Tag Archives: Adoption

Mother’s Day

I used to feel like I was the only woman who was suffering, on Mother’s Day. For a decade, I sat in a series of pews in churches across the country, surrounded by strangers. I remember them all. I dreaded the moment when they asked the women who were mothers to rise for a blessing and a single stemmed rose. What to do, as a single and apparently childless woman? Should I sit or should I stand? As a birth mother, both choices felt like a wound.

I am married with four more children now. I am older and wiser, I hope. One thing that I have learned is that of course I am not the only one who has suffered. So many of the women in the pews whose judgement I feared in my own grief and awkwardness and confusion and shame are suffering too. On Mother’s Day, women are mourning. Women are bearing the grief of infertility, broken relationships, abortion, stillborn children, grown sons and daughters lost in the opioid epidemic, or in the war that rages on the other side of the world and never seems to end.

We are offered flowers, cards, candy. We are given images of motherhood so idealized they bear no relation to our own lives. In fact, they offer insult to injury, taunting us with images of plastic perfection.

This is not the way this day began.

Mother’s Day was founded by Anna Jarvis, the ninth daughter of Ann Jarvis. Anna wanted to honor her mother, who gave birth to eleven children. Only four of them survived to adulthood. Seven of her babies died as infants, lost to measles, diptheria, and typhoid disease.

Ann Jarvis was a woman of deep faith and dynamic action. She was a force to be reckoned with. When she was pregnant with her sixth child, she founded the Mothers’ Day Work Club to bring women together to improve public health and reduce disease and infant mortality. The clubs raised money to support buy medicine, to hire helpers to work in households where mothers were suffering from tuburculosis and other health problems. They visited women in their homes to educate mothers about how to improve sanitation and health. 

When the Civil War broke out, Ann Jarvis insisted that the Mothers Day Clubs remain neutral. The members of her Clubs fed, clothed, and cared for sick soldiers, Confederate and Union alike. When the War ended, she brought together soldiers from both sides and their families for a “Mothers Friendship Day”. She spoke to those gathered about unity, and reconciliation. They prayed together, they ate together, they sang together, and they cried together.

What an inspiration, and a challenge.

We cannot erase the crass commercialization of Mothers Day- but can we strive to become more like the woman who inspired it? My hope is that instead of suffering alone, we can reach out to each other to support each other in our grief, to strengthen each other, and to improve the health of our families, our communities, and to change the world.

A Thousand Words

by Kate

In a week and a day, a Blue Moon approaches, and so does the birth of my baby boy. This pregnancy seems to have stolen the words from the tip of my tongue and severed the link between my thoughts and my fingertips. In general, my writing tumbles out in a rush and posts compose themselves. These days, I struggle to compose a grocery list, or to remember the name of the daily objects around me. Sentences begin and fade away, and blog posts don’t begin at all.

During the last months of pregnancy, it is hard to believe that being pregnant is not eternal but temporal in nature. I have faith that my ability to speak, and write, and leap will return in due course- but it is the sort of faith that seems faint and far off. On a daily basis, it really does feel like I will be pregnant forever. Perhaps this is part of the reason that I have almost no pictures of my previous pregnancies. During my first pregnancy, I did pour out my soul in words as often as possible. Knowing that I would be giving my first child up for adoption meant that I clung fiercely to every moment of that pregnancy, and the journal that I kept is vivid and powerful. However, I wasn’t posing for pretty pregnancy shots. Thankfully in the final week of my pregnancy I asked a friend to take one quick picture. I was in the middle of tearing down kitchen cabinets as we redid the kitchen in my parents home. I am wearing beat up mens cargo pants, a thin blue t shirt, and an awkward grin. I am so grateful to have that picture. For years, that picture tucked into the journal of my pregnancy served as a touchstone for me to look back and see that time, that pregnancy, that motherhood really did happen.

During my second pregnancy, I was struggling to adjust to a new marriage, new city, and entirely new life. It was winter and hard to keep moving when everything in my life had shifted so drastically, although thanks to my husband I kept dancing and through dancing found a new balance, even as the shape of my body dramatically shifted. Still I was submerged in myself somehow, and shy of the camera during that pregnancy as well. Again, at the last moment, I decided it was important to document my pregnancy. On the stone steps of an old church on Easter morning, less than 24 hours before giving birth, I posed for an awkward but beautiful shot of my belly in full bloom, complete with high heels and an Easter hat. Again, I am so glad I did. I have looked back at that picture many times, as the beginning of an incredibly joyful time in my life with my daughter Olympia. She loves the picture too.

