Sunday, August 23, 2015

Weighing in on "God and Jetfire"

A few weeks ago, I was reading my guilty-pleasure PE.OPLE magazine, where I actually get a surprising number of book recommendations that turn out to be good (and a few that are mediocre, even a couple downright stinkers). I saw a relatively large amount of space being given to God and Jetfire: Confessions of a Birth Mother by Amy Seek. The cover was blue water, and there was a partially-visible woman in a bikini underwater. It looked intriguing.

It piqued my interest for a few reasons. One, I love reading memoirs. It's like a voyeuristic peek into someone else's life, and can give you perspective on your own. A well-written memoir is like gold to me. (Some favorites: I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag: A Memoir of Life Through Events, The Ones You Plan and The Ones You Don't by Jennifer Gilbert, who survived a horrific stabbing in college and then became an event has some really great thoughts on grief and other people's discomfort with grief and pain; Cruising Attitude by Heather Poole, a really interesting look at the training and life of a flight attendant; Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, also known as The Bloggess and the funniest memoir  I've ever read, like EVER, even though she grapples with crippling anxiety and depression and in one tough chapter, RPL... and a second memoir called Furiously Happy is out in September!, and Hyperbole and A Half by Allie Brosh which is a graphic novel collection of essays of sorts and is also funny in a different way and deals beautifully with what depression is really like.) Two, I have been doing a lot of reading about adoption, and while some books include birth parent perspective (The Open Hearted Way to Open Adoption by Lori Holden aka Lori Lavender Luz, Secrets to Your Successful Domestic Adoption by Jennifer Joyce Pedley, a birth mother and social worker who helps birth mothers and adoptive families through open adoption and the process as a whole), and I have read some articles from a birth mother's point of view and seen some videos of birth mothers and adoptive mothers speaking in tandem about their experience... I haven't really found a full book, entirely chronicling the experience of a birth mother. Super important... A birth mother, not BIRTH MOTHERS, as not all experiences are the same. I did find one for An adoptive mother that I liked for its at times brutal honesty, Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother by Jana Wolf. And so God and Jetfire seemed like it would be like the flip side of that story, and it is. Of A birth mother.

I am also in the waiting period now, marching towards the time when we will meet a potential birth mother, an expectant mother who could feasibly become our child's birth mother, and I thought it would be a great idea to explore what an expectant mother might be thinking through all parts of the process. Knowing of course that I could read things that might be potentially upsetting to me, but are important to know and understand as while both myself as a potential adoptive mother and this mystery person who is a potential birth mother are in similar positions -- our bodies have betrayed us, we are in a situation we did not ask to be in, we need a solution...and a baby needs parents -- our perspectives are likely very different. Or maybe not.

To clarify, this is going to be my take on God and Jetfire. What I thought about the book, the impressions it made on me, how I felt while reading it and later while absorbing and processing it, as it kind of stuck with me. I am not offering an analysis or a critique. I am not looking at the widespread reaction in other media to her book and what it may or may not say about open adoption as a whole. If you are interested in reading more about that, Lori Lavender Luz has written two very thoughtful posts about reactions in the media to the book and its impact on perceptions of open adoption, for better or worse. I highly recommend you read these. Her thoughts on the book and the various reactions to it made me think again about my own personal reactions to it, and rather than keep writing superlong comments on her blog, I decided to explore my own thoughts and feelings. Just to warn you, I will reveal who Amy chose to parent her baby, and if you want these things to remain a mystery until you read the book yourself, know there are "spoilers" below of a sort.

I'm not going to lie...some of what Amy Seek says is hard to swallow, as an adoptive mother (waiting adoptive mother). But you don't read books about real life to get a fairy tale, or something neat and tidy that doesn't exist outside of fiction. Her reactions to her pregnancy and the adoption process as she experienced it are her reactions to have, born of her experiences and point of view and very personal situation. It's going to be riddled with grief. And doubt. And not-so-complimentary thoughts of adoptive parents.

