Not Your Average Mother’s Day Poems

Written by Danelle Henden. Depression has been something I’ve struggled with since I was 5 years old. I don’t truly know if it was a chemical imbalance or the emotional and sexual trauma that I experienced from that age to my teen years. It can be hard to sit and write about things so hard to process, you deal with them still almost 30 years later. I used poetry as an outlet, so in honor of that, I have a few poems now that may hint at the topic. I hope they are as well received as my blog post.

May be an image of Shanyce Henley

Lost in Sadness
Where is happiness I should like to go there to feel alive
However, Did I miss a turn and go down depression drive
Where are the cheerful trees, these are all full of Despair
Why are these streets so despondent, is there something in the air
Why can’t I find joy? Is it hiding somewhere?
I’ve searched for so long and sent up so many prayers
Is there a quota I didn’t fill or a requirement unmet
Is it like credit and I just have a negative Joyfulness debt
How long do I have to spend jailed in melancholy
Before I’m release and free to enjoys smile and be jolly
Why is it free for some and expensive for others
Is not consistent not even with Sister’s and Brothers
I’d like to be happy consistently so
I’d like the direction, can you tell me, do you know?


May be an image of Shanyce Henley

Mother

Am I a mother can that be so
I gave birth but I also watched you go
Am I a mother can I call me one
I felt you kick but still my dependents are none
Am I a mother can it be true
I show you love but I’ve never kissed wound
Am I a mother what does it mean
I see you but will you still care when you’re a teen
Am I a mother even on mother’s day
I worry like one but do you know of my display
I am a mother that’s what I believe
I care as such, love as much, and will never leave
I am a mother untraditionally so
That doesn’t make me less than just different, you know.
I am a mother, my kids have two
They are doubly loved because That’s what mothers do.

That uncomfortable feeling has a name

In some ways, the year 2020 has been a long tutorial in grief, and that has helped me process so much of what I experienced during the adoption process. I now realize that, weird as it sounds, I grieved the loss of being pregnant. When Dawn was a baby, a friend joked that I’d gotten away with something by skipping the pregnancy, but that wasn’t how I felt at all. I had imagined for years, in a wistful and romantic way that really is pretty funny, about the wonder of bringing a new life into the world. Would I be sick every morning? Would I be so round that seatbelts wouldn’t fit? Would I have a “happy pregnancy” without complications? I will never know.

Dawn, age 10 months

And that goes for the biological kids that we might have had. Would they have looked more like me or like Ron? Would they have inherited any of our talents? Would they have had birth defects or disabilities? Would we have been able to raise them more easily, or would we have stifled them with expectations? What would it have been like to be a family that did all look like each other—that didn’t have to explain—that enjoyed privileges that so many families don’t even realize they have? Again, I will never know, and these things too I grieved.

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Then again, who would we have been, had we not been so shaped by this process and by our actual (and amazing—just slipping that in here) family? Ron mused the other day that he might even be back on the square of wondering what the Black Lives Matter fuss was about. Perhaps a version of himself in an alternate universe is sipping cognac with other law partners (because that’s what they do, right?) and having a purely theoretical discussion about the ontological implications of BLM rhetoric before leaving the office for his biological daughter’s ballet recital. (Insert eye roll.) He likes to say that, if there were some metaphysical “best possible lives” contest, he won it—his actual current life is the best one he can imagine.

I don’t know if he didn’t experience grief or if he just moved through the stages to acceptance and meaning faster than I did. Heck, I didn’t even know meaning was a stage until earlier this year (see David Kessler’s work at http://www.grief.com). Back when we were in the messy and drawn-out adoption process, I didn’t recognize my own grief, didn’t know how to explain what I was feeling, didn’t even know there was a process. Thankfully, I do now.

Depression

Written by Danelle Henden. Depression is like being in the middle of the ocean. You try your hardest to swim out of it, but it never feels like you have made it anywhere.

I’ve dealt with depression since I was a child. It has a revolving door entry into my life. When I became pregnant, I was already dealing with one of the lowest moments of my life. I had been on academic probation because I wasn’t doing well, but I didn’t change my major. I met the twins’ father during this low point, and at that point, I just wanted a win. I wanted to feel loved, and I wanted to feel like I could succeed at something. However, obviously this was not the best situation for me, and it left me pregnant, lonely, and more depressed.

