Category Archives: Dealing with the Past

There is No Magic

A few days ago Hope and I were in the car listening to a podcast. We were chuckling about the show, and then it ended and we listened to some of the commercials before the next podcast started. One of the commercials was about a new podcast on the magic of childhood.

I was only halfheartedly listening to the commercials. I caught the thought and let it slip through my mind.

But Hope was listening.

“There is no magic in childhood. None.”

She immediately had my attention. I didn’t know what to say.  All I could manage to say was, “Huh?”

“Magic? What’s magical about childhood? Nothing,”

We sat quietly at a light.

I quickly thought about all of her young years and the things she endured. I felt her trauma in my soul.

She didn’t say anything else, and I wasn’t sure what to say next. So, I didn’t say anything at all. It was one of the few times during our time together when I was completely stunned to silence. Usually, I can come up with something, but I had nothing. And I was just overwhelmed by the absence of magic in my daughter’s childhood.

I understand how she concluded that the magic of childhood was nothing but a farce. It breaks my heart. I have these fond memories of growing up. I remember my parents love. I remember birthday cakes and playing in the street with neighborhood kids. I remember when they took me and my sisters to Disney World and numerous other family trips. I remember feeling safe and loved. I remember so many little details that are clear to me know but seemed magical then.

I know that there are some memories that Hope has with her first family that are happy memories, but the number of those moment to moment memories are dwarfed by memories of instability, fear, and profound grief. The latter so crushing that she can barely see the good stuff in her mind. And she can’t separate those memories and just erase the bad ones. She has figured out how to reconcile the bad stuff; she can’t partition it to try to create some magic.

The magic of childhood is lost to her.

I wish I could change it all for her. I can’t, but I wish to hell like I could.

I have spent a lot of time and resources on helping Hope heal. I didn’t realize that I was also trying to create some magic in the waning years of Hope’s adolescence. I try to give her big and small experiences that will stick with her. I’m hoping they are special, magical, but knowing that she doesn’t think there’s any magic in childhood just makes me feel so sad.

I wonder will she still feel this way years from now when she has her own child? Did my silence, my failure to offer some wisdom about childhood magic, just reaffirm her grief? What can I do to make magic for her? Can I still create some magic for her?

I honestly don’t know what was I supposed to say in that moment that would validate her but offer a different narrative. I still don’t know what I was supposed to say to that declaration. I just don’t know what to say about there being no magic in childhood.


Triggers, Triggers Everywhere

Hope’s life is a filled with trigger land mines. I’ve learned where most of them are; every now and then a new one will pop up. I make a mental note and try to just push on.

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It’s hard though because sometimes I feel like I have to give up some aspect of my life in order to avoid triggering her.

Sure, parenting is full of sacrifices. There’s always something, right? I try to remember that someday I’ll get to live fully again, but the reality is that I know that this parenting thing is life altering. Once some things are gone, they are just gone. I won’t go back to them. There are simple luxuries that I miss, like not having the same sad story told a million times because we stumbled over a trigger.

I mean, yes, I get it. Yes, I try to appropriately respond; yes, I know that it’s a good sign that Hope feels comfortable enough to tell me and share things over and over again.

All of that is true, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t grate on my nerves. #realtalk

So, of course the end of the year holidays are a trigger-fest.

Trigger, here!

Trigger, there!

Trigger, trigger everywhere!

It’s exhausting.

So, Christmas Eve, Hope and I open presents (or rather I open my 1 present, she opens her 25 presidents). This kid has a vendetta against headphones. She breaks every pair that she take possession of, even the borrowed ones. After buying her what feels like 872 pairs this year, I ponied up and bought her a decent pair of over the ear headphones. They have bells and whistles and were reasonably priced at Ross.

Cool. She oohh and ahhh’d.  And then it came….

“I used to have a pair of blue Skull Candy headphones, but a foster parent took them from me. I got them at a giveaway and she really liked them so she just took them.” Hope frowned as she was looking at the box of new headphones.

I’ve heard this story many times. It’s one of the reasons I went with over ear headphones rather than more earbuds. I guess I knew it would trigger her, but I thought maybe she might  have moved a little bit forward. #nope

She hadn’t. So I prompted her to, “Yes, sweetie, I know that was hard for you. Someone took your stuff and that wasn’t right. Now you have a new pair of headphones that are really nice. I won’t take them from you. They are yours forever.”

“I know…but…she…” “No, Hope, look forward, you’re missing out on opening that box and checking out the ones in your hand, right now. They are yours. This is real.”

It took her 2 days before she opened the box to really take a look at them.

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Sister M has a new dog, a gorgeous, 6 month old pit bull puppy who is goofy as all get out.

Trigger alert.