Something that really bothered me was the use of the term "vultures" to describe adoptive parents. Granted, this was used by her sister, but the reaction wasn't "Oh god, no! These people aren't vultures at all!" It kind of felt like a tacit agreement. It came about as she was reviewing Dear Birth Mother Letters, the old-fashioned kind, handmade and scrapbooky in nature, with ribbons and stickers and glued-on pictures. It made me grateful for Mi.xbook. However, as she was reviewing them and asking for input from her sister, there was so, so much judgment of the people who had put their hearts and desires to be parents out on those pages, who put their lives out there. It does not escape me that people could look at our profile book and have the same reaction, although I really hope not. I appreciated Amy's honesty, as it wasn't in my mind totally complimentary, and I did feel sort of supersensitive since our book is out there, hopefully getting ready to be shown to people who won't rip us apart as "vultures" looking to take advantage of someone else's unfortunate situation. It was interesting to see how she evaluated profiles/letters -- pictures that didn't actually open up the couple's life too much, pictures without visible faces, overly sympathetic and treacly statements about understanding where she was coming from, overly personal tales of years of infertility treatments and dollar amounts spent. That really surprised me -- we did mention briefly that we had dealt with infertility (because personally I feel it is disingenuous to say that adoption was always our first choice when it wasn't, but it is our best choice, to paraphase several adoption books I've read), but mostly focused on how we came to adoption because we realized we were chasing pregnancy at the cost of parenthood, and being parents is what is most important. We would never, ever catalogue how much we spent, or what types of treatments we endured, or that we had miscarriages, or any of that. Too much. Also interesting was her perception of people who seemed to have a baby-shaped hole that they wanted to fill, rather than an overflowing love that they wanted to share.

I actually felt that the section on how she sifted through the profiles was really interesting and invaluable, if at times difficult to read, because you could see firsthand how someone might view various ways to present yourself. I actually didn't feel panicked after reading it, I felt like we had done a really good job avoiding the things she hated and showing the things openly and honestly that show our interest in parenting someone's unborn baby.

I felt badly for Amy throughout the book, as she made her decision to "do adoption" as she called it. It seemed, to me, that she felt it was the best of the three options, but truly she did not want to go through with the process. She referred to placing as "abandoning" her baby, which seemed harsh to me but I am not someone who has to make the daunting and emotionally wrecking decision to place my baby. Maybe the term "place" is separated from emotion to make people feel comfortable, but really "abandon" is more accurate to how a birth mother feels. Amy was older when she got pregnant, a senior in college, 23, completing her architecture studies. She had just broken up with boyfriend, pretty much simultaneously with telling him about the pregnancy. She thought about abortion but didn't go through with it. I returned the book to the library already so I don't have the exact quote, but she and her ex-boyfriend sat in the waiting room and she decided, to paraphrase, that she didn't think she could smile again if she did it. She thought about keeping the baby, but was no longer with her boyfriend, didn't want to marry him, was still in college, was pursuing a degree and career in architecture, and didn't have the financial resources. Or her family also drove it home that single motherhood would be very, very hard. There is a difficult part where she finds out a professor was going to offer an attic apartment and childcare was sort of available, but this isn't discovered until after her son is placed and living out of state with his adoptive family. It's heartwrenching and she decides not to think on it because that didn't happen, but it seems that if she could have figured out a way to make it work she would have. I think this colors her perspective on open adoption a lot -- the fact that although she knows that Jonathan, her son, is part of this other family, and mothered day to day by this other mother of her own choosing, and he is healthy and strong and well cared for... she sees him as her son that she abandoned and left and feels intensely the pain of that rift every single time she visits. And, she isn't all that happy with architecture, which makes her feel guilty that she gave up this chance to mother for a degree she isn't even all that happy about. In fact, to me she really seemed like a lost soul a lot of the time. I sort of wanted to give her a hug. She probably wouldn't have let me. She seemed lost but also kind of prickly.

The relationship that Amy had with her son's adoptive family was so intriguing to me. It was open, open, OPEN adoption -- when she came to visit, she stayed overnight in the house with everyone for days and days. She was extended family pretty much immediately. Paula, Jonathan's adoptive mother, was very secure in her role as Jonathan's everyday mother, his mom, but also in believing that Amy was every bit also Jonathan's mother. I liked Paula, a lot, and I feel almost like she adopted Amy, too in a way, even though that sounds now in writing it kind of condescending and like Amy was super immature, which she wasn't. It makes it sound like I am designating Paula as somehow more than Amy, which isn't the case. Paula basically welcomed Amy into their family with open arms, as more than an arms-length, awkward setup. Paula had another daughter who she had adopted and then adopted another son throughout the course of the book -- and the birth parent situations were different in all of them. It was interesting to see how Amy navigated loving all of Paula's children in addition to the one she had birthed, and how the children navigated jealousies over Jonathan having such an involved birth mom. I was also amazed by how much Paula and her family integrated themselves with Amy's parents and grandparents, that it really was like one big extended family. I wasn't really sure, honestly, if this was more comforting, inspiring, or completely overwhelming to me as someone who is completely unsure of what my open adoption experience will look like. It was interesting to see Paula through Amy's eyes, and to see that Paula was one who urged Amy to write the book in the first place, even though there are so many moments that can seem judgmental and uncomfortable.

