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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bringing Back the Past

During Pesach, I saw my aunt for the first time in almost four years. There's no reason why we haven't seen each other--simply distance and time. But, since it had been four years, it meant that she also had never met the ChickieNob and Wolvog. The last time she saw me, the twins were in my belly and I was two weeks away from their early arrival.

It was very emotional to step into her house and hug her. I love her very much, but I didn't realize how much I missed her until we were face-to-face. It is very easy to get caught up in life and keep putting off visits and not realizing how much someone means to you. Sometimes it takes that face-to-face contact to remember.

Lori had a post a while back about her daughter spending the day with Crystal, the woman who gave birth to her. She referred to that time spent together as returning to the well. And that perfectly describes how I felt being in the house. It was as if I was returning to a source, my roots, and was drawing something in; something I didn't even know was necessary or missing from my life until I was dragging up that bucket and drinking in. My aunt has known me my entire life.

The reason it has taken me so long to unpack this is because what happened there was totally out of character for me. I am extremely sensitive to people pointing out the physical traits that the four of us share. It twists something in my chest when people refer to the ChickieNob as Mini-Mel. We do look alike. We have so many of the same mannerisms. I do love that she looks like me and that she looks like herself. And the Wolvog looks like a Mini-Josh. I can physically pick the twins apart and tie each trait back to a family member.

But when I turn it outward and include other people in this aspect of life, I get upset by the same thing that I love because I don't know how this third child will enter our world and I have this strong, intuitive feeling that he/she won't be genetically related. I am so often wrong that it feels silly to think about this until it is happening, but I am acutely sensitive to the idea that this third child will not be a miniature version of us. And how that child will feel seeing that physical connection between the four of us. And beyond that, it is a global sensitivity to the knowledge that family building can take many paths and a belief that all people should be examined on their own terms and not in comparison to others. You simply don't know how people feel about those connections.

When people bring it up, I usually just scrunch up my nose as politely as possible and say something like, "we don't really look at things like that. The ChickieNob is simply beautiful on her own terms." And then most of the time, people move along and comment on the beauty in her individual traits (or, the same with the Wolvog). We know a few people who will never let it drop, but that is something we'll cross when we need to cross it.

But it was like someone had flipped this switch at my aunt's house. I couldn't stop talking about how the ChickieNob looks like my cousin as well as my uncle who died when I was little. I was the one bringing it up, I was the one continuously pointing out this expression or that hand movement and tying it back to the two of them. My aunt couldn't stop marveling at the connection and I felt so proud knowing that I was a part of that too. And it made me feel terrible inside.

The thing is, I miss my uncle very much. Perhaps I didn't realize how much I missed him or how long I linger over his picture in the living room at my parent's house or how I associate him with certain toys. My mother gave the kids a toy he had given me and I ended up taking it away from them, too scared that they weren't going to play with it gently enough. That they'd break one of the few tangible things I have. Toys are But I have so few things, so few pictures, so few clear memories even by this point.

I think the oral diarrhea was about trying to form new memories, new connections since the old ones are getting so hazy with time. And I realized that I do the same thing for Josh's grandmother. Whenever I see a trait of her husband repeated in the Wolvog, I call her and sigh, "it's just like your husband." Because I know she misses him and she loves that we named our son after her husband. And in finding these traits, it is like bringing someone back a little bit.

It's a natural desire to look for these similarities, to wish that you could bring someone back. But I worry about doing it especially not knowing what the future holds. Because I know that my strongest relationships and connections break down the line in a 50/50 split with some genetically related and some not. The strength of those relationships have nothing to do with blood or genes. Genetics cannot create intimacy. It can only give you games to play
around the breakfast table when you're drinking your coffee and missing someone who is no longer there.

That same night, we went to a seder and a cousin marveled at my daughter, calling her--as most do--Mini-Mel. She asked me if Josh and I just sat back watching the children play and thought they looked like replicas of ourselves. Regardless of what I had done just a few hours earlier, I arched my eyebrows and gave her my most droll, conversation-halting look. "Genetics aren't something Josh and I focus on with the kids; it just isn't important to us."

And it made me feel like such a liar.


Anonymous said...

Be gentle on yourself Mel. Don't we all have that dissonance between what we want to be (not really focusing on genetics) and where we are right now (treasuring the genetic link). And it's not a bad thing to appreciate the genetic link, though I definitely get not wanting to focus on that because a child doesn't have to have that genetic link to be part of the family.