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“I had a red nosed pit bull puppy once. She was pretty. She was supposed to be mine. But they gave him to my dad’s girlfriend’s son. He was supposed to be mine.”

I’ve heard this story what feels like 1000s of times.

“Yes, Hope. I know that was rough. You lost so much stuff along the way. I’m sure the puppy was special to you. I know that she can’t really be replaced, but remember that you have a family now and Yappy is a part of our family. Aunt M’s dog is a part of the family too. We will go visit him and one day, when you’re grown you can get your very own puppy.”

“I know but that puppy…she was mine.”

sigh

“Yes, I know sweetie.”

At the jewelry show…”I want a watch like my dad’s.” We visited 10 watch booths. None had an exact replica of her father’s watch, which she seems to have trouble describing.

I was pleased to see that this year she didn’t cry when we didn’t find the watch.

Could we find a watch “kinda” like it? Was this one close enough?

Nope. It needed to be exactly like her father’s watch.

sigh

After three years, I’ve gotten much better at being compassionate and empathetic during these moments, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t also trigger a place in my own brain that screams, “Oh God when will we be able to move past this?????”

Of course, it’s only been three years after how many difficult one’s she had? Um, yeah, more than 3, quite a few more than 3, so I guess I had better get over myself.

But the repetition, the triggers, they always make me feel like we aren’t making progress. I know that’s not true, but it’s hard. You push through to some new stuff and you feel like your kid is doing the dang thing and whoops, you trip over a rock and out comes the story you’ve heard a million times complete with all the emotion that was there the first time you heard it.

It’s a bit demoralizing.

More than anything I want Hope to heal from her trauma. I know that this is part of getting there. But I’m impatient, easily annoyed and occasionally, really selfish.

The truth is that in many ways these three years feel like I’ve lived a whole lifetime because there’s been so much upheaval. I’ve got a lot more gray hair. I’m carrying another 20 15lbs or so. I’m tired. I’m on more antidepressants. I have more crinkles around my eyes. I feel like 10 years have passed.

On the other end of the spectrum, this time has flown by. I struggle to remember how many Christmas’ we’ve been a family. It’s hard to believe that The Furry One has been gone nearly 2 ½ years and that Yappy has been with us for all of our Christmas’s. I’m shocked that it seems just yesterday I was enrolling Hope in 7th grade and now she’s in 10th.

The journey has my sense of time all jumbled up, which also makes my expectations of Hope’s healing speed a bit messy as well. Why isn’t she healing from the trauma as quickly as it feels like I’m aging while trying to help her heal from the trauma????

The upside in all of this is that I know what most of the triggers are, and now, Hope is stronger and can talk to me about her triggers. That’s progress. Actually, that’s a lot of progress.

While I can see and acknowledge all this progress; It’s still true that side stepping Hope’s land mines is hard, exhausting work. Both things are true. Being there for her isn’t always easy. It’s just not. Wishing that I didn’t have to hear the stories for the zillionth time is still true.

But I’ll listen for as long as it takes.


A Night at the Theater

Every now and then Hope and I go through this absurd production written, starring and exclusively produced by Hope to get my attention.

These plays typically occur close to major holidays, schedule disruptions or anytime Hope apparently doesn’t think she’s getting enough attention.

[Cue Sophia Patrillo Voice]

no

Picture it: abdominal pain, usually cramps (which can legit be a problem).

Cramps worsen and ‘spread’ to the entire stomach.

Becomes accompanied by either constipation or diarrhea; initially faked.

She works herself into a frenzy, at which point the constipation or diarrhea become legit.

Pain worsens.

Cry  and moan, occasionally hyperventilating, like a bad actress in a bad horror movie.

Other side show ailments begin to emerge, including but not limited to short term amnesia, ear infections, inability to swallow, inability to talk at all, and something akin to what looks like a druggie nod.

Crying and gnashing of teeth; sometimes yelling.

[End Act I]

We’re regulars at the local Patient First; always the same diagnosis. Nothing wrong, maybe a little dehydrated. Go home, drink some water, eat some fruits and veggies.

Anyhoo, after our girl-fest weekend, I thought I’d fed the attention beast enough to sidestep her need to put on this play of Two Acts., but no, she managed to orchestrate her drama today with minimal warning.

The only warning I had was when I called to check on her this afternoon and she indicated that she didn’t know where I was; I didn’t tell her I was going to work (I did) and she wondered when I would be home.

Well, I missed my cue, because while I was at the grocery store she called in full on hysterics, yelling into the phone, moaning, screeching and vocalizing in an incoherent manner so loudly that other line-mates looked on with concern.

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I tried reasoning with her, and she just couldn’t finish a sentence—she was clearly dying a quick and horrible death.