And here I am, in the midst of the last week (or two) of my third pregnancy. Between running  after my exuberant daughter and caring for my elderly neighbor, I have spent a great deal of this pregnancy profoundly exhausted. Thankfully I had enough energy to be sewn into a sparkling dress for a Samba performance at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Hall in my second trimester, but in general I have felt wan and weak and tired and without words to write or a hint of the creativity needed to set up a photo shoot.  But! Lately I have been inspired by the beautiful pictures taken by the lovely blogger Jenna, who is a radiantly beautiful pregnant woman. I look at her pictures and think dang it, I want some of that. Pregnancy seems eternal but is fleeting, and I know that in a few months and in the years to come I will want a record of this time with this child within.

I wasn’t planning on doing a photo shoot when I headed out the door hand in hand with my two year old yesterday afternoon, but I had just bought some huge bright turquoise colored earrings, and the shadows of late summer afternoon were slanting into evening in an alluring manner, and so I grabbed my camera and called my friend Christina and headed towards the old brick warehouses on the edge of the Allegheny River. I am a big believer in taking pictures in beautiful places while the light is doing interesting things. This makes up for my lack of actual understanding of how cameras actually work. I am just too lazy to figure that out, at least so far. For this Blue Moon Baby to be photoshoot, I thought that the former loading dock of a red brick former icehouse converted into studio space down near the river would be a great start. This space has caught my attention and held it every time I’ve walked by for the past three years.

It was perfect. If you, like me, feel shy and awkward about a third trimester photo shoot, I recommend: an enchanted spot. Find one that works for you. For me, adding huge earrings and heavy eye makeup was essential.

A rambunctious small child is optional, but will definitely help to keep the mood from getting too serious. At least, she will try.

You also want a kind, compassionate, and creative photographer to work with, like my lovely friend Christina.

Christina was a joy to work with. After we climbed down off the back dock, she agreed to slide down the gravel path to the rocky shore of the Allegheny, where the water laps against slabs of broken concrete and rusty nails- and that was where the light and the view became really magical.

This picture is worth a thousand words. I am so grateful to have captured that moment of water and light. It has reminded me that this waiting time is beautiful, and it lifts me out of the fatigue and the aches and swelling I feel and reminds me of the incredible beauty of pregnancy. For that, I am grateful.

For more pictures, click here.

A Different Place

by Kate

The howling winds and icy northern breath of winter never quite arrived here in Pittsburgh this year. The past few months have passed in a chill grey haze of in-between, as we waited for the snow to fall and the season to start in earnest. It never did. The sun fled and the fog set in and and the days dragged on. For me, it was a rough season. The toddler was sick, the elderly woman I care for daily was sick, and I was exhausted.

It was the perfect time to head for California.

We were in California to visit family- primarily my husband’s grandparents, who are in their early 90’s and increasingly frail. We planned to span much of the state, beginning near San Diego and then making our way through the ports of San Pedro where Casey grew up, up the coast to Santa Barbara with the grandparents, and finally visiting family and seeing the sights of San Francisco.

Our first visit was a family visit as well. I’ve written here before about my experience with open adoption. Due to the vast continent between the east and west coast, this trip was the first chance we’ve had since our wedding and honeymoon almost three years ago to visit with the amazing family who adopted my daughter.

Almost eleven years ago, when I first spoke with Chris and Michelle, they lived in the big city. I thought they always would. For a country girl, the idea of my child growing up in an urban setting was hard to imagine. It was hard for me, but I was so impressed with the love and between this young couple, their deep faith, their great sense of humor, and their openness to having a big family that I was able to make a great leap of faith and trust that even if my firstborn child grew up in the city, it would somehow be ok.

Chris and Michelle live with their five children on top of a mountain on a working avocado and citrus grove, with a garden outside their door, chickens and the occasional pigs.

On the other hand, my second first daughter, Olympia? She’s growing up right here…. in the city. Clearly God possesses quite the sense of humor.

City girls need to visit the country, and I loved watching Olympia run down dirt roads. It was great to watch her with Brigid, who is the eldest of five, and an experienced big sister.

There really is something magical about this piece of land.

Possibly this is somehow connected to the mysterious and intriguing plastic cow.

For me, this visit was a feast for the body and for the soul.

Throughout my entire adoption process, I have been struck by the abundance of grace that is poured out (like fine California wine) when we ask for it, and when our hearts are fully open to receive it. Doors open….

And love is abundant.

