Friday, May 4, 2012

April 23rd-29th : The Conference

I feel terribly disorganized and unsettled lately, and I think the first thing to do is to fix these problems within my own mind.  Often, that means writing everything down.  I fear this is going to be a rather long and jumbled post, so if you feel like going on an adventure, then by all means, keep reading.

You're still with me?  Thanks, friend.  :)

Wow, even now you're still reading.  I haven't bored you yet.  Just wait.

Things have felt totally crazy since last week.  The beginning of last week.  First, I want to mention that the lab I work for has been planning a move into our new building for several months now.  This move was carefully calculated to happen over a weekend so that none of our clients were negatively affected in any way and we got all our specimens processed in the regular timeframe.  This was complicated by the fact that the owner, Dr. S., chose THE. SINGLE. WEEKEND. all year that I was going to be out of town, to do the move over.  I'd already requested off several days to attend the American Adoption Congress' Mile High Expectations annual conference in Denver, CO.  And of course the move got scheduled for while I was gone.  For me, that turned out pretty great because I didn't have to do the heavy lifting or put in the fourteen hour days that my coworkers did... except that I was trying to help them and feeling really guilty that they were to be shorthanded on the ONE weekend they needed me most.  But I'd already paid my entrance to the conference and had plane tickets, so I was not present during the laboratory move.

Last Wednesday, April 25th, T drove me to the airport after two solid days of both of us working our fingers to the bone to get enough product ready to sell.  I was taking STAR necklaces, pins, and bookmarks to sell at the conference and represent One Little Starfish, LLC.  (  It was actually the very first time I'd flown by myself.  Odd.  Needless to say, I managed fine and caught all the right planes and didn't get kidnapped by rogue taxi drivers or anything of the sort.

The American Adoption Congress (AAC) conference began on Wednesday, but I didn't arrive in time to participate on Wednesday.  Thursday was my first full day of conference activities.  (Interesting note: I'd never been to a conference of any sort, either!)  The conference went all the way through Sunday afternoon. My parents had flown into Denver on Monday, as my illustrious mother is on the AAC Board of Directors (she's also an author!) and they had meetings prior to the conference.

The mere idea, right now, of going through and recapping each day in chronological order, is boring and exhausting to me.  If it bores me to THINK about writing it, I'm certainly not going to subject anyone else to reading my summation.  Therefore, I now present you with: AAC conference "snapshots" of A's mind!

Preface: It'll probably seem weird to many of you that the experiences I had that stick out most prominently aren't memories from workshops.  Maybe it *is* weird.  But this is my experience, and my thoughts on why these things affected me most.

*On my flight home, I was seated next to one of the U of A men's rugby players - he slept the whole way.  Somehow, I'd managed to score a seat in the first row, in a wider seat with "stretch" legroom on my Frontier flight.  I didn't pay extra for this, or specify it ahead of time.  I just got amazingly lucky.  (The rugger next to me made sure to say hello to the rest of his team as they boarded the plane!  They were all quite jealous of his prime seating.)  So on this extra comfortable and convenient seat, I took out a small journal and began jotting down things I wanted to remember.  I'd attended only three full days of conference, and yet it felt as if I'd been gone from my wife for weeks.  I surprised myself with the things I remembered and wanted to write about.  Here they are (some of them), in the order I wrote them down.

*Carol - the only 15 year old boy in a 66 year old grandmother's body I've ever met.  This woman, my Carol, spent much of our time together blowing my mind.  Truly, Carol, I love you dearly and you made such an impact on me and I have such fond memories of you!  I met Carol in the Book Room, which was my father's contribution to the conference.  Carol was selling her adoption jewelry and a book she wrote, which regrettably didn't make it from the printer in time to be sold at the conference, but yet she did manage a few presales.  Carol is youthful and energetic, full of stories and life and exuberance.  She wore me out, and I'm 25.  She was a drinking, cussing, hula-hooping, dancing fool!  Carol also has a wit that'll splice a hair in half, and a sense of humor so dry you'll need lotion if you're spending an extended amount of time with her.  The things that came out of your mouth shocked me into silence a few times, Carol, and that is a major accomplishment.  Kudos to you, my dear!  I hope I'm half as lively as you when I'm 66.  (The lighting wasn't great, which is why mostly we've just got blurry cell photos - that and Carol never holds still!)

