maybe a bad stomach bug and pulled muscle, was simply not getting better.  It was, in fact, getting worse.  

My kids had tried to get me to go to the hospital hours earlier. (As is typical, my PCP's office wasn't helpful.  Returning calls in a timely manner, or even triaging them appropriately, are not strength areas).

At the ER, I got taken it right away.  Forget 1-10 pain scale ratings, I think ER triage nurses can read the pain simply by looking at you.

There, I learned all about gallbladders.  It turns out people can develop gall stones, and not know they have them for a long time.  I had just one, however it was blocking a duct, this presentation indicated emergency surgery.  I admit to being grateful it could be dealt with laproscopically.  However, it feels like, and I am quoting the surgeon, "having been stabbed" 5 times.

On New Year's Day, I watched the Tournament of Roses parade from my hospital bed.  Friends came to visit, doing (walking) laps in the hallway (only a really goof friend would do this) with me, and even bringing flowers.  (My best friend took two of my kids and she, and her parents, spoiled them to death during a sleepover).

Last night, I came home.  The scene that unfolded was a bit surreal.

If you happened to be a stranger looking at my house last night, you might have thought you were witnessing mass chaos. A boatload of dear friends here, bringing food and household stuff, putting out trash and recycling, doing dishes and laundry, making the bed, feeding cats,  even finding and going to one of the two pharmacies open on New Year's Eve, and general post Christmas clean-up.

But it wasn't chaos. It was community.  People who love my kids and me lending a hand, or seven, on a cold night to ensure I was supported and loved, and able to care for my kids despite being in tremendous pain.

I am so blessed to have such a village surrounding me and my kids. I love you guys! 

Ironically, last night, it was my son who showed such kindness and real empathy.  He asked to crawl into bed and snuggle, bears in tow.  He understood to be gentle.  Autism can shine and his heart is oh-so-big.