Adoption Interview Project 2011

by Kate

As many of you know, I am a birth mom. I’ve written about my story here. This year, I am honored to participate in the Adoption Bloggers Interview Project.  The Adoption Interview project pairs people involved with adoption from every angle and has them interview each other. I was surprised and happy that all my sisters joined me in the project and answered some great questions about their thoughts about adoption.

Here is how it works. I was paired with the lovely Natalie, who has a beautiful five year old daughter named Hannah. Natalie is a adoptive parent, and she blogs at Adopting the Spectrum. If you head on over to her blog, you can read her interview with all of  the Sweet Ridge Sisters talking about adoption. Here is the interview that I did with Natalie.
Please describe your relationship with Hannah’s birthparents. How often are you in contact? How do you interact when you are communicating? Has it changed significantly over the past several years?

I would say we have an excellent relationship with both of Hannah’s birthparents although they are both very different type relationships.  Mike, Hannah’s birthfather, is less involved by his choice, but we still stay in contact.  He moves frequently and often changes both land line and cell phone numbers so most often we have to wait for him to contact us.  When we lived in Indiana, which is where Hannah was born and he used to live as well, he called us quite a bit and often invited us to his sporting events (he used to play semi pro football and now races dirt bikes). He would also spontaneously call us up when his work brought him into our town and would stop by if we were home.  For some people I think that would be a problem, but for us it was great. We were thankful for all the contact we could get.  Now that we’ve moved twice across the country in the past two and half years we haven’t seen him at all in that time.  I send pictures whenever I’ve heard from him recently and am sure of his address and I always enjoy talking to him on the phone to find out what he is up to.  If Hannah is around or awake when he calls she talks to him too although she’s not as comfortable with him as she is with her birth.  It seems like the majority of our relationship with Mike is simply about keeping the door open and making sure he has a way to contact us since we are more stable as far as address and phone than he is.  He contacts us when he wants and knows that we’ll always stop what we are doing to chat. He recently got a facebook account so occasionally I find him on there and we can chat which is nice. I think this may be a way to contact him more reliably when we’ve found out his phone is disconnected or his address is no longer current. It might take awhile, but eventually he’ll check his page and see that we’ve been trying to contact. At least that’s what I hope will happen!
With Tiffany, Hannah’s birthmother, the relationship is much different. We have much more frequent contact and Hannah is much closer to her as well as her extended family.  She calls occasionally and Hannah calls her often (both with and without my permission to use the phone!). Tiffany and I chat regularly on facebook about her life, her twins’ lives, and of course about us and Hannah. With Tiffany the relationship reminds me more of a sisterly relationship. We care deeply for her and Chase and Kayla (Hannah’s siblings) and like to stay informed as to what they are up to and how they are doing.  When we lived in Indiana we saw them often (several times a year and especially a lot that very first year). We would take the kids to get their pictures taken together every year and attend birthday parties, holiday events, sporting events, etc.  Sometimes we’d go to them and sometimes they’d come to us. Now that we’ve moved so far away, the burden of actual physical visits falls more squarely on our shoulders since Tiffany simply doesn’t have the money to travel.  We try to make at least one trip back to see her and the kids every year and this year we actually got to see them twice!  I think as our lives get busier and busier and as all of the kids get older it may be harder and harder to have frequent visits, but thankfully with facebook it’s pretty easy to keep in touch.  Hannah loves her family on her  birthmom side and I see her interacting with her siblings as typical siblings interact and with Tiffany more of the way she interacts with her aunts and uncles.  Her relationship with Tiffany’s parents and brother are fairly good as well although we really only have contact with them when Tiffany sets something up as a whole family visit.
As far as how we all interact when we communicate, I think in the beginning we were all a little worried (except for maybe Mike who is pretty rough around the edges and ALWAYS just speaks his mind!) about offending the other and kept our interactions quite structured  and censored, but now that the years have passed we just tell it like it is. I speak with Tiffany pretty much like I speak with my own siblings. I’m not afraid to tell her when I think she’s making a mistake in her own life or in parenting of the twins and she’s not afraid to tell me to bug off or to agree with me!  She also doesn’t hesitate to give me parenting advice with Hannah as well. We talk about so many things other than just Hannah that it’s a very developed relationship now and not just  a birthmother/adoptive parent relationship.

What has been the biggest surprise for you about open adoption?

