Try, try, try again

Sitting down to commit even one sentence to paper before failing to do so happens daily. I miss the days when I had to drag myself out of my third floor dorm room, down the hill and into the sorority suites where a makeshift classroom held my creative writing class. But it was in that class that I sat for three hours straight, focused on nothing but writing and writers. Those were the days.

Now, I can’t even start.

The most difficult part of writing about my adoption experiences is actually two-fold. First, I don’t like telling others’ sides of the stories. I feel like I rob them of their storytelling chances while also violating their privacy. Second, I often forget I’m adopted.

Being adopted has affected me, sure. But it’s never defined who I am. People apply those labels to me for me. I’m just Karen.

But my mom does like to tell everyone and anyone how I was adopted. Grocery store checkout girls, luggage handlers, the AC guy. I know the story so well that I can guess exactly how she’ll say it before she opens her mouth. I already know what words she’ll choose, where she’ll pause for breath, how the emotions will spread uninhibited across her face before overcoming the top half of her and flowing out of her hands.

That is how I watch the love that is virtually radiating from every one of her pores pass from her into the other person. Everyone loves a happy story, but the tale is also one of hope and the fates, and it seems to be timeless in a sense. The love between parents and between parents and their children never gets old.

Maybe that’s why I keep trying to tell it. Especially now, when more of the puzzle has come together.

I’ve gotten the story of my past in pieces – the past being all that led up to my birth and the 6 months after. My parents, of course, gave me all of those pieces intact. And when I say all, I mean all. There was never and has never been any holding back. I think that’s how it should be.

So why did I hold back my decision to contact my birth family? Why didn’t I tell them the moment I decided to do it?

I’ll never know.

And there’s the rub. Perhaps the real reason I haven’t written down the story is because I’m not ready to confront what I’ve done…. or maybe it’s because of a myriad of other reasons, like I should be working out or getting sleep instead (haha). Whatever it is, I’m going to keep trying to put it to words.

What would you keep? Keep for yourself… or keep away from others.


A shift

I’ve decided to make a shift. Instead of focusing solely on adoption, I will share stories from my current life that are – beyond my control – peppered with characteristics that come along with being adopted.

But blurbs from the burbs and my own hapless musings may keep me more plugged in for now.

Starting today, the blog will now be known as, “Growing up Grabowski.”

Fifty bucks says I change it again… stay tuned.

hashtag adoption

I am the communications coordinator for the Society of Professional Journalists. One of the many fantastic resources the organization provides to journalists is the Journalist’s Toolbox. It’s my  job to promote the fantastic tools the site’s creator, DePaul journalism professor Mike Reilley, researches and shares via the site. Today’s big topics are, not surprisingly, the oil spill and gas prices.

But the word adoption caught my eye!

Mike posted the Institute for Adoption Information’s A Journalist’s Guide to Adoption today, and while we’re not all journalists, I thought it was an interesting tidbit to share.

My new hometown lends a hand

Indianapolis-based KidsFirst Foundation raised money for the children of Haiti orphaned before and by the devastating earthquake. Well done, KidsFirst.

When adoption doesn’t work

When I think about adopting, I focus solely on the hurdles that lie in the path of hopeful parents seeking to adopt a child. I rarely consider the trials and tribulations that come after the ‘I’s are dotted and the ‘T’s are crossed on the last bit of paperwork.

I stumbled on the New York Times’ Motherlode a few months ago but only recently found this Aug. 2009 post: “Terminating an Adoption.” The title honestly caught my attention because I expected the third word to be “pregnancy.” At second glance, my mind still didn’t understand those three words placed together. And while I narrowed my eyes and furrowed my brow as I read the woman’s story – how she terminated an adoption after 18 months – I unexpectedly found a beautifully heartbreaking story of strength. I’ve said before that all the people who made decisions that led to my adoption did the right thing – my birth family, my parents…. This woman, in my humble opinion, is no different.

Read Anita Tedaldi’s story, “My Adopted Son.”

An apple a day may not keep ignorance away

SilenceI had been living in Indianapolis for almost seven months before I finally called a dermatologist. I hadn’t wanted to get a new doctor – I dreaded the paperwork, the waiting in sterile reception rooms and – for the first time – taking time off from work that I had only just started to accumulate. But from day one, my parents had drilled into my mind the importance of annual check-ups. Still, I ignored the helpful information my new health insurance provider sent weekly in the mail and wrote down the names of doctors recommended by co-workers, friends and family only to promptly lose the pieces of paper.