Yep, that's actually a single hula hoop that has a collapsible "travel" feature!  Go Carol!

*Mom punching Leah in the nose.  A friend of my mom's, Leah, was making the rounds and saying her goodbyes at Saturday night's dance party and apparently my mom was overly exuberant, and instead of throwing her arms around Leah she managed to land a fist right on Leah's nose!  I glanced over at them and saw them both crying - bear in mind, crying was not abnormal at this conference, so I wasn't concerned.  But then I noticed they weren't sad... they were laughing so hard that they could scarcely breathe.  Tears streamed down their faces and only increased as they shared the punching story with everyone else.

*Zach's song and hearing him sing karaoke.  A newfound friend of Leah's - Zach.  An 18 year old man with a kind and friendly face.  Zach and his birthmother, Michelle, were attending the conference together for the first time.  Zach is an amazingly talented songwriter/singer/musician, we came to find out.  He allowed me the pleasure of listening to a song he'd written and played and sung and recorded himself - I was moved to tears by its raw honesty.  Prior to hearing his song, he had snuck up to the DJ booth and signed up to sing Matchbox 20's "Unwell", so as he began to sing we didn't realize it was Zach.  Our group had spent the evening mocking the horrific karaoke singers we'd been cursed with so far, so this fresh and talented voice was like cool water.  Once we realized it was our Zach, the performance took on a new level of intimacy within our group.  Zach has the ability to be so incredibly truthful and real, and he transferred it into his rendition of  "Unwell".  As some of you know, the lyrics go like this,
"I'm not crazy, I'm just a little unwell
I know right now you can't tell
But stay awhile and maybe then you'll see
a different side of me."
Which I thought was a very appropriate song to sing at the end of a very emotional conference, particularly for Zach, who it seemed had made a lot of discoveries about himself and life over the previous few days.  It was a shockingly impactful performance; it moved many of us to tears as we watched his soul pour out of his body.  Zach: you are an amazing person.  I am so excited to see what comes next for you.

*Dinner at La Fogata.  Thursday night, Dad and I found ourselves to be 2 out of a party of 6 people for dinner.  It started as just Leah and us, and then Leah ended up making several invitations and before we knew it, we were having dinner with 3 strangers and one person we'd met only the day previously.  Ohhhhhkay, sure.  (Carol is from Maine, Zach and Michelle are from New Hampshire, Leah lives outside of D.C., and Dad and I are of course, from Arizona!)  Actually, it ended up being a super fantastic time, everyone at dinner was so different and interesting and HILARIOUS that I don't think any of us particularly wanted it to end.  Except that some films were being shown that evening back at the hotel, so we had to get back somewhat quickly.  The three young'uns (Me, Leah, and Zach) had walked over because Carol's little rental car only seated five.  But we didn't have enough time to really walk back so... what to do?  Myself, Leah and Carol had shared a pitcher of margaritas among the three of us (AMONG, not BETWEEN because BETWEEN pertains to only two people - thanks Leah) and none of us were fit to drive.  Dad and Michelle had beers, which left Zach.  The only one too young to drink.  He became our designated driver.  Dad sat in the front seat with him to navigate.  I sat "on the hump" in the backseat, Leah to my left and Michelle to my right.  There wasn't any room for Carol in her own rental!  Before I could suggest some kind of solution, here comes Carol, diving across our laps.  She ended up laying on her back over the three of us, Leah holding her head so it didn't hit into the door.  Zach carefully drove us back to the hotel in this ridiculous arrangement.  We were all laughing so hard, it's a miracle we didn't cause Zach to drive over several curbs.  We did manage to make it back in time to view the films, too!  All's well that ends well.