I didn't truly appreciate this until a discussing w/ my SIL - she & her dh were deciding whether to pursue tx or adoption or what. After a family gathering w/ genetically related kids, and people going through the buzz of similarities to so-and-so, that foot shape makes it hard to find shoes etc. She commented that that is one reason that makes adoption a difficult path for them. They want the genetic link. Most of us do.

DH and I don't know where we are going yet - if we are done our family, going to try again, or looking towards adoption. I would hate for my treasured, long awaited adopted child to feel like an outsider at a family gathering. But I can see how easily that could happen as people thoughtlessly go on about "the link."

We are all a work in progress! Maybe you'd feel a bit more comfortable using terminology like "we try not to focus on that ..." or something that you would feel more accurately describes where you are at???



Lisa said...

I completely understand what you are talking about. I have a draft post that I haven't published yet about why we haven't moved forward with donor egg yet and why the desire for the genetic bond is so important, but, also about my fears of other people's reactions. If we go in that direction, I fear people saying how much said child looks like me just as much as I fear people saying how much said child doesn't look like me....

Jen said...

However your family becomes complete, it will be the perfect way for you. If you have a child that is not genetically related, it will have mannerisms and behaviors that will turn it into mini-yous anyway.

Vacant Uterus said...

I wish I had an easy answer for you Mel. Because I am who I am, I think there's siginificance in the fact that you noticed all of this so strongly during Pesach which is, among other important things, such a celebration of life and survival.

The ChickieNob and the Wolvog will always look like your families and that will always be something that people notice and point out. Whether you secretly rejoice in it, secretly feel shame about it or feel ambivalence, you can't protect your adopted child from the knowledge that he/she is other in some fashion. Adoption, while beautiful in so many ways, is ultimately a broken solution.

I don't think it's hopeless though. If/when (not sure where you are in this process) you decide to adopt, there will be so many things that are different about your child that you will marvel over. Maybe your child will be extremely graceful and you will say "Oh, you did NOT get that from me! But you amaze me every day and I am so glad you are mine. What a beautiful gift you are." And too, conversations like this are a good way to help your child through the grief that is inherent to adoption. You will let her know that it's okay to wonder about her firstmother, to acknowledge all those quirks that are her own unique genetic connection. And if you have an open adoption, so much the better. She'll be able to identify where that graceful gene comes from and she'll incorporate that into her identity along with Purim candy baskets, Peasch cleaning and a penchant for the lovingly-said obscenity.

Be kind to yourself, Mel. It's natural to remember those you love through your children. I do it with my nephews all the time, especially when I see my mom or my grandfather in them. But I know that loving those things doesn't mean there's not room in my heart to expand in other directions. I can do both. I'll find balance. You'll find your balance, too, and it will be perfect for your family. You'll wonder how it could have been any other way.

Samantha said...

You've already gotten some very thoughtful comments regarding genetics, and I think the reminder to be kind and gentle to yourself should be considered. Your children do look like you, and you can be proud of them, without also feeling ashamed. You'll be putting yourself in a rough spot with some frequency, if you try to deny this. If you have another child who does not share that genetic trait, you will find something else wonderful about them, as vacant uterus said.

annacyclopedia said...

I'm achingly tired, and so risk writing things here that make very little sense to anyone else, but this post really touched me and compelled me to join the conversation. I don't look like anyone in my immediate family, although my sisters and I often share mannerisms. The part of the family I look like were mostly estranged as I was growing up and they've all pretty much passed away now. So I've never felt that connection myself, and I deeply long to have a child that looks like me, so that I can experience that family resemblance both my sisters have with people in the family they are close to. The complicating factor is our plan to use donor sperm, and I confess to looking at donors with an eye to not only whether they looked like my husband, but also whether they looked like me. It's hard to know where to let go of our attachments in this journey - I often feel like a grabby 3 year old, clinging to things I feel like I can salvage, having already said good-bye to having a biological child with my husband. So I think, "Well, maybe there's a chance the child could look like me" as though that will make our connection, my connection to that child stronger. And maybe subconsciously I feel that my family and friends who know that we plan to use a donor will have a stronger connection to my child if it looks like me, too.

We want that connection, we treasure it, we prize it, and still we know that it doesn't mean much in itself. It's all very complicated, and what seems resolved often pops up at unexpected times, as you relate here, Mel. I think this is one of the things that might just keep coming up forever, especially because as children grow up, it becomes part of their story and their experience too.

Jess said...

Oh boy, I understand!