That's the thing... I don't think for me that I have the choice to be comfortable and ignore other perspectives and have a true open adoption experience. I could, I could stick my head in the sand and pretend that someone didn't feel like they were abandoning the baby that is being raised in my family, that people aren't looking at my book and thinking maybe we are full of ourselves or shouldn't have done infertility treatments, or that a family member or friend of a potential birth mother might not suggest that we are going against nature and becoming parents even though God decided we weren't fit (an ACTUAL statement made by someone, not Amy, in the book, that made me see red momentarily). I could pretend that my child won't have hard questions and hard feelings and question what it means to be "mom." Because we are pursuing open adoption, because we believe it's best for the child, we accept the complexity and the pain and the grief. We accept that we may feel insecure. That our child's birth mother may feel insecure. That we need to consider how much we need to become ambassadors for open adoption so that friends and family don't inadvertently say hurtful things about birth parents as a whole, and that this arrangement is HARD but it is NECESSARY for our child to be whole. (Necessary to us. I realize there are other opinions out there, but honestly open adoption in some form or another is becoming more and more the norm due to best practice and operating with the child first and foremost at the center.) Our arrangement (is it okay for me to call it an arrangement?) may not look like Amy's. Our situation may be totally different. It was just so interesting to peek into her mind, and see this one example of what a particular birth mother thinks and feels and does within all evolutions of that process. Of life. I think a lot of the hoopla surrounding the book is that people tend to see this book and go, "THIS IS WHAT ALL BIRTH MOTHERS THINK!" when the range of experiences is so vast. It's important to think about the impact of grief and making this decision, but also important to remember that Amy Seek is one of a very, very large number of people in similar shoes, more or less, all with their own stories. And maybe all this talking about Amy's story will open up more people to give their own perspectives. I think about infertility and how many different takes there are on that, and that I could read a zillion different blogs and books by women who have experienced infertility and not agree with all of the things said or decisions made.

I would get really angry sometimes reading the book, and share some of the things that bothered my with my husband. It stuck with me, and one point he said, "Is it such a good idea to read this book now?" Yes. I questioned it myself, and even in explaining the book to another woman going through the adoption process but in the earlier stages, I sounded waffly on whether or not I liked it or would recommend it. I think it is an important book to read and get your own take on. I think Amy's voice is interesting, and while I didn't always LIKE her, I respected her. I think it's a grain-of-salt kind of situation. I am glad I read it, even if it was really close to home and emotional and made me feel sensitive, it was like any other memoir in that it made me think about someone else's experiences, someone else's decisions, and gave me a little window into a life that's not mine. It granted me new perspectives. It opened my mind just a little bit more. Which is what any good book should do -- teach you a little something, leave you with more thoughts to think on.


  1. I like it when you write comments on my blog -- superlong or otherwise :-)

    And yes, I bet those passages of reviewing profiles and choosing parents would be excruciating for someone in that stage. Sounds like you did well at "hearing" but not internalizing the banter between her and her sister.

    And I really like how you point out that Amy Seek's is A story (not THE story), and how you viewed her relationship with your son's mom. Well done thoughts on this book.

    1. Oh good! I like leaving comments on your blog... :) This book definitely stuck with me, and even now I can't decide if I liked it. I definitely thought it was worth reading. And yeah, I probably could have timed reading it differently, because that whole section was just a tad terrifying. A lot of it was terrifying, but terrifying is good sometimes rather than hiding behind my pillow and not looking into aspects of open adoption that aren't quite so poster-perfect, edited to be cozy rather than brutally honest. I really appreciated her honesty, even if I didn't always appreciate what was said! :) Thanks for weighing in on my weigh-in... Ha

  2. Wow this sounds like a fascinating book, albeit difficult to read at times depending on your situation. I wonder if there are self-published memoirs out there by other birth mothers that you could read (if you were interested)?

    1. It really, really was fascinating. That's a great idea, I will look into the self-published arena! Also, I need to do more looking into birth mother blogs, which I hear are plentiful.