While the internet definitely has its downsides when parenting, it is also has become a much-needed resource for parents, especially moms. With the challenges we face today raising kids, the connection mothers are able to make with other moms, online, has proven incredibly valuable. Just being able to read somewhere that so many moms, from across the globe, are experiencing, feeling, reacting, the same way as you, is a blessing.
And that is how I met the next member our birth story series. Two mothers, who connected online. I am thrilled to introduce Eli and to share her birth stories.
Eli Haarlander. Adopted three times: 1 disrupted, 2 complete
How old were you when you had your first child
35 and 40 when I adopted my last child
What was the adoption process like for you
With three different adoptions, the process has varied. My first two were domestic adoptions and we (I was married at the time) used an adoption facilitator ( someone who matched a birth mother to prospective adoptive parents) and an attorney. With my third child, her’s was an international adoption, and I used an agency that was connected to attorneys in Guatemala.
Our facilitator presented our profile to birth mothers based on “matching” information. Birth mothers often have a criteria they are looking for and adoptive families may have a criteria they are looking for and often there are logistics in terms of how much support the birth mother might need.
Olivia’s birth mother chose us a month before her birth. We spent a considerable amount of time with her and extended family. Huggins birth mother had been previously matched with a family and they pulled out of the adoption process during her 9th month of pregnancy. We met her 8 days before he was born! In Haarper Lee’s case, as is common in most international adoptions, I have much less information regarding what let up to her being placed into foster care at four days old.
Did you take any parenting class leading up to their birth
I didn’t take any formal parenting class. There may be a requirement for that today, but at the time of our adoptions there is not. I think it’s sort of an odd “hoop to jump through,” since parents of biological children are not required to take parenting classes. I would babysit and nanny-ed through high school and college, I was probably far better prepared to parent than many of my friends who had biological children, but had no previous experience with infants or kids.
Were you present for their birth
We were at the hospital when Olivia was born. We received the call that ‘B’ had gone into labor and we met her at the hospital. It all happened very quickly. We were both in the room, each holding up a leg. Once Olivia was born, I asked my husband to go to her and start talking to her right away and I stayed next to ‘B’ and told her how brave she was, and how grateful we were to her. When Huggins’ was born, my husband cut the umbilical cord! I happened to be across the country, but hightailed it on a plane and got to the hospital about 12 hours after he was born.
Was there a family room at the hospital for you
We had a room assigned to us at the hospital when Olivia was born. While every case is different, in ours, Olivia stayed in the nursery, not in our room or in ‘B’s’ room. It’s an emotional time for everyone involved. I remember just wanting to get her home, and we did that just as soon as we could.
When Huggins was born he had a bit of difficulty breathing so he went into the NICU and ended up staying there for about 5 days. We didn’t have a room at the hospital and we commuted back and forth every day. It was a difficult time. Knowing what I know now about early childhood trauma, if I had it to do over again, I would insist on staying with him every minute.
With your International Adoption, how long was the process from the birth of your daughter until you could bring her home
I started the adoption process for Haarper Lee in august and she was born in February. I saw her photo on my computer screen a few days later and I knew then she was meant to be mine. I flew to Guatemala and brought her home on July 13th. So it was eleven months from start to finish, which is pretty rare for an international adoption (this was also unheard of within the bureaucracy of Guatemalan adoptions at that time). It should be noted that I was self-employed during that time and had a great deal of flexibility. This enabled me to expedite a lot of the paper work that often slows down the process.
Who helped you those first few weeks
When Olivia came home my husband and I took care of her. My parents flew out from NJ to meet her, but we were pretty self-sufficient. We were all just enjoying this new little miracle! When Huggins came home it was just my husband and me though I recall my mom coming out at some point.
When I went to Guatemala, I took Huggins with me, and my dad came with us. It was super helpful to have another adult with me. We were there for 4 days to finalize the process, and then flew back. Once home, I was on my own almost immediately, with a 5-year-old (newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes,) and a 5 month old.