While we have the luxury to treasure Ava's genetics and point out this or that in her even though her genetics aren't OURS, it's a whole different and sometimes strange thing to look at Ethan and see this person or that person or this trait....

It does make you feel close to a have that genetic link.


It's not everything, and you do know that. But it's stupid to say it's NOT ANYTHING, too. It IS something. And it's ok to treasure the genetic link. IF YOU DO have a child that is not genetically linked to you four someday, it will be wonderful in it's own way, too...the bond you will have with that child, I mean (I'm not saying "it" referring to the child, but the bond.).

I just had a post, though, about some of this crap. Hard stuff, in many ways, but that's life, you know?

Erika Jurney said...

OH, I am so with you there. We adopted our first, and used donor sperm for #2 and #3. I see so much of myself in our third child, and so much of my father in #2. I feel desperately guilty that my husband doesn't get to share the miracle of the accidental glimpse into his past.

Although, what is utterly hilarious to me is that our first, the child we adopted, is like a carbon copy of my husband. I guess I'm saying... you just never know.

So glad you got to get filled up with love on your visit ;)

bleu said...

Oh Mel I thought this was going one way and then it turns out to be something I can so relate to. I worry so much because I think of how I often marvel at similarties between Bliss and I and how he does things I did as a child. He LOVES hearing about those things and I love telling him. I do not have family around, bio family, so I especially love that tie. I get giddy when people say we look alike, mostly because I think he is so amazingly beautiful I am blown away to be compared to that beauty. But I also love the similar traits. When I think about the possibility of the next child coming from donor embryo's if my own egg IVF's don't work I am not worried at all about seeing or not seeing similar traits. I am not worried about if I will love the child. I do worry though that I will catch myself saying something to Bliss about our traits and then have to censor myself for the sake of the other child(ren) and then it gets all muddy. I would never want to make any child of mine feel any angst about those things. It troubles my heart, truly.

luna said...

I've been trying to figure out what to say here. you've got some wonderful comments already. obviously the concern is not about love but about the feeling of being other or different. my short answer is that I know with what kind of mom you must be that you will do everything in your power to make your next child feel as special and included as humanly possible. with or without the genetic link.

you do what you can about the external factors (how others view you, what they say). I'm not sure how you can overcome the intrinsic feelings, other than to show in every possible way how very much a part of your family the child is.

and as jen said, so much of personality is also learned, so your child will likely absorb much from all of you. so while your child might not be a mini-mel or josh in looks alone, he/she will have the huge open heart that makes him/her an important part of your family tree nonetheless.


Not on Fire said...

This is a post that touched me deeply as my sons are both gifts from donor eggs. I see a lot of my husband in my sons, as do others. I personally mourn the lack of genetic connection, but others see it where I don't.

Of course, they don't know that they are from a donor as we are going to tell our sons first. I think that it is almost part of the instinctive bonding with our family that we look for these links. I know a couple who adopted and we talked one day how people are always says "Oh your daughter looks just like you." She corrects people most of the time.

I sometimes mourn the loss, but I can also see the trait that they did get from me. Like the thousand questions my oldest asks or the way that my youngest smiles. We imprint on our children in so many ways.

If your next child is not yours genetically, it will still be of your heart.

Michell said...

I had once spoke to an online friend who was bothered by the fact that she might have to use donor eggs and I was puzzled by the reaction since I figured that if I carried the baby of course it would feel like my baby regardless of where the eggs came from. Then after a failed IVF that left me wondering if my egg quality was the issue, I find myself understanding her. If I used an egg donor (and yes I would if that was my only path to a child) I would have no genetic link to my child at all. I'm not married and am using donor sperm and if I used donor eggs there would be nothing to recognize. I at that moment truly understood. And as much as I dread the thought of a child inheriting my "fat" gene I long for a child that maybe looks a bit like me.

TeamWinks said...

It's ok to honor the genetic link you share with you children, and still hold honor and respect for the potential lack there of with a third child. You can do both. It's not an either or. If your third child ends up not being biologically related, people will still find something (trust me) that makes them a mini Mel or mini Josh.

Lucky has long eye lashes like me, a narrow upper lip like my dad (not biologically my dad, but we don't talk about that really,) the personality of me, the body structure of my brother, and so many things that are uniquely him. Don't be hard on yourself. By insisting that genetics aren't important, you are making a bigger deal out of the subject than just letting the comments slip away. No worries though, I still love ya'! :-)

Leah said...

