Saturday, 30 August 2008

Hangin' with my kitten

Trying to explain the irrational, intense love I have for my cat would take more time than I have right now. But today I had a great afternoon, sitting in the back garden just hanging with the cat. (Oh yes - we also had an Ethiopia PAP meetup, which was really good, despite a startling array of logistical disasters. Unfortunately the meetup was in Reading, where we live - only unfortunate because, due the logistical disasters, I doubt anyone will want to come back here again. As a disclaimer, I should probably say that I didn't organise it, and none of the disasters were really anyone's fault, but I think it's safe to guess that will be the last Ethiopia meetup that we will ever be able to walk to).

But the cat. Here's me and him enjoying the last of the summer.Watching him wandering around on the grass is surprisingly like watching a fish in a pond. Same random, bounded movement, same sinuous curves. But I've never yet met a fish who wanted to nuzzle me and purr, so I'll stick with the cat.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Not what I expected

At all. I went for lunch today and saw this :

along with sundry other unexpected birds of prey. (Just as well I had my phone, huh?) They were sitting on stands on a patch of grass in the middle of campus, with no explanation, accompanied by some guy in a white van who was standing there looking bored (and obviously surrounded by a crowd of confused onlookers). WHY??? What's going on??? I think I would know if we had a new department in outdoor avian studies. All I can think is that is related to the fact that the University has the immense privilege (cough) of hosting some kind of international role-play gaming convention this week - , and it's a shortish leap from role play gaming to medieval role play, from medieval role play to medieval jousting re-enactments, and from medieval jousting re-enactments to birds of prey. I guess.

It was still pretty weird though. There were eagles, too (against even less photogenic backgrounds) and they looked just as confused as I was.

[Edited later to add: as I left work, I saw that the convention was sponsored by the good folk at Dungeons and Dragons. So yep, 'nuff said].

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Stating the Obvious

I'm hardly the first person to point this out, but the joy of adopting does not make the pain of fertility dramas go away. I'm hoping it will make the pain of childlessness go away, but as anyone in my shoes knows, there's a lot more pain around fertility issues than just the fact that you don't have any children. There's hating your body for letting you down. There's hating everyone else for having bodies that don't let them down. There's hating yourself for hating everyone else. There's hating yourself for not wanting to spend any time with small children because it's too painful (which makes it difficult to prove to a social worker that you're going to be a great parent). There's hating the fact that you have a social worker at all. There's hating the fact that you have to plan your holidays around visits from aforementioned social worker. I should probably stop there, shouldn't I, before you you all fulfil the next point - everyone else hating you for being so self-pitying.

I've been struggling with this self pity thing for quite a while now - although maybe 'struggling' implies that I've been making more of an effort to conquer it than I really have. I've totally lost any perspective on what is grief and what is self-indulgence by now - the two have gotten so inextricably intertwined. It takes so little to tip me over the edge, and sometimes I feel like it's all tears, all the time.

Here's what feels like the hard part (apart from spending all my money on kleenex). From my own expectations, and those of others, I feel like I shouldn't be feeling any grief any more about any of the fertility stuff because we've started the adoption process. And I feel like I have to justify or legitimise it - which a very odd experience, and one that I don't recommend. But I'm realising more and more that adopting really, really isn't a replacement for doing things the normal way. It's great, but it's not a replacement. I'm not saying it's worse, but... it's not a replacement. Our bodies were designed to do this repoduction thing, and when this doesn't work properly, that's a really sad thing, independent of whether or not we adopt ten children.

I want this baby, the one we'll adopt rather than the one we would have conceived, really truly and honestly. But I want to hold him when he's just born. I want to breastfeed (without having to take a load of drugs). I want to be able to keep him safe when he's developing. I don't want him to have to live in an orphanage. Selfishly, I don't want a social worker to have to approve me to be his parent. And I want people to be as nice to me now, as an expectant parent, as they would if i was pregnant, and it hurts to know that they never will be.

Yes, I know that last point shows how shallow I am. And what is my problem, anyway? I never wanted to be one of those women who viewed pregnancy and birth as a competitive sport. I never wanted to say any of the following: "I ate only organic food when I was pregnant." "I didn't have anything vanilla-flavoured, because didn't you know vanilla is alcoholic?" "I bought a new car when we had the baby, because it had a better safety rating." "I took 4.2 hours of exercise each week, in eleven-minute bursts, because that provides optimal blood flow for foetal development" "We had 3 1/2 hours of family skin-to-skin bonding time straight after the home birth" " We hired someone else to paint the baby room, and we went away for the week to avoid the fumes" "We paid a composer to write 82 hours of music that were exactly at the tempo of the baby's heartbeat".