From the fourth grade on, I had wanted twins. I even wrote out their names – and there I was, pregnant with twins. Except I had no money, no job, no degree, no house, no care, and no positive outlooks on life at that time.

I was not prepared to speak light into these kids’ life when all my outlooks were covered in darkness and negativity.

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Most hard decisions come with a lot of mixed emotions, and deciding to place is no different. I felt trepidation, anxiety, grief, love, and an all-encompassing sadness. However, I decided what I had at that moment vs. what I felt my children deserved did not match.

Placing is one of the most difficult experiences to go through. I sobbed – absolutely sobbed – when I was face to face with two separate release forms to sign away my rights.

However, with each downward spiral, you get an upswing after. My upswing was finding a family that wanted me included in their family. It was seeing the smiles on the twins’ faces when I showed up. It is looking in their little faces and knowing I made the right decision.

I can finally smile without sadness about my situation.

Almost despairing

She’s a natural. No, really.

For a couple years, our Saturday mornings were all about hip hop dance. Ron and I would take turns (depending on whatever else was going on) taking the kids to classes at Supreme Dance Studio, where I looked forward to seeing my kids enjoy a serious workout while gaining some great skills and a bit of finesse. I also looked forward to chatting with other grown-ups, especially another mom of a transracial adoptee. This mom had gone with an international adoption, she confided, because she needed more certainty in the process: there were set forms and fees, a certain amount of time before getting approval and filling out more forms, etc. She needed to know, in short, how long she’d be waiting.

I could understand. The uncertainty of domestic adoption is not for everyone. In fact, I’m kind of surprised any of us make it through the process unscarred. From the time that we completed our trainings, evaluations, forms, payments, etc., until we held Dawn in our arms was actually only four or five months. It felt like decades.

Initially, it was an emotional rollercoaster of epic proportions. To say that I cried every day is maybe an exaggeration, but only a slight one. Before our portfolio was shown to a prospective birthparent, we were told some basic facts about the situation and asked whether we wanted to be considered. We said yes every time – only to be told no, they had gone with someone else or decided to leave the program altogether.

As any new parent knows, I was an idiot. I should’ve been out living it up, packing in late-night concerts and shows, exploring the jazz clubs and all-night diners, in every corner of the city. Instead, after a dizzying rush to finish and defend my dissertation, I found myself in a kind of existential freefall. I applied for jobs but didn’t get interviews. I couldn’t even get volunteer organizations to call me back. I had too much time on my hands and no direction, which is a very weird place to be weeks before graduating with a doctorate. And as a result, all I could think about was the baby we couldn’t plan for.

It became harder and harder to get out of bed, to make a shopping list, to pay bills. Uncertainty and vagueness swallowed up my days, and crying was almost the only thing that helped. Ron’s unfailing optimism didn’t comprehend what I was experiencing, but he was patient and pulled us through to that amazing moment when our adoption counselor said, “She wants to meet you.”

A six-hour drive for a maybe? You bet!

2010

Ron very much wanted more kids and so, shortly after Dawn’s second birthday, we opened our search again. This was in 2010, and the adoption landscape had begun its radical transformation. There weren’t many birthparents choosing adoption, at least not through our agency. Our new counselor encouraged us to put up an online portfolio, but we were uncomfortable with the whole idea. This time, it was Ron who started to feel the despair. While my friends sent me encouraging articles about raising an only child, Ron became somewhat despondent, unwilling to concede his dream of a big, boisterous family but also feeling increasingly unable to make it happen. This sense worsened when, after meeting with a birthmom whose expected mixed-race baby seemed a perfect sister for our Dawn, she decided against us.

And then, on the Winter Solstice of 2010, a single phone call changed everything.

Choices

Written by Danelle Henden. When I was 9 or 10 years old, I wanted twins and I had the names picked out – the first name and the middle name but no last name as of yet. It is funny how life plays out. When I found out I was pregnant, I thought it was God’s idea of a cruel joke. I got exactly what I asked for when I was 9 but at a time when I couldn’t take care of them. I felt like a failure (I still do at times).