You are being way too hard on yourself. You would crap your pants if you saw Megan -- complete strangers on the street stop us to comment on how identical she and I look. If you put a picture of me as a toddler next to one of her, it's downright spooky.

I too had a really hard time with it. Especially when we were on the cusp of donor eggs this last cycle. I've worked hard not to focus on genetics, but it's just so tough. Add to it that my sister adopted her 2 girls (after years of IF, 3 IVFs and 2 m/c). So I am WILDLY sensitive to genetic comparisons when she is around.

But it's simply human nature. We want to identify with our offspring. We want to take pride in passing down our family traits. Other people want to make this connection too. It's not wrong, you shouldn't feel guilty about it.

Funny thing is that my sister is told -- repeatedly -- that one or the other of her girls looks/acts/is just like her/my BIL. I'm proud of them that they simply smile and say, "Thank you." They've never, ever tried to hide the fact that the girls were adopted. But they also don't feel the need to "correct" people every step of the way. Particularly when it comes to the mannerisms, so much of that is a product of "nurture" as opposed to "nature" anyway.

Focus on how great your children are. Revel in their similarities to your family. Wait to slather on the expected guilt for new siblings until they actually get here. :-)

Waiting Amy said...

This is such a complicated issue, and fraught with such strong emotions. You have gotten great comments thus far. I think it's okay for you to cherish that connection. The genetic link is important. If it weren't it wouldn't be such a struggle to decide about donor gametes and adoption. If it weren't important, open adoption would not be the better choice. It is unavoidable.

That said, it doesn't make it insurmountable. You are a wonderful, sensitive mom, who will shield any child from feeling left out if they are slightly different.
Enjoy what you have, and worry about the future when it comes.

Piccinigirl said...

I thank you for posts like this, because it helps us really know you and what an amazing person you are.
Of course you want the Genetic link, if we didn't, IF wouldn't hurt all of us in all the ways it does. We suffer through IF because we want to carry a child in the hopes that it looks like us, or our husbands , to be reminded of our family. Yet children who are adopted, who are welcomed into a family but were not birthed are still our family and will still someday smile like us, talk with their hands like us, maybe even have the same color eyes.
Be gentle on your heart and mind with this, because no matter how a third child finds your family, they are part of your heart forever.

luna said...

just wanted to add that I love leah's comment!

Barb said...

Aw the shittyness of worrying about this stuff...

Adoption brings out a lot of those same feelings in me, and I worry that if I DID get pg after adoption (unlikely I know), how that would affect our family. I also try to catch myself NOT commenting so much on how some children look just like their parents.. knowing that these things exist. sigh

PaleMother said...

Great post. It reminded me of a post that I liked from Yondalla ...

... about identity and what we *really* inherit from our families. I've been meaning to write my own post about it.

As someone with an obviously keen appreciation for family and tradition, I can totally understand why you'd be sensitive to this issue ... caught between knowing that it doesn't matter and knowing that it does.

But as I worry lately over my own kid's challenges and how to parent them through, there's a little voice on my shoulder suggesting that maybe I'd better not second guess their trials but that I should trust them instead. The same way I accept their innate personalities and encourage their innate strengths.

Everyone has identity issues. The mirror, the family's identity, the physical connection to family -- or the lack of it -- is a starting point for understanding. It can cut either way -- as an asset or as something to overcome. Sometimes we let some of the superficial things limit us and define us in ways that we shouldn't and it can take years to wake up and get free. If ever.

Maybe if a child lacks some of that superficial connection from the beginning ... maybe it's an opportunity to learn sooner that identity is ultimately deeper than that. Especially if you have a loving parent or two to explain to you that at the end of the day, nothing and no one can completely define you from the outside unless you let them ... we make ourselves by our choices.

To me, the really important parent-to child inheritances are the lessons. The ones my parents spared me from learning the hard way because they did. The lessons that buffered me and liberated me from the superficial judgement that dogged younger, less fortunate souls in my family tree.

Dianne/Flutter said...

Mel - I wish I had words of wisdom. But, I don't.

Your fears and worries - I share them with you, but I don't have the mini-mes to consider.

Be kind to yourself. I don't think it is bad to be reminded of loved ones. I don't think that is bad at all. I believe that your children were meant to have those similarities to remind you of them. And to that point your children are very different (I am sure) from those said loved ones with their own personalities, looks, and actions. It is such a balance.

deanna said...

I thought it was interesting that you were sensitive to how comments along the mini-Mel lines would effect the Chickienob. Having grown up with people making comparisons between me and my dead grandmother, I can tell you that I always enjoyed it---it made me feel grounded in the world somehow.