My biggest surprise about open adoption has been other people’s reaction to it when they find out that Hannah is adopted.  So many people who have no business commenting on my family’s personal life feel free to say whatever they want and ask very personal questions simply because our family was created by adoption.  We hear things like, “Oh you are so lucky that she looks just like you. No one will ever know she’s adopted,” like that’s something undesirable! It also never ceases to surprise me when people respond with some variation of, “Aren’t you afraid SHE is going to steal Hannah back from you since she knows where you live?” This comment bothers me for so many reasons. First it paints Tiffany as a villain and since they’ve never met her I don’t know why they think they could possibly pass that judgment. Second it implies that I would do something that would put Hannah in danger. UGH! Another thing that surprised me was that many people painted us as some sort of saints for adopting.  They don’t seem to understand no matter how hard I try to explain that WE were the ones that were blessed, not Hannah. We really wanted to have a family and adoption was the only route to that for us. We didn’t “save” a baby. We were blessed with a baby and a whole lot more in a relationship with all of Hannah’s birth by her adoption. We did nothing heroic.
What is your greatest fear about open adoption?

My greatest fear about open adoption is that at some point we will lose contact with one or both of Hannah’s birthparents and the impact that will have on her.  We chose open adoption so that Hannah would always know her birthfamily. We dreamed about a close extended family relationship with them and we have luckily had exactly that. Naively, we never considered that fact that people change, situations change, and that we might not always have the kind of relationship we want. We never considered that it wasn’t all in our control. Since adopting Hannah we’ve met other open adoption parents who’ve lost contact with their children’s birthparents at some point down the road of their adoptions.  Even though they always kept their relationships open, one or more of the birthparents simply stopped contact/moved and did not leave forwarding information/had a falling out with the adoptive parents/regressed into back into substance abuse or abusive relationships/etc.  I often panic when I think about that possibly happening to us.  Hannah is my baby girl and I’d do anything for her, but I can’t be her birthfamily even though I wish she’d been born from my womb.  As a parent it’s hard to know that there is something so vitally important to your child’s life that you have no control over providing to her.  I simply have to turn Hannah over to the Lord and pray that He will give her all she needs to be at peace with herself whether or not she has contact with her birthfamily.
Hannah has Aspergers Syndrome. How does this impact her perception of adoption? How does it impact yours?

Hannah actually had her Asperger’s diagnosis taken away last year and it was replaced with Disruptive Behavior Disorder-NOS.  I suppose I should change the name of my blog!  She still has MANY, MANY aspie characteristics though, simply not enough of them anymore to qualify for a full diagnosis.  Hannah’s special needs actually don’t impact her perception of adoption much at all, however the other side of the coin that makes Hannah unique is that she is profoundly gifted (IQ higher than 99.7% of the population!).  This actually makes her adoption processing quite difficult.  She has the academic intelligence and reasoning ability of probably a 4th grade child even though she’s only 5 yrs old, but only has the actual life experiences of 5 year old to draw on. She comes up with some pretty wild perceptions of things sometimes because of this!  I often get into trouble with this since I’ve been preparing answers to questions about her adoption that I know will eventually come up geared toward the age that children general want to know about those particular things. However, Hannah tends to ask about them sooner and then I’m stuck because the while the answer I have prepared may be academically appropriate it is NOT age appropriate and may contain things I’d rather not get into at her age!

What made you decide to pursue adopting from foster care in the future?

When we first decided to pursue adoption to build our family we did some research on the various types of adoption and felt a strong pull towards adoption from foster care because there were so many children in our area waiting for homes that had been waiting for YEARS.  However, we were young and not experienced parents at all.  Kyle had basically no kid experience at all and I only felt comfortable with children up to about age 8 since that’s where my experience as a teacher stopped at.  We didn’t feel prepared to parent older children or children with serious trauma at that point since we had little parenting experience and weren’t yet strong disciplinarians.  Most of the waiting children in our area were 10 years old and older and we just didn’t feel like we would be good parents for that age of children yet.  Still we wanted to build a family and felt like we really needed to start out the “normal” way with a baby first and learn as we went.  We were also committed to having some sort of an open adoption and our local state foster care agency at the time didn’t allow a lot of birth family contact after the adoptions were finalized for most adoptions so that pushed us more towards a domestic infant open adoption.
God apparently got a good laugh at our thought that we couldn’t handle a discipline problem however, because he sent us Hannah even though we went the agency adoption route! Now, after parenting Hannah for 5+ years we’ve learned quite a bit about parenting and discipline.  We’ve learned that even though we make mistakes, aren’t perfect, and are clueless much of the time we can still be good parents and we feel ready to add to our family.  After taking all the foster care training classes and reading LOTS of books we feel like we’ve probably already encountered many of the discipline issues and behaviors we’ll encounter with kids from a traumatic background simply from Hannah’s behavior disorder.  We feel like whatever they can dish out we can take and if not us, then who?  There are so many kids who need homes, both temporary and permanent and we feel ready to fill that need.  We absolutely can’t wait to start adding to our family.