Did you get any time off
Family leave is not the same thing as maternity leave. Family leave is usually only a fraction of your salary, with the guarantee of being able to return to your job, whereas maternity leave is often full pay with the guarantee of being able to return to your job. My employer at the time we adopted did not have a formal policy in place for “adoption leave.” I had an amazing supervisor that was extremely supportive (she was also an adoptive mom,) and she allowed me to take the time I needed after bringing home both babies. Since I was self-employed when I brought Haarper Lee home, there was no leave.
Did your husband get any time off
My husband took two weeks off for Olivia and Huggins.
How did you feel those first few weeks
I think it’s a common misconception that when parents bring home children who were adopted it’s all easy-breezy. It’s true there is no physical recovery from a vaginal or c-section birth, and no stress around breast-feeding, but it is a very difficult time. Adoptions are not finalized once you bring the baby home from the hospital. It varies from state to state, and even within the state of California the law has changed over time.
When we brought home Olivia, a birth mother had 90 days to change her mind (today that has been reduced to 30 days) so there is anxiety aways nagging away about “what if.” In the case of Olivia, that “what if,” came to fruition. Her birth mother made the decision to reclaim Olivia after she had been with us for 6 weeks. It was heart breaking, soul crushing, and beyond devastating.
When Huggins was born, of course, I already had that experience behind me so I was, I think, even more anxious. I was overwhelmed with gratitude when ’T’ signed the paper work after two weeks, and I knew that he was “ours.” Once that was done, I was able to relax and enjoy. He was a great eater and sleeper and by all accounts a super easy baby.
When I brought Haarper Lee home she was already a little human. She had been with a foster family for 5 months, and had formed secure attachments with them. I didn’t realize it then, but through therapy she has been able to express to me that “coming home” was like “a death” to her. Everything seemed like a challenge to me. She was a very different baby than what I had been used to with Huggins. She slept VERY little. I was now a single mother of two and was trying to support us on a freelancer’s salary with all of my family was 3000 miles away.
In hindsight I believe I was experiencing post adoption depression, something no one ever spoke about. I never felt like I had made a mistake, but I did feel like I was in way over my head.
Where did you find support as a new mother
After we had to relinquish Olivia back to her birth mother, there was very little support. I reached out to a lot of different resources, but no one seemed equipped to assist or counsel parents who had experienced loss in this way. My husband and I processed the loss very differently, at a certain point he made it clear that he was moving on, and I should too. I remember spending a lot of time crying in my car as I commuted between home and work, and work and home. I felt I had to pretend to be ‘ok’ all day long at work, and home didn’t feel like a place that was safe to let it out either.
With Huggins and Haarper lee, I think it’s hard as a single, working parent to find support, and ways to connect with other moms. Most of the mommy and me groups are during the week, and most are for moms with babies. Even groups that I belong to, of families built through adoption, are often inaccessible to me because they meet during the week or are too far away.
When you have kids that have challenges, and you don’t have a partner, or family nearby, it’s hard to keep your “bucket filled.” I feel blessed to have a great group of girl friends, moms I met when our kids were all infants, in day care together. These four women are my chosen sisters, my stand-in family, and truly my source of comfort and support. In the early days, we would meet up in someone’s kitchen on Friday nights after work, making dinner or ordering take out, always around a bottle of wine, and we would help each other sort out the week, while the kids entertained themselves. I was so well cared for by those women.
Those Friday nights are some of my fondest memories. As our kids get older, and our lives become busier, it’s harder for everyone to get together. I know from experience if there’s a crisis and I call, they all come running, however I miss having that regular touch stone.
What is your biggest challenge as a mom
With my son, my biggest challenge was trying to balance it all. I had a pretty high level job with a good deal of stress and trying to be present when I was at work, and present when I was at home, and not letting the other spill over was (and still is) difficult.
With my 2nd child, my greatest challenge was understanding that it’s not a given that all children can be parented the same way. I think we all have a tendency to parent in a style similar to how we have been parented. I did that with my son, and that worked. I tried that with my daughter, and it was miserable for everyone! Once I started doing research and educating myself, things became a little easier.
What do you see as the biggest difference in raising kids today verse when you were a kid
I think the biggest difference is time. I was raised in a traditional nuclear family. My mom was a stay at home mom and she did it all—wrote notes on my lunch napkin every day, decorated the house for the big and little holidays, she took us to after school activities and we spent all summer with her. As a single working mom, I need to depend on care givers, babysitters, day care, and camps, to help me raise my kids.
