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This is where babies come from

20 Nov

Nicole Kidman, Edie Falco and Sharon Stone did it. Sandra Bullock, Charlize Theron and Katherine Heigl did it. Barbara Walters and Diane Keaton did it. I know someone who was with Meg Ryan when she did it.

It isn’t only women who do it. Tony Shaloub and even Ozzy Osbourne did it.

And I did it, too.

Nine years ago, on September 15, I, with my husband, adopted a baby girl from China. I’ve written about adoption before on my own blog, Snide Reply; it was an angry—some might say “snide”—response to the idiocy many people express about adoption and to those on all sides of the adoption triangle.

But adoption hasn’t only exposed me to idiocy. It has brought me an overabundance of joy. My daughter is beautiful, smart, funny, loving, generous, and kind. We adoptive parents like to joke that it’s ok for us to brag about our children ‘cause it’s not like we’re patting our own genetic code on the back. But I will gladly tell you that my son, who came from my womb, is handsome, smart, funny, loving (in a teenage boy kind of way), generous and kind.

Adoption has changed my vocabulary. My daughter isn’t adopted, she was adopted. As soon as the papers were signed, she became my daughter. I don’t usually say my son come from my womb, as I did above, though I prefer that description. I refer to him as my “biological son” if anyone asks and people frequently ask when they see him and his sister together. He has some smart-ass comments he keeps for people who ask if she was adopted, but he has a smart-ass comment for just about everything. Calling my son “biological” seems to imply, to me at least, that my daughter is somehow not made of the same stuff. Calling him my “natural” child is equally strange for me. Is my daughter then “unnatural?”

Adoption has changed the way many people see me. Because I’ve adopted, many people think I’m brave. They consider the things I’ve done—traveling to China, adopting “someone else’s child”—to be scary things.

Becoming a parent was scary. Deciding to try to get pregnant was scary, in a jumping off a cliff and hoping for a soft landing sort of way.

With adoption, there was no fear. We took one red-tape filled step at a time, confident that there was a child for us at the end of the journey. Traveling to China? With an eight-year old boy? Immediately following lifting of the SARS travel ban? Didn’t faze me. Trying to get pregnant is a tentative sort of venture. Who knows how it will end? Adoption is a deliberate process. Every form filled out, every interview, every trip to a consulate, state or county official says, “We will have a child.”

Adoption has brought me close to people I might never have bothered to know. I don’t usually go out of my way to befriend people whose politics and principles are so different from my own. My adoption community includes people with dramatically different politics and principles.

When I was pregnant with my son, a good friend was as well. We had a bump bonding moment in the ladies’ room at a restaurant in Bloomington, Indiana. She showed me her distended belly button and I showed her mine. I can’t imagine showing my belly button to my adoption community friends. Most of them have never met me in person.

But though our world is mainly virtual, our friendship is very real. We’ve been through the typical things long time friends weather like divorces, illnesses, teenagers. But only my adoption friends can provide comfort when I’ve just held my daughter while she sobs for her real mother.  Only they can assure me that I’ve handled it well, that I’ve done what a real mother does.

People tell me they couldn’t do what I’ve done; that they could never love a child that wasn’t their own. There’s a witty reply: I love her as my own because she is my own, just as her brother is my own.

When my son was born, he was placed in my arms and I had no idea what to do with him. I fell in love with him but it wasn’t an overnight thing.

On September 14, a Chinese woman placed Lin Chun Mei in my arms. On September 15, she became my daughter, Abigail Mei. The next day, pushing her stroller toward the elevator at the White Swan Hotel in Guangdong Province, I knew she was my own, that my love for her was no different than my love for my son.

Before I went to China, I learned a single phrase in Mandarin. When I met my daughter, I told her, “Wo shi ni de mama. Wo shi yung yuan ni de mama.”

I am your mama. I will always be your mama.

The Princess of Snide

It’s a cat fight in the USA

31 May

by Janice Lindegard

This post first appeared on my blog, Snide Reply. It was written in response to an increasingly worrisome trend here: politicians and media creating and feeding a feud between working and stay at home moms and the concomitant denigration of feminism. It specifically addresses issues in the US only, as that’s my frame of reference. Please comment with your experience whether it’s in the US or elsewhere.

There’s a really ugly battle going on, one that I witness every single day. It’s a battle that’s been going on for years, but seems to have gotten particularly evil recently. It’s not in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Syria. It’s right here in the United States. It’s the one between the least likely set of combatants: American moms.

Every single day lately, I hear something hateful come from the mouths (or computers) of moms. Moms criticize moms for working. Moms ridicule moms for not working. Moms look down their noses at moms for using formula. Moms secretly envy moms who can breastfeed their babies. Moms hate moms and I’m freaking sick of it.

I’m particularly sick of the battle between stay-at-home moms and moms who work outside the home for pay. I call them Work-Away Moms. I don’t think there’s been a time when the battle has been so filled with vitriol. The Ann Romney/Hilary Rosen thing is only the tip of the iceberg. Recently, I read this from a SAHM regarding a WAM who asked what the SAHM does all day. “I wanted to shove my fist up her *ss.”