Okay, maybe I've never actually heard that last one.

But still, some days, I'm not quite sure where "Well, we went and picked the baby up from the orphanage at 8 months old - he had scabies and a life-threatening infection" is going to fit in with this when everyone swaps stories at mothers group.

And much as a roll my eyes at the more-organic-than-thou school of pregancy, I do feel like I've lost part of my mother-role by not being the one to protect this kiddo through from egg-meets-sperm to whatever age we finally bring it home. I need to keep reminding myself, again and again and again, that even if I could carry this child from the moment of conception, I could never truly keep it safe. That's not my job, not really - ultimately, it's not any parents job, whether parents by adoption or by birth. This came home to me with a resounding thud during church on Sunday. We were away for the weekend and visited another church and heard a sermon from Isaiah 46. The verses that really struck me were not the ones that the sermon concentrated on but v v 3-4:

Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save.

Not me. Him. Not even the birth mother. Him. As a baby: Him. And in old age: Him.

Sometimes it feels impossible, but I need to remember this. I need to replace my doubting with trust and my discontent with, well, more trust. Which is not to say that I'm suddenly not at all sad, but...I feel like it's a step in the right direction.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Book Review - There is no me without you

I've been reading so many adoption books since we started this process, and have donated such a lot of money to the good folk at Amazon, that I thought I should at least note which of these seemed worth the time. Anyone who's been thinking about Ethiopian adoption has certainly come across the book 'there is no me without you', by Melissa Fay Greene, so it seemed like this would be an obvious place to start.

Although when I say they have come across this book, it's not quite that simple. I suspect that when it was first published, it was done in a small way and it has been more successful than anticipated and thus re-printed about a gazillion times. Because of this, your copy may look like this (as either book or audio CD):

Or this:

Or this: (same picture, different font)

There are probably other covers out there that I haven't seen. And the multi-covers thing is fairly normal, I guess, but there's a complicating factor: like my copy, it could have the same picture as #2 and #3 but have a completely different title: 'Orphaned'. What the? I have NO idea what is going on with the two-title thing. The first title was a little odd (although makes sense after reading the book) but the second is really not an improvement. It makes this book look like it belongs to the 'poor-me' genre, which usually have a one word title, often a past tense verb, and outline the multitudinous childhood difficulties that the author has overcome in order to become the fabulous person they are today. These might include such titles as 'Neglected', 'Shamed', 'Overlooked', 'Forgotten' etc - yes, I did just make up those titles, but you know the books I'm talking about. And I'm not here to review those books, which is fortunate, because I can't stand them. Anyway, this book could not be any further from those, and its new stupid title is doing it a big disservice. Because, in a sentence, it is one of the best, most inspiring, most shocking, funniest, most moving and perception-altering books I have read for years.

A few months ago, J and I had made a pretty firm decision to adopt, and I was really keen for Ethiopia, but J wasn't quite sure. I read T I N M W Y and loved it. In fact, I drove J CRAZY by constantly quoting bits at him, which he really hates. When I finished it, I thrust it into his hands and said "Right, you HAVE to read this one". He rolled his eyes a bit, but took the book. A few days later, he actually started reading it and suddenly, HE was quoting bits at ME. The information about the HIV pandemic really affected both of us - living where we do, it's so easy to think of HIV as someone else's problem, and (worst of all, and I'm ashamed to admit this) a disease where the victims are all somehow at fault. This book completely changed that perception for me. I didn't even realise how much I had that perception until I read this book, and a book that can both show you your twisted thinking and begin to change it, well, that's a book to be treasured.

This book obviously hits a lot of people really hard. On the EthiopiaAdopt web group (which is a bizarre place, and I'm not sure I really recommend it) people occasionally post out of the blue and say 'I've just read the most amazing book! I'ts by Melissa Fay Greene! You all have to read it!' And of course, we all already HAVE read it so there is usually a bit of a collective eye-roll, but I think it's interesting that this doesn't seem to happen with any other book.