She could not get it together—not at all, so I eventually hung up.

dancing

We’ve been here before.

I set my basket down, picked up Yappy from daycare and headed home. On my way, I try to figure out why she got triggered. I also tried to control my own rage at having to “Play” this thing out with her tonight. It’s exhausting, expensive and while I intellectually get it, I find it to be over the top manipulation.

I get home to find a child who is now calm.

[Cue my simmering anger]

“Come on, let’s go to the urgent care.”

“Oh, I don’t need to go to the urgent care, I just wanted to know when you were coming home.”

giphy1

“Bull sh!t, you know the drill; put your shoes on and let’s go play this out.”

Off to the urgent care we went. Somehow on the way she developed amnesia and a busted knee which brought about an exaggerated limp—gotta make the most out of this urgent care visit.

In triage, I made her tell the nurse what was wrong with her because well, this was her drama. I’m just here to pay for the front row tickets.

Lots of concern.

Blood pressure and oxygenation: Perfect:

Fever? No.

Flu test: Negative.

Blood work: Great, if not sludgy because of dehydration.

Urine: Clear.

Abdominal palpation: She flinched a tiny bit, triggering the newbie nurse practitioner to ponder appendicitis.

Meanwhile, Hope is giggling, chatty. It’s like giving a dry flower water.

No, she does not have appendicitis.

Will I bring her back to check in tomorrow?

Hell naw, this play is over.

They gave her some Tylenol (that no doubt cost $50), and handed me a discharge slip.

Something different happened this time around though. Typically this drama is so predictable…I know my lines, she knows hers. But she added some this time.

While waiting for the urinalysis she said, ”I’m sorry.”

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“I’m sorry for what?”

“I’m sorry I yelled at you on the phone. I just wanted to know when you were coming home.”

I did not know what my lines were supposed to be, so I had to improvise.

“Um, I told you I had a couple of errands and I had to pick up Yappy. All of the drama was not necessary. I would’ve been home soon. All of this drama is ridiculous and you know that. You could have just called me to see if I was on my way.”

“I know.”

On our way home, she apologized again.

“I know I do this over and over again, so you probably don’t think I’m really sorry, but I am.”

“I know. What will you do next time?”

-silence-

“You can just call me without the drama. This girl who cried wolf has gotten old. How will I be able to tell if something is really wrong?”

“I know.”

[End Scene]

I know she is sorry. I don’t know if she has the skills to do something different and better next time. I expect that there will be more visits to the urgent care.

What’s frustrating is that I know she can’t help it. She knows I’ll take care of her. She knows I’ll drop everything to see about her.

But her trauma brain still doesn’t know that. This is how she survived; she is how she got her needs met. I know that even though she knows on some conscious level that she doesn’t have to do this, that that primitive brain of hers will continue to put on this kind of drama every few months.

And we’ll go through the motions again and again until that hurt brain realizes I’m not going anywhere.


By Any Other Name

I had chosen names for the children I would never give birth to. I only chose what would be first or middle names so that they could be adapted to names desired by my would be husband/life partner.

Those names were so important to me; each had special meaning. Each were strong names on which my children could scaffold their identities.

And then, one day, the realization set in that I would not get to use any of those names for biological children.

Even now, writing this, the sting of quiet tears fill my eyes.

And then Hope came along.

Hope got her pseudonym from being my “Hope Kid.” When I started the blog, I had just received her profile. I remember sitting in my office, opening the email, reading the little bit of information attached and then opening the attachment to see her picture.

I immediately fell in love with her.

In my heart I felt like she was my daughter. I just knew, which was ridiculous because she was the first profile I received having just started the national search with my agency the week before.

I also knew that there were many steps to be made before she and I might be matched. I dubbed her my “Hope Kid.”

After we were matched, I started just calling her Hope in this space.

It’s turned out to be a good strong pseudonym for her. She and I are both so hopeful.

At 12, I never once thought about changing her name. Her in real life (IRL) name is unusual and lovely.

A few folks asked if I considered changing her first name.

dancing

No. I mean, she was 12 and It. Is. Her. Name. And well, Hope had lost everything else, everything, why on earth would I take her name from her too?

And she’s feisty, why on earth would I want to start our life with a fight about changing her name?

As we neared the date of our finalization, I did have to make a decision about her last name.

Sounds like a no brainer, right?

I mean, she would just drop her given name and take my name.

No.

It was her given name. It was hers. It was given to her by her parents, who loved her even if they didn’t always love themselves.

I thought about all those adoptees who talked about their birth names and the surnames of their birth family.  How hard it was to find people when names changed. How challenging taking on a new identity could be.

Because Hope is an older adoptee, I had the luxury of having a real conversation with her about her name. I’d like to think that even if she had been younger, I might have come to the same conclusion because it works for us.