The Gallup organization recently released a study noting that stay-at-home moms are more depressed than other women, including work-away moms. Twenty eight percent of SAHMs report depression; only 17 percent of the work-away moms report depression, the same percent of women polled who have no children. The real news here though is that this is old news.

Betty Friedan wrote about stay-at-home moms and their unhappiness in 1963 in her pivotal work, The Feminine Mystique, which became a foundational writing in feminist literature. Nearly 50 years ago, Betty Freidan already knew what Gallup is reporting as the latest news: mothering is difficult work that is undervalued by our society and that pisses moms off. It’s not very PC to get mad about caring for your offspring, so Angry Mom becomes Depressed Mom. It was true then and it’s true now. Of course, today we’ve got a happy pill for Sad Mommy.

Let’s be careful when we look at these statistics, though. Most of the moms slinging mud at each other—staying at home, working at home or working away—are middle- to upper-class white ladies. When we talk about stay-at-home moms, though, we are most often talking about women living in poverty. Women who are at home because they can’t find work. Women who are the sole parent in their homes. Women who could work at Burger King, but then couldn’t afford the childcare. We’re not talking Ann Romney here, though I wouldn’t begrudge her a depressive episode, being married to Mr. Dignity Of Work.

Don’t be too quick to applaud Ms. Freidan for her prescience. Being a feminist is as uncool these days as being…well, I can’t think of anything that’s as uncool. Feminists are responsible for the bind we find our mothers in. If it weren’t for the stinking feminists, SAH moms wouldn’t feel so damn bad about themselves and we’d be celebrating the glory that is being home with your children 24/7. If it weren’t for the stinking feminists, all those women who chose their careers over their kids would get their butts back home where they belong.

Wrong. In fact, there couldn’t be a more twisted, deceitful interpretation of what the Women’s Liberation Movement attempted to achieve. Gloria Steinem and her feminist friends envisioned a society where “the American child’s classic problem–too much mother, too little father–that would be cured by an equalization of parental responsibility.” In other words, Mom and Dad share the parenting—equally. Think that happens already? Who signs the kids up for summer camp? Who makes the doctor appointments? Who washes the sheets the baby puked on?

Steinem saw a world where “there will be free access to good jobs–and decent pay for the bad ones women have been performing all along, including housework.”

How would that happen? How could it be possible? If we could get past our rugged individualism, we could get to a world where we put our money where our mouths are. You can yap about family values all you want, but a Family and Medical Leave Act that doesn’t include pay of some kind is a joke to the majority of workers who can’t afford to go without pay for six weeks. According to Forbes magazine, in 2009, the United States and Australia were the only developed nations without some form of paid leave. I’m Danish, but didn’t have my kids there. If I had, I would have been able to stay home with my son for a full year at full pay. Instead, I pieced together four months of leave by adding all of the vacation and sick days I had to my six unpaid weeks. I saved like a demon so we could get by while my husband worked on building a business. Then I went back to work so we could keep our house.

Feminists didn’t make the world worse for women. Do you like being entitled to half of your marital property? Thank a feminist; it wasn’t yours until 1969. Are you married and use the last name you were born with? Thank a feminist. You couldn’t do that until 1972. Did you use birth control before you got married? Thank a feminist; you couldn’t do that until 1972.  If your husband treats you like crap, you can divorce him. Couldn’t do that in 1969. In fact, until 1976 your husband could legally rape you. I was a senior in high school; we’re not talking ancient history here.

It’s hard for me not to see the trash thrown under the bed in the mom-on-mom battle. White moms—the ones who have the greatest access to political and monetary power—need to be kept busy with stupid crap like whether or not Rush Limbaugh is a pig. If we weren’t, we might get together and work toward healthcare coverage that recognizes hormones are used for more than just birth control.

I’m sick of hearing that work-away mothers chose their careers over their children. I’m sick of hearing that women who can’t breast feed just aren’t trying hard enough. I’m sick of hearing that stay-at-home moms sit around scrapbooking. I’m sick of hearing that work-away moms take advantage of the PTA moms. I’m sick of hearing how hard stay-at-home moms work. I’m sick of hearing how hard work-away moms work.

It’s all distraction, distraction aimed at keeping us from joining together to fight for paid family leave so moms and dads can be home with their kids. It’s a distraction aimed at keeping us from fighting for equal pay for mothers who work away from home—for whatever reason. It’s a distraction that keeps us from fighting for the right to make our own reproductive choices and not be humiliated because of them.

I, for one, am sick of being distracted. Are you?

 

Janice Lindegard is a writer, blogger and columnist living in Naperville, Illinois. She is mom to two children: a bio son with ADHD and a daughter adopted from China. She tries, often unsuccessfully, to follow the teaching of Buddha, is married to a Jewish man and was raised by Roman Catholics. She writes a parenting column for Naperville Patch and blogs about her life at Snide Reply.

Parenting The Enemy

2 Apr

by Janice Lindegard of Snide Reply

I wanted a girl. No question. Oh, sure, I told people I just wanted a healthy baby, but really, I wanted a girl. So, when my son was born, it was more than drugs and exhaustion that had me on emotional overload.