*Meeting people in the Book Room.  As I mentioned before, Dad was running the Book Room - which is a room, full of books, incidentally.  Okay, really it's a place where people can sell their books/CDs/films/whatever that is associated with the adoption community, but they have to be an attendee at the conference in order to sell their stuff.  I was selling One Little Starfish stuff, and had arrived Wednesday night to set it all up.  Thursday there wasn't much going on, workshop-wise, that I was interested in, so I spent the day with Dad, officially opening the Book Room and helping however I could.  "Helping" turned out to mean more than I'd bargained on, but I was really happy I could be useful rather than a bump on a log.  As people began to filter through the Book Room, I got to make several new friends.  I met so many people through the Book Room, it was incredible!  M.J., who encouraged me to attend the Michigan Womyn's Festival in 2013 and do a workshop with her about donor conception.  Casey, with the most incredible blonde ringlet-ed curls and brightest blue eyes - and who could forget her awesome black leather jacket and tie-dye skirts?!  Carrie, who has written her own memoir but was struggling with what to title it.  Kris, one of the women giving workshops on donor conception.  Amanda, who is an artist and sells inspiration-themed work ( and gave me one of her wonderful "Mental Block"s.  Phyllis, another presenter focusing on donor conception and infertility.  Tall and hilarious red-headed Macy, a friend of my mom's.  My dad worked so hard on the Book Room, and it really showed.  I loved dearly that I was able to spend so much time working alongside him.  I think my favorite part was when I got to tell people who my parents are.  Brings a smile to my face!

*Being so proud of my mother.  My mom is an author.  She wrote a memoir about learning she was adopted late in life (a Late Discovery Adoptee, or LDA) and even more difficult than that, she continues to promote it and herself.  My mom has always been a writer, for as long as I can remember.  It's only been recently that she's authored a book and gotten it published, but I always figured the book part was a foregone conclusion.  She loves to write, it fills up her soul.  However, she doesn't love self-promotion.  She isn't a lover of the spotlight, or a saleswoman.  I know she has to convince herself to get out there and promote the book.  When people ask her to sign their copies of her book, she finds it extremely odd because, like she says, "I'm just one of you guys; we're all the same."  When I stepped foot into the Denver Tech Center for this conference, I felt like hundreds of people already knew me.  I felt so special, so privileged because my mom is the Secretary of the board!  My mom wrote a book!  My mom tells everyone about me and T and our baby!  My mom, whose heart has a never-ending amount of space for new people and new stories.  Whose love is limitless.  Whose selflessness is staggering.  Whose work ethic is incredibly strong.  My mom, who helped to make my body, who helped form my spirit - she's mine.  Her DNA is part of my DNA.  Her roots (or lack of roots) are mine.  Mom, I'm so proud of you and all your accomplishments and I'm SO proud to be YOURS!

* The Mom Mafia.  My mother has a group of birthmoms who she is incredibly close with, whom as a group my father has affectionately nicknamed "The Mom Mafia".  She wouldn't be where she is right now without all her Moms - thank you all so much for taking my mother in under your wings!  I had such a wonderful time meeting many of you.  I hope to see you all again soon.

*My new friend, Sukari.  I met Sukari and Leah both on Wednesday night, as my parents and I were finishing up dinner in the hotel restaurant, Garrity's.  Sukari, I learned, is a Late Discovery Adoptee.  She also is gay.  She and her partner are talking about trying to have a baby of their own in the somewhat near future, so as you can all imagine Sukari and I had a TON to talk about.  We spent many workshops together and had several dinners together.  She and I went to all the donor conception workshops, and my mom even tagged along to the "Let's Start a Donor Revolution" panel discussion Friday night.  Sukari is tall and expressive and gorgeous and funny as shit.  Lady, I had such a great time with you and I hope there's a baby in your belly sooner rather than later.

*Feeling out of place.  I've learned that there are a lot of ways to "fit in" at an adoption conference - it's all about your connection to adoption.  When I introduced myself, it typically went like this, "I'm A from Arizona and I'm the biological child of a Late Discovery Adoptee as well as the soon-to-be mother of a donor-conceived individual."  Though I have a two-pronged entrance into Adoption-Land, still I felt like an outsider.  I never got around to discussing this with Dad; I wonder if he feels the same.  By the end of the conference, I was struck by the number of attendees who had life-altering, mind-blowing incredible personal growth experiences.  I was even more struck by the fact that I hadn't.  That, in and of itself, was fine - but I felt like a stranger poking my face into an intimate family affair.  I got to witness all these terribly emotional and personal journeys that people are taking, and the best (and maybe harshest) analogy I can come up with is that it's like a larger-than-life version of going to the zoo.  I see the animals, I read their placards about where they're from and what they eat, but I don't live their lives.  I get to leave the zoo at the end of the day.