Hope had just assumed that I would make her change her name. She understood why I might do that. She has resolved that it was just the way of the world, or rather the way of her world. In Hope’s world, she rarely got to make decisions, she lost lots of things and well, she supposed she was just happy to be getting a forever family.

I asked her what she thought about a third option.

I asked her what she thought about just adding my last name to her existing name.

The first thing she did was write it all out and count the letters.

There were a total of 29 letters in this proposed name. Four names, two of them last names, no hyphens and 29 letters.

She asked if the name would fit on forms.

So, I cruised the internet and found a few forms that we would have to eventually fill out and printed them and let her practice filling them out.

It worked.

I asked her if taking my name would be hard for her; she said maybe. I told her that she could drop it she wanted, and just sign things with her birth name. The four-name thing would just be her “government name.” I explained the times when she would need to use it.

I asked her to think about it.

When I told folks that this third option was on the table…well, there were so many questions. So many.

Why couldn’t I just change it? Why didn’t I want her to be fully a part of the family? Wouldn’t this be confusing for her? How would this help her move on?

There was a lot of criticism.

I stayed focused on me and Hope during the whirlwind.

In the end, extending her name was our choice.

During our Facetime finalization, Hope exclaimed to the judge that her new name was 29 letters.

She continued to use her birth name for a while, and then one day, she didn’t.

I’m not sure exactly when she started using both last names, but I know that now she wouldn’t dare sign her name without both.

When her birth family found us, they were surprised that I didn’t drop their name. I think it brokered some trust with them; I had no intention of erasing her identity.

Again, I have the luxury of having an older child who is capable of telling me her feelings. I know that even during the worst of times she endured, she would leave me in a flash if she had the chance to be parented by her birth parents again.

I’m hardly a saint and I’m judgmental as hell, but I’ve also had the luxury of having my birth family my whole life. I get it and I don’t blame her at all. If I had known them before, and known what I know now, I would’ve been rooting for them.

But our paths were different, and all I can do now is honor her family by supporting her in keeping the names she was given.

Our family is stronger for it.

And what have I really learned from this part of our journey?

I learned that I’m glad that we didn’t have to make a choice based on her safety and a desire not to be found. I think this would have been so much more difficult for her if that was necessary. For her to have to change her name, her identity, to remain safe, is a whole other level of trauma. We are fortunate that we were not faced with that situation.

I learned that even though I have replaced Hope’s birth parents in parenting her, I am additive in her life. For Hope, I didn’t just replace them. I am her mother, without question, but I am her second mother. I can never replace Hope’s birth parents; I can’t erase them. Even with a name change, that history, however brief, is still a real part of her life.

I learned that Hope’s name is her name. I am honored that my name has become a part of her name and a part of her story, but her story didn’t start with me. It won’t end with me either.

I imagine that her name will change again sometime in this lifetime.

And again, it will be Hope’s choice to shape her identity.

I learned that there are various ways to integrate a child into your family.

I learned that a last name can be more than enough of a connection to a new family.

I realized just how much power adoptive parents have…to change a child’s whole name…or just to get to name a child…it is a privilege that should be acknowledged as such.

I learned that the sting of not being able to have biological children rears its head more often than I care to admit. A discussion about changing a child’s name precipitates asking what might you change it to? And then your list of dream names springs to mind…and it drags that little bee sting with it.

I learned to treasure my own name even more. I love thinking about the origins of my name and the story my parents tell me about naming me.

I don’t know that at this point in my life I will change my name even if I get married. I’ve been with this name a mighty long time.

I do know that I’ll still be ABM whatever name I chose, and that Hope will always be my Hope and joy, no matter what her name evolves into during the course of her life.

 


Empty Wrappers

I have a checkered history with food. It didn’t really start until I got into college. It was a way for me to have control when I felt I had little. I went on a pretty restrictive diet, dropped 40lbs and was rewarded with positive attention, a boyfriend, and cute clothes. Of course I gained it back, but the damaging behaviors that led to all the great attention had taken hold.

I’ve struggled with food periodically ever since, well, maybe except recently.

Parenting Hope leaves limited time for my own problems.

Or rather, Hope’s problems are my problems.

Well, Hope continues to struggle with food.

So, now we’re struggling with food.

I remember years ago, when she came to visit me for the first time, she asked me to buy some gummy vitamins.

She ate them in one day. All of them.

We’ve since moved on to fruit snacks, PB crackers, granola bars, cereal bars…just about anything that you can get individually wrapped at Costco.  Oh, and anything that you can put in a snack size bag.

What’s both intriguing and frustrating is how she’ll leave an empty box, but hide the wrappers in her room.