Has your family been supportive of your open adoption?

This is an interesting question to answer.  At first Kyle’s family was very much against any type of adoption and extremely against open adoption in particular.  They believed a lot of negative myths about adoption, had preconceived stereotypes about birthparents and children who might be born to them, and were pretty much just prejudiced about the whole situation.  My family on the otherhand is a very blended family to begin with.  There are many divorces, remarriages, adoptions, and pseudo adoptions already so they didn’t seem to think anything would be different.  So, when Hannah was born we were prepared to go to battle with Kyle’s family to accept our little one, but one look at her precious face and they were all over it.  She was completely accepted and adored.  They even occasionally ask about her birthfamily and how they are doing and don’t hassle us at all about having an open relationship with them.  My family on the otherhand totally shocked us and went the other direction once Hannah was born.  While they adore Hannah and treat her like an absolute princess, they are not accepting of Hannah’s birthfamily at all.  There has been much jealously about having to share Hannah with another family and disparaging remarks made both to them and about them to us.  At one point we thought we might have to cut contact with my family if they couldn’t get their acts together it was so bad.  We worried about the message it would send to Hannah to hear (and feel the hostility) negative things said by people she loved about other people she loved.  We weren’t about to allow that to continue and felt we had to nip it in the bud before Hannah got old enough to totally get it.  Things seem to be better now and while there are no longer negative remarks made in our presence, I don’t feel like they accept Hannah’s birthfamily really.  Unfortunately, I can’t make them. I can however make sure they don’t express their opinions in front of Hannah by reminding them that if they want contact with Hannah they have to play by our rules and that includes respecting Hannah’s birthfamily’s place in her life and our decision to maintain a close relationship with them by not expressing negative attitudes in front of Hannah.
Hannah’s birthfather’s family doesn’t know about the adoption. What do you tell Hannah about that? Do you think they will ever find out?

 Well, so far Hannah hasn’t really asked about Mike’s family so we haven’t brought it up either.  I have some answers prepared and ready for when it does come up, but all my adoption parenting books say not to give kids more information than what they ask for. When they are ready to process certain aspects about their adoption they will ask.  Another part about this that makes it tricky is that Mike now has 2 other children with two different women (not Hannah’s birthmother) that also do not know about Hannah and whom we have never met and who it is likely we will never be allowed to meet.  I did manage to pull some pictures of them off of facebook and have saved them on my computer for Hannah for when it comes up.  It just breaks my heart that I will eventually have to tell Hannah she has siblings that she can’t see and that I can’t make it happen no matter how much she may want it because their mommies have the final say. So, I guess at the moment Hannah isn’t curious about Mike’s family so we haven’t told her anyting about it yet. I’m not sure she’s ready to process the fact that some people have negative ideas about adoption or hide pregnancy’s because they are ashamed of them (she still hasn’t asked the big “where do babies come from/how are babies made?” question yet so I’m not going to do anything to hasten that conversation!) because to her adoption is a perfectly normal part of life. She doesn’t feel different because of it yet and I’d like to keep it that way for as long as possible.  She already has so much that makes her different from her peers (giftedness and a behavior disorder) that I don’t want to add more to her plate before she’s ready.  I do think that someday Mike’s family will find out about Hannah since it’s a pretty big seceret to keep and it seems like the bigger the secret the more likely it’ll be blown wide open at some point.  Now that Mike has friended me on facebook I think the likelihood that someone will put two and two together based on our posts and conversations is great.  I’d love to meet them and learn more about them since we know very little about them.  If even to just get a better feel of family health history and pictures I’d love to chat with them even if they don’t want an ongoing relationship.  Unfortunately, it would be disrespectful to go against Mike’s wishes and contact them ourselves. However, when Hannah is old enough we’ll give her all the information on them we have so that she can try to make contact if she wants. 

Thanks so much to Natalie for being a great interview partner and to Heather at Open Adoption Bloggers for hosting this amazing project.


by Kate

Several times a day I push open an old wooden gate with my hip and slip through an old fashioned garden, dodging brambles and an antique clothesline pole. I climb a set of stone grey steps and open the white screen door, calling out a greeting to Teresa.