But, you can certainly, certainly establish that same sense of grounding in an adopted child. All children mimic behavioral aspects of their parents and other family members, whether genetically linked or not. An adopted child would seem very much a part of your family by speaking in the same ways, gesturing in the same ways, loving the same things. The family dynamic takes over like that, no matter genetic lines.

Lori said...

More and more, I'm seeing that things aren't either/or. They are both.

You can both care and not care about a genetic connection.

There is a lot of discussion in Adoption World about influence -- where a child gets him/her Self. We want to unravel nature and nurture to see which wins, either one or the other. But it's Both.

This is a very meaningful post, Mel.

Kami said...

It's not that genetics aren't important, it's that we feel that they shouldn't be.

I have the logical side of me saying, "It doesn't matter where the genes come from, this is OUR baby." Yet when I hear about how the ridge on the back of my head (I don't think I would be attractive bald) came from the native Americans in my family tree, I feel bonded to these people who died a century before I was born.

My heart still aches to have that connection with our child and I think I am too stubborn to ever pretend it doesn't matter, but I hope that to our child (and to me eventually), it won't matter that much - it will be just one other aspect of our lives.

nancy said...

Oh man. Well, this just brought up an unknown fear of my own. My Ella is definitely a mini-me and Allison is a female version of Tom. And I've always loved it. I think it's hilarious when people mention this as it's SO obvious. "Did you know Ella looks like you and Allison looks like Tom?" No shit! I want to yell. But I don't. Instead, I smile with a "I know, isn't it great?!"

And now I'm trying for a third. And I never ever thought of how it will be if that child isn't a miniature version of mommy or daddy, like the girls are.


beautycourage said...

Such an interesting post, and wonderful comments from everyone.

I don't think you can worry about something that has not happened yet. There are too many variables in play. The fact that you might have a child someday that is not genetically linked to your family doesn't mean that you should hold yourself back from celebrating the similarities that your kids have to you and Josh and your extended family right now. There is nothing wrong with celebrating that connection, it is a true and beautiful thing.

But on the other hand, I completely understand your sensitivity to the issue, for yourself and for others. Like you said, genetics is only part of love- and in the end, I think it's a pretty small part (but more important and noticable when children are young, perhaps?)

DrSpouse said...

I find this really hard - my mother especially constantly comments how my nieces look like each other/their aunts and uncles (especially me), but there's a good chance we'll have children that aren't genetically related to either of us.

Though I do know quite a few adoptive parents have children who everyone assumes *must* be genetically related to them because they look physically similar, and likewise parents of mixed-race biological children often get very strange comments from monoracial friends and relatives ("gosh, he must take after your husband's family because he certainly doesn't look like you")

katd said...

Honestly, grieving the loss searching for my features and my husband's features in our child was the most difficult part of turning to adoption for me. I could not care less about giving birth. I was sad about missing pregnancy, but not seeing myself in a child made me really sad. But then, I remembered that it's not a guarantee. My sister doesn't look anything like my mom or her dad. She's just herself.

And now that we have Lily, it's unreal to see what she's picked up in just 13 short months from us. She crinkles her nose when she sticks her tongue out - just exactly like I do. She learned it from me. And it's ridiculous how many strangers comment on how she has her "dad's curly hair." We just smile.
Thank you for your honesty and for your beautiful heart! :)

Bea said...

I've been thinking about this on and off, because I know my mother, in particular, can have a (damn, forgotten the term, similarity talk? no...) anyway, she can go on and on and on about who looks like whom and where trait X came from. It drove me crazy during the IVF just thinking about how we may never have a child to whom such a discussion applied. Without being home and hosed yet, it now drives me crazy thinking that all our children may not be cut from the same mold, as it were.

Sometimes, on my good days, I picture her having the same discussion but with a fantasy element - talking to an imaginary adopted/donor child of ours about what their genetic parents *might* have looked like. Discussing the ways in which they are similar to the rest of the family despite their different genetic blueprint. Marvelling about nature vs nurture. All in just a very natural way, as if it's the same sort of discussion, just applied to a different person. As if it's no different talking to this child about their obvious racial differences that they must have brought with them from overseas, than to that child about their different hair colour, that they must have got from great great aunty M, because no-one's seen that in our family for quite some time.

I don't know. I guess we'll see. I'm tempted to tell her to play down/alter the resemblence talk (that's it!) from the outset.