It’s irrational, like I don’t see the empty boxes, can’t see how 80 snacks are gone in a few days, or how I don’t know to just look in her desk drawers for 80 fruit snack wrappers.

I tried limiting access, but I knew that wasn’t right. I mean, this stuff is primal. It’s compulsive. It’s not just emotional eating; it’s emotional ish that’s left skid marks everywhere in her life.

So, I buy more snacks. I throw away the empty boxes. I wait until she goes to goes to school and then I go and clean the wrappers out of her desk.

wrappers

I’ve tried to confront her. It’s difficult because Hope avoids conflict with me like the plague. I try to be gentle.

Can we start with just properly throwing away the wrappers?

Would you like for me to prep snacks for you so that you can pace yourself and not binge?

What are you feeling when you eat a lot of snacks?

How do you feel when you finish?

What else could we do to satiate your need to eat all the snacks?

Silence. There’s only ever silence.

The whole exchange, if you can call it that, is less than 5 minutes.

I’m not really sure how bring some resolution to this issue. I know it’s a deep seated one. I see the pattern associated with it. I understand the stressors. And yet, figuring out the puzzle piece that will redirect the behavior remains a mystery.

So, I let it go…and go back to Costco.


Coping to Survive

We’ve had to make some drastic changes around Casa d’ABM recently in hopes of getting Hope back on track with a few things. It’s tough and painful, and it feels like all I do is pick on her and focus on the bad stuff.

But it’s not all bad stuff. I’m focusing on breaking bad habits and building skills that she desperately needs.

But I’m sure that for her, it feels like I’m picking on her.

Sigh…so in some ways, it’s kind of a short-term, no-win situation.

Damned if I help; damned if I don’t.

So…I’m back to throwing a bunch of interventions up in the air and trying to figure out which one fits, makes sense for us, and has the best chance at effectiveness.

Hope’s general outward response?

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My response to her response?

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Our joint response feels like it’s playing out like this:

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Yeah, it’s like that.

We recently had an interesting chat. Hope was sharing her frustrations about coping with a bunch of stuff.

I asked her to give me some examples.

She did.

I made some suggestions.

She rebuffed them and doubled down on how her approaches were foolproof.

I noted that clearly they weren’t, otherwise this would be a moot conversation.

“Oh yeah, right.”

So, I probed how and when she developed her ways of coping. I asked her to explain to me why they had historically worked for her.

My heart hurt. Most of her coping strategies involved swallowing her emotions, withdrawing, learning to be ok just being sad because that was apparently her lot in life. I interpreted so much of the coping to be a sad acceptance of tragedy, the desire to limit her emotional trauma by just not being emotionally involved at all, and straight up denial.

How does that work for anyone??? How can you live like that?

And then it dawned on me.

These coping strategies are right on target if your goal is to survive your situation. If your goal is to just get to the next day relatively unscathed, without much physical or emotional hurt, then if you just fold into yourself, you can survive.

But what if your life doesn’t call for those specific skills anymore? Are those skills transferable in a more stable life? If all of your basic Maslow’s needs are met, and theoretically you can focus on some of those more abstract life goals, do those survival skills still serve you well?

Spoiler alert: They don’t work. You need a different set of life skills if you are moving from dysfunction to function.

I began to understand my daughter’s frustrations. She was using the tools she had developed and refined for years to survive in an environment where they didn’t really help her.

Just imagine that you are a whiz with a power drill; I mean, amazing! And then you are asked to go do a car repair…with just your drill. Let me know how that works for you.

Without being critical, I began to try to explain to Hope that she was going to have to try something new, and that I knew that was weird and scary, but her old bag of tricks wasn’t going to serve her optimally in this chapter of her life. In fact, her survival skills were becoming a hindrance.

She didn’t buy it. It’s ok, it will take some time.

Our kids, they are brilliant in their resilience, but their transition to normalcy is so hard for them to wrap their brains around. It requires them to trust, and that’s something they don’t really do. Hope tells me that she trusts herself, and that’s about it.

She does trust me, but there are some hard limits, and I know where those limits are and I try to earn my way beyond them.

It’s not easy though. I’m fighting years and years of her expertise in living her life in a way that she gets to see tomorrow. In nearly 44 years; I’ve never had to work that hard. Not on my worst day have I had to work that hard to survive. I can’t imagine that much change in her world view after only 3 years; that expectation is not appropriate.

She’s changed some. Her expectations of me increase, and with them her belief that I’ll deliver and ability to meet those expectations increases. But it is very slow, very incremental change.

As our Year of the Try comes to a close, I’m pondering next year’s family theme. I’m thinking the development of life skills is probably something we might give some focus in 2017.


Curious about Her

Earlier this year, Hope asked me how I would feel about her trying to find her birth mother. I immediately replied that I would help her any way I could and that if a healthy relationship was possible I would help facilitate it.