I totally agree with these people's fervour. I'd really like to recommend this book to everyone I know, sit them down, and force them all to read it. The only thing that gives me pause is that it is written from a really adoption-centric perspective. There is nothing wrong with this. The book doesn't claim to be a general book about HIV or Ethiopia - it is a book about a person (a pretty amazing person) and it accurately reflects both her life and the author's experience. And my perspective is pretty adoption-centric itself, so I'm definitely not one to complain. I'm just not sure that I can give this book to other people without them suspecting a subtext of 'you should be adopting an Ethiopian orphan!' And that would definitely not be my intention, but most of the happy bits of this book are about adoption. If you've read this, what did you think? Suitable for a general audience? More specifically, suitable for ME (or another adopter) to give to a general audience, or will people think we're trying to tell them something?

If you're reading this blog, but haven't read this book, get thee to Amazon and order it right now. Just make sure you've got someone else nearby so you can quote all the good bits at them.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

This may be a little premature

But I'm already making plans about what events I want to take our Ethiopian baby to go and see at the Olympics in London in 2012. (Of course, by then, hopefully they won't be a baby, unless this process takes even longer than I think it will. And who knows - by that stage, there might even be more than one of them).

The men's 10,000m is looking like a pretty good bet, based on the 2008 team's performance:

L-R) Seleshi Sihine (silver), Kenenisa Bekele (gold) and teammate Haile Gebreselassie celebrate. (Photo credit: Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

The women's 10,000 doesn't look like it would be time wasted, either:

Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia celebrates with a national flag after the final of women's 10000 meters at the National Stadium. Tirunesh Dibaba claimed the title with 29 mins
54.66 secs. (Xinhua/Liao Yujie)
BEIJING, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) --

Planning the events might be reasonable, but I have to admit that I've even planned the T-shirt he/ she is going to wear - ethio flag on the front, Union Jack on the back (unless this child is exceptionally rotund, I don't think there will be room for an Australian flag as well, so I'd better keep this a secret from my mother).

I'm so unreasonably pleased about these medals (why? why? I don't even like sport) and have to keep reminding myself not to mention them to anyone else. "Isn't it great about those Ethiopian medals yesterday!" "Err, no, Claudia, I don't actually care. Come to think of it - why do YOU care?" "...." (awkward silence) "no reason! I'm just suddenly really into endurance sports! It's definitely not because we're secretly planning to adopt a baby!"

Convincing, no?

Friday, 15 August 2008

At last

The sun is out again. Or was, briefly. Here's the evidence:

My feet at lunchtime. Look! Shadows!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Cloning my boss

I'm up late because I'm cloning my boss. Ha, ha, ha - I mean in the photoshop sense. Which still probably seems like an unexpected thing to be doing on a Wednesday night.

Some things you don't skimp on, in my opinion, and one of those is having your portrait done when it's going to hang around for EVER. But my boss has just been made into the university equivalent of a Duke or an Earl, and really is worried about the budget in his new fiefdom. And so while most people get this done professionally, he somehow talked me into taking his portrait for the University's corporate booklet. I'm sure I don't need to mention that I did it for free - although technically since the shot itself was on work time I guess not quite. (I don't recall signing up for the late night photoshop though).

He showed me the photos of the other senior people from the corporate booklet, and pointed out the photos that he liked. Unfortunately, they were all clearly taken in a studio with a full lighting setup and I had to gently explain that while I do now proudly possess a flash, I do not yet have £3000 worth of lighting gear. But nevermind. It was an extreeeemely strange experience (taking people's photographs usually involves lots of v. positive feedback to make them relaxed, and 'hey, you look really great!' just is NOT part of my normal conversation with my boss). It's done now, anyway, and it will certainly make an unorthodox addition to my list of responsibilities for my next CV. I'd paste it here, but... that just seems a bit too far on the wrong side of unprofessional.

I realised, though, that I never posted any photos of the wedding I took a few weekends ago. So, for your viewing pleasure, six that I liked.

But I'm too middle class to have a social worker...

or not, as it turns out, because we are now officially assigned. The meeting on Monday went fine, thankfully, and the assessment ball is now properly rolling. We've scheduled in our nine meetings, and most of them are on saturdays which means that we now barely have a free weekend between now and Christmas. I have very mixed feelings about all of this. I KNOW I should be feeling excited that something is finally happening, but I'm just not.