Plus I’m tired. A LOT. But when I’m not working, I try to be present with my kids. It’s a challenge but at the end of the day, I always find myself wishing I had been more patient, or spent more time with them, and less time doing chores.
What is better today/ what was better then
I think the access to knowledge. I’ve learned so much about parenting and my kids’ challenges, just by going on-line and doing research. I joke that I have a degree in Google, but seriously, it’s helped me so much.
When my daughter was 5 and threw herself on the floor in the middle of whole foods, screaming at the top of her lungs, (speaking about herself,) “I wish there was never a girl in this family, I wish there was only a boy,” I realized this was something that I wasn’t going to be able to just “love away.” I sat down, right there in whole foods and googled— therapist, Los Angeles, kids, adoption. By the end of the next day I had spoken on the phone to one of the leading adoption therapists in LA county. In that first conversation, she said something so simple, and yet so profound. I call it my pivotal “a-ha moment” when it comes to parenting!
What was better then? It sounds cliché, but it was just a simpler time. It was slower. Expectations were less. Sometimes I think about how I could recreate that for my family and all I can come up with is moving somewhere off the grid. But I share custody of my son, so that’s not really an option.
Within the realms of society what are your biggest concerns with regards to your children
Yikes! I have so many concerns. Both of my kids are minority races. We live in an extremely diverse metropolitan city, but even so, my son has been called the n-word, and “friends” think nothing about making what they think are acceptable stereotypical remarks about Hispanics.
They say when you adopt a minority child, you automatically become a minority family. It’s true to a certain extent, but the reality is, as a white woman, with white privilege, I’ll never really know what it feels like to live in the skin of my children.
Both of my children also have challenges — my daughter, academic, social and emotional. My son, academic and medical. I worry about what their lives will look like as they get older. I worry about things like acceptance and inclusivity.
What is the best advice given to you
The best advice given to me as a new mom—live in the moment, it goes by in the blink of an eye. It sounds so cliché but it’s so true. The days can be long but the years are oh so short.
What is your advice for a new mom
The best advice I could give to a new mom— try to accept your child exactly where they are, for exactly who they are. I think so many of us have this idea of what we want our kids to be, what we want them to do, placing expectations on them. Raise your children to be self-sufficient and independent. Raise them to be confident in who they are and to love themselves. Raise them to be kind to others. Everything else is just icing on the cake.
Best advice for parents thinking of adopting
Do it! Just like “having” kids, there’s never a perfect time to do it, there’s never enough money, and there are no guarantees on what you’re going to get. For all the heartbreak and struggles, I have exactly the children I was meant to have. They have blessed and enriched my life immeasurably.
What was/is the greatest joy in being a mother
The greatest joy in being a mother is when I get a glimpse of them saying or doing something, — being kind to one another, or someone else — and I know I’ve done something right. My daughter had a choral performance and one of her friends had a solo. Shortly into the popular song, the little girl forgot the words. The audience joined in, and helped her get back on track. After she was finished, the little girl stood frozen, tears forming, too embarrassed to get down from the stage. My daughter got up, walked over and put her arm around her friend, and then holding her hand, lead her back to her spot in the chorus. My daughter was able to be a good friend and my heart swelled.
When my son was younger, he came to visit me at work one day. Seeing an employee who had down syndrome, he asked me if she was “a grown up with a brain like a baby,” (the way I had in the past, explained about people having down syndrome.) I answered yes, and wasn’t it great that she had a place to go to work and wasn’t it nice that no one made fun of her or teased her? His reply, “why would anyone make fun of her momma?” It’s those moments. Despite how many times (a day,) you feel like you mess up, it’s those moments when you feel like you’ve done something right.
What do you know about your own birth
It was ungodly hot at the Jersey Shore. It was my mother’s first pregnancy, I wasn’t due for another 4 days. It was so hot that my mom asked her father to take her down to the beach, and dunk her into the undertow to cool off. Despite the 90 degree heat, the water temperature was in the 60’s and in and out she went, for hours. She swears it was the shock of the cold water that brought on her labor, early that evening