Almost one year old!

When you have to decide whose Ideals and morals will be the guiding force on how your child turns out, it’s one of the hardest decisions that could be made. However, as a birth mother I didn’t really get a long time to decide on what I wanted. I had very strong beliefs on a few things. I needed the family to believe in God, I needed it to be a two-parent household, and I needed them to be open to open adoption.

August 2020

Since I didn’t know that I was truly pregnant till around 22 to 23 weeks (as I was still getting a cycle, plus I had a week or two of denial as I felt things moving and kicking in there), I put it off but I finally went to a doctor. It took a few weeks to comprehend, then get connected with an agency once I made my choice to do adoption. I went into labor at about 30 weeks or so, which left me in the hospital picking portfolios.

I knew what my hard no’s were, and I was preparing myself to have to take these babies home as I refused to have them in the system. The social worker showed me 2 portfolios of families who wanted open adoption. I couldn’t hardly read them through my tears – I just prayed and looked at the photos. I told my social worker, “I just want to see the kids sometimes.” She took one portfolio back and said the Lundeens will be perfect.

Dusk on the Pacific, August 2020

Best decision ever!

Choosing to be chosen

Nothing kills a conversation quite like the topic of infertility, at least in my experience. Well-meaning but nosy older relative: “So why are you putting off having kids?” Me: “Actually, I had surgery for an ovarian cyst a couple months ago and…” Result: silence.

I learned pretty quickly to substitute this response: “Well, Ron and I haven’t quite figured out that sex thing yet.”

Alaska 2007

The experience of infertility lets you know, in no uncertain terms, that you don’t always get to choose how your life unfolds. Choices that you took for granted might not be options at all. When it became clear that several thousand dollars and at least two surgeries stood between us and a possible pregnancy, we decided to pursue adoption instead.

Far from being a final choice, that was just the start of a whole labyrinth of further decisions. Domestic or international? If domestic, foster or private? If private, which agency—or no agency? Infant or older? Single or siblings? Open or closed? Interracial? Disabled?

Corn maze!

Some of these decisions were easy: either one of us had a firm opinion that the other didn’t oppose, or we somehow already agreed. Ron very much wanted an infant, as close to birth as possible, and that desire made other choices for us. Primarily, it determined that we should go with a domestic adoption. Another easy decision for us was which genders and races we would consider. Ron and I were on the same page here—the answer was any! It didn’t seem right to us to judge a baby based on either of these factors. (Looking back, I realize that we were naïve, and deeply privileged, to think that it didn’t matter, because we can’t fully comprehend what our kids experience in growing up non-white and with relatively clueless white parents to boot. But that understanding wouldn’t have changed our response.)

Other choices caused days of debate and soul-searching. I was hurt by Ron’s refusal to consider a disabled child, for example, given the fact that I was a disabled child myself and that disability can happen anytime to anyone. For his part, Ron didn’t understand why I wanted an open adoption. He hadn’t talked to as many adoptees, nor did he have that felt sense that a mother should be allowed to see her child, no matter the circumstances. Fortunately, he came around on that one.

But, again, we weren’t really in the driver’s seat. Our choices would only get us so far. At the time—namely, 2007—domestic infant adoption was expensive and unpredictable. We did our part: medical and psychological evaluations, background checks, parent trainings, home inspections. We put together a portfolio with about a dozen pages of pictures and a page where we tried to sound exciting and full of adventure, rather than old and desperate.

And we waited. Our fate was out of our hands—which is a totally dramatic overstatement, but one that is somehow totally accurate, too.

Somebody in your corner

Written by Danelle Henden. One of the most consistent questions I get, once I tell someone my story, is, “Did you have any support?” The answer… Not really! I was totally in the closet about my pregnancy. I was very fearful of people’s opinions of me if they found out. I was a first-generation college student, and everyone had high hopes for me. Everyone expected me to go places, and here I was staring at being a statistic. I wasn’t going to finish college — I had no degree, no job, no car, and no place to live. So it was back with my mom. I managed to hide my pregnancy from a mother, from my friends, and from all my family.