I was a feminist. I was prepared to rear a strong, self-possessed woman. In my feminist readings, I ran across a piece on women in heterosexual relationships that likened being married to a man to sleeping with the enemy.  How the hell was I supposed to parent the enemy?

The first week of parenthood featured little sleep, lots of poop and a humiliating tendency for my body to do really revolting things completely out of my control. I remember one day, though, sitting on my back porch. The Little Enemy was asleep, finally. I had a lovely rose garden, but I wasn’t admiring it. I was completely absorbed in an epic wallow of self-pity. I had a boy. Boy, boy, boy. No little soul sister, I had a miniature man.

I started to cry. I stared out at my rose garden and wept. I got maudlin. I wept for the sassy girl I wouldn’t have and the beautiful woman I wouldn’t know. I wept because my child would never wear my wedding dress. And then I thought of Dennis Rodman and I laughed out loud. At that time, Mr. Rodman was wildly infamous for his outrageous behavior, which included going clubbing in a wedding dress. Immediately after lamenting that my child wouldn’t wear my gown, I pictured the beastly ugly Rodman in his and thought, “God, I hope not!”

I’ve said that nothing made me more of a feminist than raising a son. When I do, more than a few women look at me like I’ve either lost my mind or made a very unfunny joke. But it’s no joke. If our society beats down girls, it beats down boys just as cruelly. The problem is that while we’re eager to help girls with their self-esteem, their body image, their academic standings and their professional opportunities, most people don’t even want to recognize that boys are bound and gagged by our society, too. After all, helping boys would be the societal equivalent of aiding and abetting enemy combatants.

At this point, you may be wondering what the heck I’m talking about. Boys don’t need help; boys aren’t discriminated against. Boys never had to fight to get into anything. From Little League to Harvard to the White House, boys—especially white ones—have been living the high life.

I am not delusional, though. From the time my son was born, he was treated differently than a daughter would have been. Even in infancy, we expect boys to be tough. Baby boys are picked up less frequently than baby girls. Just because of a roll of the biological dice, one child is cuddled when she cries and the other is left to seek comfort in his little blue blankie. Being born male even reduces your chances of being adopted. Globally, more girls are adopted than boys, not because more girls are available but because people feel safer adopting a girl. In fact, you can probably cut your wait time to adopt merely by stating a preference for a boy.

School is supposed to be where the rubber begins to hit the road in discrimination against girls. But, seen through the eyes of boys and their mothers, school is set up for the male to fail. Standing in lines, communicating verbally, sitting still, pleasing the teacher are all behaviors that, for whatever reason, girls seem to master more quickly and easily than boys. Let’s not get sidetracked discussing why girls are able to do it. Let’s think about what it means to boys that their genetically codified behavior is more likely to get them a pass to the principal than a gentle reminder or exasperated sigh.

I don’t have enough space left to discuss how my son’s middle school career might have differed if he were a girl. I have a hard time imagining he would have been called lazy and unmotivated if he were a girl failing in the gifted program, though. One day he forgot to bring pencil and paper to the library. His teacher gave him a detention for defiance. If his name were Emily, I wonder if she’d just roll her eyes and hand her some paper.

As my son gets older, I’m less and less concerned about how his school treats him and more concerned with how his society treats him. Recently, a friend posted a screed on her Facebook wall. The gist of the post is this: if the parents of boys raised sons who kept their hands to themselves unless invited, then the parents of girls wouldn’t have to worry how their daughters are dressed.

At the same time, I’m dealing with my son’s sexual maturity. Overwhelmingly, his society paints him as barely able to contain his desires. If he has unprotected sex with a girl and she gets pregnant, it will be his fault. Don’t think so? When was the last time you heard someone refer to the boy involved in a teen pregnancy as “a nice young man”? Nope. He’ll be “that jackass who got Susie pregnant.”

The idea that boys have to be controlled for the world to be safe is insulting at best and hypocritical at worst. At the same time we are telling little boys to keep their hands to themselves, we think it’s cute when little girls chase them to steal a kiss. The boys don’t think it’s cute. The boys think it’s harassment and they get mad when we don’t stop the girls.

We ridicule boys who dance, want to be nurses and love to play with dolls. If you think we don’t, then you haven’t raised a boy. When a girl wants to box, play hockey or quarterback a football team, we say “Why not?” We may even get angry if she’s not allowed to. Imagine the reaction to a boy who wants to dance Giselle. Not really seeing the outrage, are you?

Let’s call a truce. Let’s teach boys and girls to keep their hands to themselves. Let’s admit that girls want to have sex as much as boys do. Let’s teach all of our children that they can be whatever they want to be . . .and mean it.

Janice Lindegard is a writer, blogger and columnist living in Naperville, Illinois. She is mom to two children: a bio son with ADHD and a daughter adopted from China. She tries, often unsuccessfully, to follow the teaching of Buddha, is married to a Jewish man and was raised by Roman Catholics. She writes a parenting column for Naperville Patch and blogs about her life at Snide Reply.