Then she never brought it up again.

I know it’s still in there somewhere. Hope has strong feelings about her mother; I’ll say they are complicated and leave it at that.

Having been found by her parental extended family just after finalizing our adoption was emotionally challenging for both of us. It brought up a lot of resentment, a lot of grief, but also a lot of love and connectivity. Frankly, it remains a challenging relationship with our extended family, but families are complicated, right?

Right.

So Hope’s mom…I’ve always been curious. Not much is known about her. I know certain things about her and I know what Hope thinks she remembers, but was more likely told about her mother since they were separated at such a very young age. No one has pictures of her; I asked.

A few times I broached the subject with Hope about wanting to just know where she was, and Hope said no. She seemed intent on closing this door.

Given all that I’ve learned over the last few years, listening to adoptees, I figured it would come back around, probably more than a couple of times.  So, when she asked me about how I would feel about finding her; I wasn’t surprised by the inquiry. Actually I felt prepared for it.

Now that I look back on it and our growth through these last few months, I suspect that she was might have been curious  about*my* feelings on finding her mother than on her desire to actually find her mother.

But, even the most remote interest gave me permission to pull out my keyboard and start searching.

I had her mother’s name and not much else.

About two months ago, I thought I found her on Facebook. Some of the sketchy details matched up; not everything, but really close. I could not stop looking at her picture. I searched it for Hope’s features, her skin tone. I wondered what my daughter looked like as a newborn; did she look like this woman?

I was consumed by this profile for a good week or so, and then one day I convinced myself that this was not Hope’s mother.

I was disappointed.

I wondered why was I looking, would it be better if I waited for Hope to be ready? Clearly, this was more about my curiosity at this point than hers. What would I do if I actually found her? I wondered if she even wanted to be found. Most of all, having realized that I didn’t find her, I felt a little twinge of pain in thinking she was lost to me, to us, to Hope. I wondered what that twinge of discomfort felt and how exponentially magnified it must feel for my daughter…to be lost again.

I walked away from the search that day.

A few weeks later, one Sunday morning, while sipping coffee in my PJs and watching Law and Order, I found myself searching again.

I can only explain it as a deep, bottomless curiosity about my daughter’s background. I wanted to know her full story; I love her and want to know everything about her. I want to know or at least see the person who birthed her. I didn’t know what I would do if and when I found her, but I just wanted this information so badly. I’d like to say I wanted to have it for when Hope was ready and I could just give it to her, the truth would be that I desperately wanted to know for myself.  Who is Hope’s birth mother? What does that biological link look like?

I don’t know if it’s my own infertility grief or that I’m nosey, or if knowing would somehow bring me even closer to Hope. I still had no plan for what I would do with the information after finding it. Who would I tell? What would I tell Hope? Who would support me in this crazy wild goose chase?

I never doubted that searching was the right decision; I just couldn’t comprehend what I would do with information about Hope’s mother when I found it.

Well, thanks to the power of the internet, a big hint on a search string and $35 I found her in short order from the comfort of my couch that Sunday morning. It took me longer to get out my credit card and decide whether making the information purchase was the right thing to do than the actual search for the info.

Before I knew it, I had her address, her phone number, and a background check. Two minutes later I was looking at her face on Facebook.

When I saw this woman, I knew right away, this was Hope’s birth mother. I saw that as much as my daughter looked like her paternal family, she bears a striking resemblance to her birth mother: the shape of her face, her eyes, her hair, her long limbs. It was meaningful to see the woman who gave her life because so many people comment that Hope looks like me and I think that it’s just not true. Putting me side by side her birth mother and the blood relationship is apparent.

I read the report over and over, committing some of it to memory. I saved it to the external hard drive. I printed out a copy and put it in my file box.

And then I went back to Facebook stalking her. There wasn’t much to see, with us not being friends. I saw a few pictures, a few pictures of friends and relatives.  I would check ever so often in hopes that she was one of those folks who changed their profile picture frequently. She’s not.

I began talking myself into reaching out to her, but what on earth would I say? Was that the right thing? Who was I reaching for—me and my own curiosity? Or Hope? Was this contact in our immediate best interest? What if the contact was completely rejected? What if the contact prompted a lot of expectations?

The what ifs are endless.

I eventually discussed it with my therapist. She asked a lot of questions, a lot, over a couple of sessions. She convinced me to put the brakes on things. She also asked me to broach the subject with Hope and AbsurdlyHotTherapist.

I sat with it for a couple of weeks, worried about Hope’s reaction.