I finally broke down and told one of my closest friends, Whitney. The amusing thing (but not really) about it is, the day after I told her, my water broke. As someone who went through all of my pregnancy without any real support, I can testify that it is immensely important to have somebody in your corner, if only just to listen to you. I neglected to do that for myself. I can say that pregnancy was one of the worst moments of my life. It’s like I put myself on a boat with no paddles and I expected to travel. However, obviously, I didn’t get very far.

After I told Whitney, she came to the hospital to see me the next day. She reacted as I thought she would — she was very shocked and surprised but supportive nonetheless.

When I gave birth the next day (two days after being admitted) at 5 in the morning, there was no one there with me in the hospital. It’s a bit terrifying after the fact. I remember the chill that I had after having the babies as the doctors tried to staunch the blood loss. I remember my eyes felt so heavy that I can hardly remember the blood transfusion that was necessary. It’s scary to think I could have been gone from this world and only one person would have known to inform my family. To think, if I’d waited any longer to tell her, no one would have known.

I say all this to say: it’s okay to ask for help! It’s okay to ask a loved one or friend for support! It is okay and it is necessary to have someone in your corner. Doing everything alone is just contrary to who we are as humans. We are social creatures, we desire other people in our lives, and we need their support.

I learned that the hard way, and I’m writing it down so maybe someone else doesn’t have to.

A few months later….

/

Caregiver

When we brought Dawn home, we had three things prepared: a small bag of diapers, a hand-me-down bassinet, and a knit hat. Our adoption counselor had advised us against buying more things, in case Dawn’s birthmother changed her mind. We even had to borrow the car seat.

At the hospital, 2008

But that wasn’t the only way we were unprepared. I remember reading that parents of newborns often dramatically underestimate the effects of sleep deprivation. Yup. We were also unprepared with any childcare plan other than ourselves. I took a maternity leave of sorts, in that I was supposed to teach Women in Literature for the first summer term and gave up the class. I wasn’t assigned any further courses for the year, and so – given that Ron needed to keep working – I was pretty much Dawn’s only care provider. A stay-at-home parent of a newborn may dramatically underestimate how difficult this newfound position is. We did not want to make this mistake twice, especially with twins.

 Fortunately, a friend of a friend knew someone who might help. Were we interested in a few hours a week with an African-American grandmother who had made it her mission to help white adoptive parents with their newborns?

And how!

We knew we needed support, if just so I could get a nap or run to the drugstore. But we didn’t know that we also needed a cultural education. Melanin dries skin out – unlike Dawn, my twins needed sensitive-skin baby wash and an oil-drum-sized bottle of baby oil. And the hair moisturizers? Almost a degree program itself. Those little baby brushes with the silky bristles? Pointless.

Not often Dani’s favorite thing

And then there was that exceptional care. Bathing, feeding, getting them to sleep – she had so much to teach me! And she was truly the baby whisperer – she would calm the fussiest child, which is what Darnell was after a bath (that kid really hated water). She was so particular about their food, their clothes, their schedule. She touched every part of our lives, even stepping in to help with the laundry or dishes. And it was an utter godsend, especially once I did go back to teaching.

But this was only the beginning — she had even more to teach us. Born in Kansas City in the first wave of the baby boom, she had had a front-row seat for the Civil Rights era. She had captivating stories of struggle and of triumph. I mentioned in an earlier post that this wasn’t her first career. She had retired from an oil company, where she had been “the first Black woman” over and over again. Her favorite first was her position as the front-door receptionist. She read the Wall Street Journal every morning, in order to make polite conversation – and to stick it to the blowhards (and racists) who assumed she was just a pretty face.

And, astonishingly, she had also been adopted. What an amazing gift, to bring that additional wisdom and experience into our lives! Her adoptive parents (who were distantly related to her birthmother) didn’t tell her until she was sixteen, when they sprung the situation on her over Sunday dinner. As I remember the story, her response was along the lines of, “Well, that figures. Please pass me the chicken.”

She had built a solid relationship with her birthmother as an adult, a journey which she shared with me – and she shared memory after memory of her beloved adoptive mom, too. Her relationship with us has evolved, from the hands-on care of those early years to one of mentorship and support from afar. I think of her as my second mother. And as she herself said, she will always be our Wonder Woman!