When we've told people about this process, several have said some variation on the theme of 'oh well, I guess they have to do it thoroughly' or 'If only all new parents had this much preparation!' I know they are only trying to be nice, but it's not really helping. Because, you know, maybe all new parents should go through all this, but we all know that they don't, so this hey-it-isn't-so-bad approach doesn't really make me feel any more chipper. I think what I wish they would say is 'Wow, that sounds really tiring and intrusive. What a pain!'

I know all that other stuff is true, by the way, just in case you're wondering.

The good news - and this really is excellent news - is that we have a date for our assessment panel meeting. January 7, 2009. Depending on what mood I'm in, that seems either really far away or really close - I can't quite make up my mind. But we had worried it wouldn't be until March, so I'm telling myself this is good. And it is. I really was worried about Monday, and now it's over it seems like it was such a small thing. I am thankful for how well it went.

Monday, 11 August 2008

This is why I missed the cat...

He's the most squeezable cat in the world, ever.
And yes, I know I'm becoming a crazy cat woman.
He's locked in the kitchen today,though, because J has hoovered the sofa in anticipation of our SW's visit tonight, and if he's allowed out he will instantly cover it in a thick layer of white fluff.
Saying I'm a bit nervous about this visit is like saying that my mother is a bit excited about another grandchild, or China spent a bit of money on the Olympics opening ceremony.
But I still feel a bit nervous.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Yesterday we went to adoption preparation day #2 (the third is next thursday). Exhausting. People at work asking me 'how was your day off' - errrrr, okay, thanks, and then I feel stupid because it wasn't a day off at all but I don't want to tell them why, and they think I'm some kind of weirdo who can't even manage to enjoy themselves on their day off when everyone else was slaving at work.

Actually, it was a pretty difficult day. We covered child discipline (important topic, but difficult in a large group where you know you're being assessed), loss for all parts of the adoption circle (birth parents, adoptive parents and children), child resilience and the top ten likely infectious / deadly diseases and lifelong developmental delays your child is likely to come home with (not actually called that, but basically that). It was a bit harrowing. We saw some films that were really interesting, but hard to watch, and as reflection, had to ask such straightfoward questions such as 'How do you feel about your future child's birthmother' (gosh, that was easy - no conflicting emotions there AT ALL).

Possible high point of yesterday - EXCELLENT sausage sandwiches for lunch in a pub across the road from the place we had the course. It was in Beaconsfield, which is a much nicer and posher than I had realised, so sausages were basically handmade by nuns at dawn and were amazingly delicious.

But now, back to work. I hate this time of year at work. Lots of people are off on holidays but for others of us (those who have anything to do with admissions) it is psycho crazy busy - A level results (that's the end of secondary school for any of you not in Britain) come out in less than a week and we have to decide who is being let in to University. (Practically everybody, it seems, probably best if I don't think about it). Big, final decision day is next wednesday, and I'm secretary to the committee that decides, so needing to take next Thursday off isn't the world's most fabulous timing. Am guessing Wednesday night might be quite a late one writing minutes and sorting out spreadsheets. I wish it was over. (Wishing my life away is obviously a very constructive way to deal with my problems).

We're going to Sheffield this weekend to see J's brothers. I really don't feel like actually going all the way up there, but I'm also really looking forward to it. It will be great to have a weekend away and be physically removed from some of this week's sources of stress, eg work, and probably eat a lot of croissants, which is what we normally do when we go to Sheffield, for some reason. J's brothers are very hot on the breakfast pastries, probably because their metabolisms resemble that of a family of cheetahs so they can eat all the calories they like, guiltfree. I keep on hoping that marriage into this family will eventually rub off on my DNA because darnit, I love those croissants. We don't have anything that we actually need to do on the Saturday, so hopefully will be able to do not much and maybe nose along the Ecclesall road at some of the surprisingly nice shops they have there, which we always seem to be driving past on our way somewhere else. Apparently there is a good chocolate cafe- hopefully I can go there with nice sympathetic SIL while J hammers or drills something with his brother.

Our social worker is coming for the first time on Monday and it is traditional to go MAD with the cleaning beforehand, but we're not going to be around so it won't be possible- this is probably a very good thing.

I'm sure going to miss the cat though. This is the first time we've left him, and we're getting a nice friend to come and feed / pat him. It's embarrassing how sad I feel about not seeing him for 48 hours.

Anyhoo. In any case. It's Friday! Hurrah.