Teresa is in her mid seventies, white haired with bright blue eyes, half her teeth, and a thick Polish accent. She was born on a prosperous farm in Poland just before the Germans arrived. Her family fled when she was a toddler, following a path of Polish refugees from Russia to France to England and evetually to settle here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her only sister died during their journey. Her parents died ten years ago. A few years later she was on her way to church and slipped on the icy stone steps behind her house and broke her knee. She moves with difficulty and heavy dependence on a walker these days. She spends a great deal of time sitting still, often with a rosary moving through her fingers.

Teresa loves cheeseburgers, and so several times a week I head down the hill and across the intersection choked with rush hour traffic to fetch her a meal from Wendy’s. This is very good for combating my tendency towards pride, because I am mildly mortified by the thought that my neighbors believe that I deign to eat fast food. I am hardly lacking in vices, and it doesn’t bother me in the least that every clerk in the wine store around the corner knows my daughter’s name, but my organic family farming roots make me cringe as I head into the Wendy’s with the baby for the third day in a row.

Last week I was standing in line engrossed in watching the soap operatic drama of the restaurant staff unfold before me and reeling off the regular order of a small cheeseburger to go. After I’d finished, the cashier automatically asked me if I would be interested in giving a dollar for adoption and getting ten free frosties. I think I narrowed my eyes a little as I silently shook my head no. In my mind, I was thinking: I gave up my first child for adoption. Isn’t that enough?

It wasn’t a rational response at all. It was a deep in the gut, knee jerk reaction. As my husband (who is incredibly supportive of me and of my experience with adoption) pointed out, I was so wrapped up in my own story that I ignored the prospect of ten free frosties, which is a crazy thing to do. He was pretty sad about the lost frosties.

 I think it is great that Wendy’s supports adoption, and also great that they are handing out free frosties. The thing about supporting adoption, though, is that the story of the birthmother is so often missing. I was silent, that day. A tall silent woman with a baby in a sling and a handsome husband at home. There was no chance that the cashier at Wendy’s would even consider that the woman standing in front of her had given a daughter up for adoption ten years ago. Placing a child for adoption shapes and shifts your life forever, but leaves no visible scars or signs on the outside of your body.

Ten and a half years ago, I took a train to visit the couple who would become the parents of my child. I stared out the window and bit my lip, racking my brains in an effort to figure out what I wanted to ask them, what I wanted to learn from them. After an hour or two I was struck with the realization that what I really wanted was for them to see me as a person- an intelligent, college educated, passionate, loving person who was a whole lot like them. I wanted to fight the hazy conception of a birth mother that pervaded even my conception of the term. I was afraid that they would assume that because I was placing my child for adoption, I was a failure, or a drug addict, or lacking in love. I wanted them to know that I was like them. I needed them to know this, so that someday they could tell this to my child.

Ten years later, I am at ease with the amazing couple who adopted my child, and with the way that placing my first child for adoption shaped my life. I am not at ease with the way that adoption is often discussed. I believe that the story of  the birth mother is one that should be discussed more openly, with a greater complexity and compassion. I have been inspired by the great eloquence and intelligence of bloggers like Adoption in the CityThe Happiest Sad, Chronicles of Munchkinland, and Lia-Not Juno, all of who share their stories as birth mothers. I could never write a blog entirely about adoption- I could never write a blog entirely about anything, I’m far too flighty and far flung in my interests- but I do believe that it is important that I share my story, and find my voice as a birth mother. And for now, that will be enough.

September in the Orchard

by Kate

In the month of September, 2001 I was 22 years old with a broken heart and one of the most beautiful jobs in the world. Four months before, I’d given my first born daughter up for adoption.  I was still in shock, reeling with grief and grappling with the blank and terrifying future that lay ahead of me. At that point, one of the hardest things about adoption for me was that in giving away my daughter, I gained the freedom to do anything I wanted with my life. All I wanted was be a mother, but I believed- and still do- that in order to be the best mother for my child, being her mother was the only thing in the world I couldn’t do.

While wrestling with the question of what my future would hold, I fell into a job as a migrant laborer for the autumn season. Turkey Ridge was an organic apple orchard laid out over 280 acres of green ridges and deep valleys near Gays Mills, WI. The orchard had been neglected for years, and many sections were wild and overgrown but the trees were full of small and scabbed apples that needed to be picked for cider before the winter came and the hippies running the place were having a tough time getting enough people together to pull a bushel basket over their shoulders, grab ladders, and start bringing the apples off the trees. You were paid by how many 40 lb bushel bags of apples you poured into huge bins, and the professional migrants were too wise to spend their time fighting through tangled and towering branches on a ladder 10 feet high when they could be moving steadily down a close cropped row pulling pumpkin sized apples off the branches at warp speed at the conventional and well ordered orchards down the row. As a result our crew was a ragtag bunch of misfits of hippies, homeschoolers, and juvenile delinquents.