We love you, Marie!

Unconventional Triplets

2014

Written by Danelle Henden. When you go through an adoption process, you focus a lot on losing your kids, losing the opportunities. However, in my experience, I have gained a kid to love. My relationship with Dawn was a bit touch and go at first. She was so smart and so expressive, but I could tell when she would see me and wonder where her birthmom was. I remember the dread in my heart from the look in her eyes. I just knew that, if she started having issues with me being there, I may not be able to come around anymore for her emotional well-being.

I started to empathize with how she must feel, and it strengthened my resolve to never allow the twins to feel that from me. It also empowered me to help Dawn know that she was loved. She became my little buddy.

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I would make sure to include her in all the things I did. I wanted her to know that I wasn’t just an adult that cared about the twins. I cared about all of them. I would make sure to bring Dawn a small gift on the twin’s birthday, especially since I usually was not in the states to attend her birthday.

I was an only child, so I never got the sibling experience, and being around all the kids makes me extremely grateful that Dawn is there to help and teach the twins.

Halloween 2011

In my mind, Dawn is another child of mine, and I love her just as much as the children I gave birth to. It was Nelson Mandela who said, “History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children.” I pray that I am a positive difference in all of the kids’ lives because they have certainly changed mine for the better

It’s not easy being Dawn

Dawn learned to crawl at 7 months. I am not exaggerating. She had been trying for a while, with various scoots and lurches. But then she observed the trot of my brother’s Pomeranian (a fluffball of very little brain) and something clicked. Again, I am not exaggerating. The poor dog had to learn to move faster to stay away from Dawn’s eager fingers.

Dawn & Evie, December 2008

Dawn has loved dogs from that day.

When she was a toddler, I used to take her to visit a friend’s dog, a beautiful retriever-shepherd mix with yellow fur, about once a week. We would also dog-sit a friendly golden retriever on occasion. It wasn’t until we moved to Skokie that we seriously considered getting our own dog, and we ended up with two, thanks to my aunt. They were absolutely the apple of Dawn’s eye. Sadly, one passed away last summer, but we had already given in to her pleas for another dog … not to mention the guinea pigs and chickens …

July 2020

Dawn’s love of animals is a refuge for her in her storm-tossed inner world. She is emotional about pretty much everything, even while complaining that her life “needs more drama.” And did I mention that she is still genuinely mourning the lack of real magic in the world? The smallest, simplest moment can unleash overwhelming emotion, and we are talking negative emotion. Sooner or later, she will say something that clues me in: whatever this appears to be about, it’s actually about abandonment.

For example, there was the recent dad-and-kids bike ride. Dawn did not want to go. She argued, pouted, cried, and shouted until she finally took off on her bike by herself. Ron shrugged and left with the twins. Twenty minutes later, I was holding a sobbing, thrashing twelve-year-old who was desperate to cross the highway on her own to find them. They had abandoned her, she kept saying. Even though she had thrown an hour-long fit and had left going who-knows-where and …

Yeah. Intense hardly begins to cover it.

Until learning about it from Joyce Pavao, I didn’t know that it’s very typical for adopted kids to have anxiety issues centered on loss and abandonment. It’s also typical for them to be packrats. Both are true for Dawn, whereas only the latter is true for all three of our kids. I credit the involvement of Danelle in her children’s lives for mitigating the former. And I give Danelle and her mother so much credit for always treating Dawn like their own. They have gone out of their way to make sure Dawn knows they love her, especially when it comes to presents – even on the twins’ birthday!

Dawn often feels “in between,” even though she’s the oldest child. She is literally in between child and teen – and she talks a lot about being a “tween.” She is the not-twin and the not-adult in the house, doing the hard work of figuring out who she is. To navigate these years, I would really love to have the insights that her birthmom might be able to share.

As it is, I am so grateful to have Danelle’s support in negotiating the choppy preteen waters. She has stepped up to being a mentor to Dawn, connecting with her over a mutual love of games and reading (they are both into fantasy books) and always offering an ear when Dawn most needs to be heard.