During a game of 20 questions I asked Hope how she would feel if I found her birth mother. She grimaced, and said very little. I let it go for a couple of weeks. I circled back around and reminded her of our conversations about finding her and how she reacted to the possibility of finding her. I told her I had found her, that I knew where she was and knew how to contact her. Hope thought quietly and said, “That’s ok, I don’t want to.”

And so, I dropped it. The file is away on the hard drive and the papers are in the box. I sense that we’ll revisit it when she’s ready. I’ll be with her every step of the way.

I would be lying if I didn’t say I thought of her birth mother often. I still have all of these questions. I still want to know if there are baby pictures, what Hope was like as an infant. I have a deep desire for answers about our daughter’s life. And I want to know about this woman who gave Hope life. I just want to know more about her, since she’s just such a mystery to me and to Hope.

But that’s all for another day. I may find out, I may never know. I’m not even sure I’m happy I found her since it feels like she’s kind of off limits. She’s like money burning a hole in my pocket, I want to spend by asking a million questions. But it really…all this curiosity is for another day.

I know that, for now, the status quo is what Hope needs to feel safe and secure. I don’t know what is behind her birth mother’s door, and I have to trust that Hope’s memories and stories are what they are. More than anything I want to support my daughter and her continued healing and development, and right now, it seems that she wants me and just me.

So, curiosity won’t be killing me this time.


Clouds of Sadness

The range of emotions felt at Casa d’ABM is pretty wide. I’ve always been pretty high strung, and I’ve written about my own struggle with depression in this space before. Living with a teenager is pretty tumultuous. The hormones…O.M.G. It’s amazing, really. I am convinced that I didn’t display the full range of crazy that I was feeling during my adolescence—not that I didn’t have the emotional swings, but that I didn’t act out.

Lots of people think my parents were strict; to some degree they were, but really they set high expectations and I had absurdly high expectations for myself. With the bar so high I was mindfully cautious about acting out.

I was a bit jealous of kids who didn’t seem to approach adolescence the same way. I wished I’d sneaked out more; went to more movies I wasn’t supposed to see. I did a fair amount of boozing my senior year, but still there was a hard limit on what I would do. Not a bad thing, but a self-control thing that gave me hang ups later in life.

So, now, years later, having a teenaged daughter who is a trauma survivor, is impulsive, at times angry, and seeming always sad…well it makes for an emotional roller coaster for all of us.

Except for Yappy—world’s happiest dog.

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So I guess that should say both of us.

This is an especially hard time of the year for Hope. Lots were crammed into the summer months of her young life. This year the memories seem to be crushing. We get treatment, therapy, but sometimes the sadness moves in faster than a weather cold front.

And if you know anything about weather, cold fronts, hitting warm air means storms. Sometimes really, really, crazy storms.

That happens here. The storms are a bit quieter now than when we first became a family, but they are no less disruptive or worrisome.

I try to remind myself that the frequent presence of emotional storm, complete with downpours, represent that this is a safe place. Hope is able to express her full range of emotions in our home. This is a safe place to work through it all; she can emote here.

But here’s the thing, secondary trauma and compassion fatigue are real. It’s not just about loving Hope; it’s about demonstrating empathy (constantly); managing our life as a therapeutic case; navigating big and little decisions that may have triggering effects; always being anxious waiting for the other shoe to drop after stumbling over a trigger.

It is exhausting for both of us. Hope can sleep for hours and hours sometimes. I know that part of it is that her young body is run down and exhausted from fighting her own fight/flight response to life. I know the other part is just coping with the overwhelming sadness that she lives with.

On the weekends I am eager to resume my old life of running errands, hitting the gym, spending the afternoons and evenings doing something fun. I end up running the errands that I have to in order to keep the house running; taking Yappy to the dog park and waiting to see if I can help Hope get herself together. By evenings, I’m emotionally done and I don’t even feel like I’ve done anything.

We might’ve tried a new restaurant or rented but didn’t watch the Redbox movie I picked up in hopes of having some fun family time.

The reality is that a happy house is a rare scene around these parts. It’s about trying to survive and fighting to push the clouds of sadness away.

I hear that the hormonal part will settle down in another year or two; I hope so. Self-care helps with my ability to cope, but living with this level of stress is tough. It is exhausting. It is depressing.

So we both end up sharing her trauma. It ends up being cloudy and sad for both of us. I look forward to a day when it won’t be so overwhelming for Hope, that the depression she feels won’t consume her life, when so many things won’t be triggering.  When that happens for Hope, it know it will happen for me too.


The Losses are Real

I never understood the gravity of real loss until I became Hope’s mother. I look back and realize that there isn’t much at all that I’ve lost in my 43 years around the sun. Sure, I have grieved for long gone family members; lost some friends. I have grieved deeply about my infertility. I’ve lost some sentimental tangible items along the way.