An apple orchard in the driftless hills is surely one of the most beautiful places on earth. Every morning I caught my breath watching silver clouds rise from the valleys and melt into the bright blue sky.  There is something both wild and domesticated in the shape of an apple tree, even a brambled and unkempt one reaching for the sky. The apples are flushed with rose or delicate green, round and smooth against the rough branches, and smell sweet. The grass is long and lush, and flowers planted to draw honeybees bob in the slight breeze. This is August, the beginning of the season, when the delicate thin skinned Macintosh apples are ripe and ready for picking. There is a deep silence in the orchard, broken only by the distant purring of an old tractor heading over the ridge. Perched on a ladder in the treetop reaching for an apple just beyond my grasp I felt as though I was doing yoga in the trees. I’d never done yoga, but I knew that the constant stretching was the reason that carrying 40 pounds up and down that ladder every day didn’t leave me aching at the end of the day. The beauty and the solitude of the orchard and the work that I was doing was uplifting to my soul. In the orchard, I felt free and the freedom wasn’t terrifying.

On September 11, 2001 I was making the hour long drive from my parent’s farm to the apple orchard. I had a mason jar full of coffee and, I am sure, a hand rolled cigarette. I was drinking in the coffee and the beauty of the early morning and listening to NPR as I drove. The early reports of a plane flying into the tower came at the top of the hour, notable because the announcer lost his smooth suave and sleepy public radio flow and sounded slightly muddled and confused. I wrinkled my brow for a second, trying to imagine what this would look like. I could not imagine it being a serious thing, perhaps because I couldn’t imagine the twin towers at all. I thought of radio towers, prop planes, things I had seen in the dairy country of Western Wisconsin. Then I dismissed the topic, turning my attention to the morning call in show that followed the news headlines. Wisconsin Public Radio is notable for featuring an unusual amount of  local level call in shows wherein guests discuss pets, state politics, gardening, cooking, books, and Issues of all sorts. Callers range from your classic NPR liberals to libertarians, contrarians, and conservatives. I am convinced this is partially a result of all the dairy farmers trapped in their barns morning and night with their hands full, wishing for some company beyond country music.

On this morning the burning topic on the call in show was: Product Presentation in Art and Literature. The expert on the potential dangers of Product Presentation was being interviewed via phone from a location in New York City. The interview was supposed to begin with an anecdote about a new novel sponsored by a high end Jeweler, but the expert was in that New York apartment glued to CNN, relating the little the TV people knew to the host of the Wisconsin radio show, and all the listeners. At one point, the host said something to the effect of “Look, this is very interesting, but I can’t have you reporting the news on this show. We are waiting for word from our official news team. Could we return to the topic at hand?” The terrified expert replied, “You have got to be kidding me. There is smoke outside my window. We might be at war. You want me to talk about product placement?! This subject doesn’t matter! It is completely unimportant!”

I pulled up to the orchard half an hour later and broke the news, what little of it I understood. The radio just isn’t the best medium to convey the scope of an unimaginable diasaster. You have to see to believe something like that.  Our ragtag crew of pickers dragged a beat up tv out of a corner of the packing shed, plugged it into an extension cord, and tried to find the local channel through the static on the screen. It’s hard to get reception on the ridge. We saw a little of the coverage, the planes and the smoke and the flames and the bodies free falling through space to the concrete below, and then we headed out into the orchard. There were apples to pick.

It is hard to imagine feeling much further away from New York City than a quiet ridgetop orchard at the end of a long dirt road an hour from the nearest little big town. I felt so safe on my ladder, in my tree, in that orchard, on September 11, 2001. Even after five minutes of fuzzy television, I couldn’t imagine a skyscraper, let alone one collapsing into rubble and ragged steel. I couldn’t imagine thousands of people lost, and the grief of their loved ones. I didn’t feel shaken by the tragedy of September 11th, I felt numb and confused by it, and grateful to be safe and high in the branches of an apple tree protected by the green hills of Western Wisconsin, far from New York City and the rest of the world. I had my own grief, my own lost loved one,  and that was all I had room for in my heart. I had my hands full  of apples, and I was glad of it.