Adoptees are forever adoptees.  Their feelings of loss and abandonment and betrayal aren't only felt once, or even only once a day.  These are their lives.  Being an adoptee, or a birth parent, or an adoptive parent... those are experiences that make up the fabric of life, of each and every moment of every day for the rest of the days they're fortunate enough to walk this earth.  It's not something to simply be "dealt with" and then move on.  I guess that's the biggest thing I learned; not to say that I didn't know it before - but to know it isn't necessarily to live it.  I feel it on a different level now than I ever did before.

I can account for every day in my life.  Every day, I've known who my parents are.  I know who felt my first kicks while I grew in my mother's womb.  I know who saw me be born into this world.  I know whose laughter and funny voices taught me about the humor in life.  I know whose lips kissed my face as a baby.  I know who soothed my cries, who dressed my wounds, who changed my diapers and put up with my trouble-making as a child (and as an adult, for that matter!).  These examples are just a drop in a bucket full of things adoptees don't and probably won't ever know about themselves.  And these things are NOTHING compared to the big-ticket items, like someone's original birth certificate, family medical records, and other things equally important that many adoptees don't have access to - my wonderful mother included.

I don't know that I'm trying to make a point.

I have felt overly full this week, since returning from the conference.  Full of every emotion imaginable.  While I was gone, I thought about my wife and unborn daughter all the time.  I thought about how lucky I am, to have them both.  I developed a huge fear of air travel - what if the plane crashed and something happened to me?  I'd lose my wonderful T, and my darling daughter who I haven't even gotten to meet yet.  The idea of that even now brings tears to my eyes.

I contemplated often what my mother's life was like, as an unborn baby and then an infant and then a child.  She grew up all the way to the age of 43 without anyone telling her that oh yeah, someone else contributed their genetics to her and someone else grew her in their uterus and someone else gave birth to her and someone gave her away and someone entirely different from the first someone had her in their home for her first three months, before she ever went to live with her adoptive family.  I feel such a loss that those pieces of my mom's life are question marks.  Who held her at 2am when she cried?  Did anybody kiss her face and tell her she was beautiful and amazing and miraculous?  Did anybody take pleasure in her sparkling blue eyes and revel in the magic that is inherent in all babies?

What was the name you were first given, Mom?

Someday, we're going to find out.

I've been asked a lot about the conference.  "Oh, how was the adoption conference in Denver?"  I never know what to say, but I do know that nobody really wants to spend two hours talking with me about it, and so I just end up smiling and saying, "You know, it was good!  Thanks for asking."

Because what do you say about being privy to so much personal loss and grief and sadness and the celebration of life that comes anyway, despite all the pain?  I'm not even sure that it's my place to recount the lives I learned about, the stories that break your heart, and the joy that binds everyone.  Or maybe it's all of our places to do that for one another.  

This conference was so FULL.  I could never write a long enough blog to cover it all and the range of emotion to accompany it.  Well, I could, but I don't want to and I doubt you want to read it.  There were a thousand little things I'd like to remember, but most of them are jotted down in my airplane journal on the pages behind my Everleigh Jane doodle.  I guess this is it for now!  I have other actually pregnancy-related things to write about, and now that this is out of the way I'll be able to do it.  I hope you're all doing well.

Top row, left to right: Carol, Leah, Zach, and Michelle
Bottom row, left to right: me! Dad, Mom, and Sukari


  1. Wow, just wow... I'm so thankful you were with us in Denver, and I appreciate the validation you give me, and my group. Adoption is really misunderstood, one often thinks of the single event;a baby gets placed in a home. It's life long, and if just one other person is enlightened I'm hugely grateful! Thank you for writing this! I love you my girl!

  2. This was a fascinating read - thank you! I've never thought of the connection of donor-conception with adoption issues. Also, I love that you have a tag for "long post." That's genius. Welcome home!