And certainly each of these losses have touched me and either created or smoothed my edges. But, honestly, beyond the loss of fertility, none of my losses have been earth shattering, grand scale life altering.

I am fortunate.

I am privileged.

I think about that every time I trip or kick over an emotional rock in an otherwise innocuous chat with Hope.

There is so much loss in her life; it permeates her skin, her breath, her beating heart. There are times when the memories of the loss are just overwhelming, all consuming and it’s like she watching things on a loop in her head.

I see this a lot with Hope. And I still struggle to really understand what that means, what that must feel like. I don’t know what it’s like to try to put the shred of memories in my life back together because they are like broken, scattered marbles that were dropped down the side of a hard faced mountain. #trauma

When I think about it, I mean really think about it, I totally understand why it’s so hard to get her up in the mornings. I wouldn’t want to get up and consciously ponder all those things for the next 18 hours or so either.

Hope has some summer reading to do for school; recently she commented that she had no interest in reading the books that were assigned. At my initial inquiry what was it about the books that she didn’t like, she indicated that it wasn’t really about the books.

Hope said she loved to read when she was little, would curl up with books and read for hours, but she stopped reading when she went into the system. Her beloved books were lost to her; she doesn’t know what happened to most of them. She only was able to salvage a few; they are on her book case in our home. Hope briefly talked about how some of the books were so sentimental and they were just…gone, gone like so many other things that were lost during that time.

As it turns out, sitting down to dive into a good book triggers memories of all that’s been loss for Hope.

I thought back to my various efforts to get her to read over the last couple of years. I tried everything I could to get her to read. She read a couple of things; mostly faked it, though. I had no idea I was essentially saying, “Hey spend the next couple of hours thinking about losing everything, especially the stuff and the people who meant everything to you. No, DO IT NOW!!”

I just had no idea, but now I do. I told her I understood.

I’ll still encourage her to read, but certainly with a lot more sensitivity than before.

I hope there will be a time when Hope’s life isn’t consumed about all she’s lost—not for my sake, but for hers. She’s still a little girl though (even at 15), and in reality, all the trauma wasn’t that long ago. The path to healing is a long one, with lots of potholes. I am learning to be patient with her. I’m also learning to empathize more deeply. I realize just how fortunate I’ve been in this life, and I want Hope’s life to flourish. I want her to have faith again.

To get there though, we have to wade through loss like we’re in a mud bog, praying that it doesn’t take us down. It might be all in our heads at this point, but make no mistake—it’s all very, very real.


Hopefulness in 2015

I’m glad that 2015 is coming to a close. It’s been a good, but tough year, and these last few months have left me feeling emotionally spent.

I have changed a lot this year. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I have developed better skills in a number of areas. I’m aware of shortcomings and areas I need to work on, even if I haven’t really begun the process of working on them.

It’s easy when you are going through a reflective period to pick yourself apart as you examine all your faults.

I have spent many hours replaying things in my mind, heavy sighing and shaking my head as I contend with my shortcomings and perceived failures. I often feel like I’m failing at this mother thing; I am realizing that all parents wish they were doing better, even if what they are doing is their best.

I spend hours replaying how I might’ve kept my temper and my mouth in better check with Hope as we’ve head butted worse than a couple of rams in the last few months.

I’ve mourned the life I envisioned and at times discounted the life I have because sometimes it’s just…hard.

I haven’t acknowledged how I have pulled together a support circle, instead of still sitting around waiting for validation from individuals from whom it may never come.

I’ve focused at lot on the struggle rather than the triumphs, and there have been triumphs. I put together our holiday video card during the last week and I had a grand time picking out pictures for the montage. There were definitely triumphs.

I’ve seen my daughter start to grow socially.

I’ve been able to keep a level head and not freak out when things reached critical points.

I kicked arse at work this year.

I focused less on weight and more on health.

I made time for fun.

I improved on my ability to let anger go more quickly.

Nothing major fell through the cracks.

I sustained a healthy, loving relationship with Elihu, and he and Hope finally met, allowing me the ability to integrate bits of my life together.

I activity sought help when I needed it.

Moment to moment, I did my best, even if it wasn’t *the* best for the situation.

I did ok this year.

And I’m hopeful for next year.

I’m hopeful that I will be a better person and a better mom.

I hope that Hope and I will work through our attachment issues that threaten us both so much.

I’m hopeful that I can continue to marshal the resources to help Hope be her best self.

I’m hopeful that Yappy will get over his separation anxiety.

I’m hopeful that my confidence in my home life begins to mirror my confidence at work.

I’m hopeful that maybe Hope and I can get a little closer to the visions that we had for mother and daughter.

I’m hopeful that I will focus more on triumphs and less on failures.

I’m hopeful for just…better.

And it will be better.


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