This year, on the tenth anniversary of September 11th, I live in a great grey city spreading over ridges and valleys. Just down the hill and to the left, a forest of skyscrapers rise and fall on the horizon. I have had ten years full of freedom and adventure, of grief and pain and more often of beauty and great joy. I have a beautiful one and a half year old daughter.  This year in the second week of September I stood in my kitchen early in the morning listening to NPR and heard the story of Father Mychal Judge, the first victim of September 11th. If you have not heard of this man, please follow that link. It is an incredible piece and an amazing story full of grace. The story left me in tears. They were the first tears I cried for September 11th.

I am not numb anymore. I am grateful for the grace of God, poured out for hearts that are suffering. And I’m still grateful for the safety and the peace I found in that apple orchard ten years ago.

(For more of my adoption story, click here and here.)

Mother’s Day Lullaby

by Kate

This mother’s day, I will put on pearls and a billowing ballgown. I will load my harp into the car and my husband will load me and the baby, and off we will go for my performance at a nursing home High Tea. The white haired elegant elderly women will tell me that I play like an angel and that my curly haired baby is beautiful. They will ask me when I learned to play the harp, and if this is my first baby. They always do.

The answer to these questions is complicated and intertwined.

I first fell in love with the harp when I was 18 and stumbled upon a woman playing a Celtic harp. I was entranced by the quality of the rippling music, and decided I wanted to learn to play the instrument. My parents told me that this was a great idea- and that I should buy one. With nine children on a Catholic journalist/organic farming salary, there was no way they could buy me one. This seemed reasonable to me, and with the first paycheck from my first job I bought a tiny three octave harp and a copy of “Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp.” I made various attempts to teach myself to play, but my world was full of siblings and senior year and heading off to college, and the harp became more of a unique decorating piece than anything else.

This changed, along with everything else in my life, when I was 21 years old and became pregnant. I was unmarried, had just left college, between jobs, between houses, completely adrift and at sea in the world. Just before I found out I was pregnant, I had been planning to move to Peru to do volunteer work in an orphanage there. Instead I was contemplating the end of my life as I knew it, and the beginning of the life of my child.

It took three months of praying and fighting and sobbing and writing for me to decide to give my baby up for adoption. As the eldest of nine, I knew that I could be a good mother. What I kept having to face was that I could not be a father. I felt that it was crucially important for my child to have a mother and a father who would love each other and help each other raise their children. The decision was agonizing, but continually resonated with me as the right choice.

I was living in a silent apartment with my Great Aunt in Chicago and had all the time in the world to face my present and my future. It was terrifying. I read endless books, walked the city streets, and slowly fell deeper and deeper in love with my unborn child. I also began to pour myself into learning to play the harp.  I felt that I had so little to give to this child who I loved more each day. Playing every day became my gift for the child and my hope for the future. Slowly, over the course of the months, my fingers stumbled less upon the strings and began to fly.

Brigid Maureen, my first child, was born on May 8th, 2001, a few days before Mother’s Day. The fruit trees were in bloom and the sky was blue and the world was beautiful. On Mother’s Day the adoptive parents came to mass at St. Peter’s on the ridge with my family, and after mass our home was full of roses for all the mothers.

In some ways for me the adoption process was like those big bouquets of roses. Deeply beautiful, vivid, full of thorns. There were hard days and hard years and an incredible depth of pain, but out of the suffering came such incredible beauty. I was broken and I learned a depth of compassion that I could not have learned in any other way. I learned what it really meant to love selflessly, and to put the welfare of another before my own.

Brigid’s adoptive parents, Chris and Michelle, are two of the most incredibly generous, loving, and self-giving people I have ever met. Their love for God, for each other and for their five children (Brigid is the eldest) is incandescent. I have learned so much from them.

I also did learn how to play the harp. While I was pregnant with Brigid, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep playing after I gave her up because it would be too sad. Instead, during the months and years that followed, playing the harp was often my greatest joy. These days, the ability to play means that I can help support our family. Last year on April 5th, I gave birth to my second daughter, Olympia Julianna. In the hospital, one of the first calls I received as I held my newborn baby was from a nursing home asking if I could play for them on Mother’s Day. I smiled and thought of Brigid, as I always do. I said yes.

I thought that learning to play the harp would be a gift for my child. In the end, it was a crucially important gift from her to me. Thank you, Brigid Maureen. Happy 10th birthday!

Love, Kate

More posts about adoption:


September in the Orchard

Adoption Interview Project 2011

A Different Place