Finally, after a guilt trip to go to the doctor worked on my boyfriend, he kindly noted that my grace period was up – it was time to go to the doctor.

I left the dermatologist for last. After a melanoma scare at a very young age, I’d avoided dermatologists. Even the pimples that spread across my face and back in high school couldn’t make me change my mind. Several moles were removed either through freezing or surgery only to find they were perfectly normal – an incredibly happy and lucky result, but the experience left scars that were more than skin deep. At 10 years old, I told my parents no more skin doctors. Ever. They respected my wishes as long as I promised to keep an eye on my skin. I promised.

But at 24, I knew it was time. And it was the smart thing to do. I liked to skimp on the sunscreen at the beach. I stayed out too long in the sun, marveling at how quickly my skin turned bronze in the heat. No one’s perfect – scars and all – and I definitely needed to get a few spots checked out. I’d been ignoring the black spots for a while because they looked exactly like the ones I’d had removed in surgery 14 years ago. Which was stupid. So I went to the dermatologist my family and friends recommended – a young woman who I thought 5 minutes into my appointment lived up to her reputation in town. She was thorough, knew the latest studies and treatments and – since I was a new patient – took her time going over my chart and my skin. I waited patiently for her to get to my family history, ready with my answer that over time has become as easy and simple to say as my full name.

“Wait, you didn’t fill out your family history,” she said.

“I’m adopted, so I don’t have the requested information about my family history,” I said.

Silence. Scribbling.

“Tell me more about these moles that were removed…. and why a doctor took them off you when you were just a child!”

The disgust and aversion in her voice surprised me. I explained that several moles were removed in 1995, pointing to the tiny circular scars on my legs and feet.

“I would never, never, never do that to a child or ever presume to think it was melanoma at your age or cut them all off before taking a biopsy of one.” She spit the words out like they were shards of glass in her mouth.

“They said it could be melanoma – I don’t know why precisely, but I could have the paperwork faxed to you –”

She cut me off. “Are your parents Caucasian?”

That caught me more off guard than the shrill shock in her voice.

“Yes,” I said uneasily.

“Well that makes sense. They don’t know what’s normal for dark skinned girls.” She pointed at me and then herself.

I opened my mouth. And then closed it.

“Yes,” she said almost more to herself than to me. “They don’t know anything about that.”

I didn’t think I could feel more uncomfortable behind the paper thin hospital gown, but the flush of anger soaked through my skin. I felt my heart pounding against my closed lips, but I fought back the words I wanted to say and tried to concentrate on slowing my heartbeat.

Later that day, I told my parents what the dermatologist had said about my surgery. I left out the part about skin color, but their voices were already as high and upset as hers had been. What do you mean they shouldn’t have done it? We asked all the right questions. We made sure that they’d done all the research. We did all the research we could. We asked for more opinions. They scared us so badly. We’re so sorry. We were so scared. So, so sorry.

That’s crazy, I said to them. No reason to be sorry. We did what we thought was right at the time and it all ended up fine. It’s all done now and nothing is wrong with my skin. I said nothing of the doctor’s comments – her accusation. We all calmed down and were soon laughing about a Today Show segment or a part of my life in a new town.

I want to say that I understand why the dermatologist said my parents wouldn’t understand, but I don’t. She put a traumatic and – in her opinion – poorly diagnosed experience on the shoulders of two parents who did more than enough to ensure what happened to me was safe. Skin color has nothing to do with it. I felt her assertion came from ignorance – a strong statement, perhaps, but I couldn’t help but take it personally. I would argue that even if my parents were Samoan, everyone’s skin is so different and dark marks that appear after after years of exposure to the sun should be checked out.

It has been a week since my appointment, but I’m still kicking myself for not voicing how I felt. That it’s not their white skin that caused the surgeries. That to imply such a statement is inane. But years of turning the other cheek, looking the other way, giving people the benefit of the doubt and refraining from pointing out what I think they are missing because I don’t want to overreact or make someone feel bad has made me soft. No, not soft – silent.

But, really, what are words? Sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but words…. Words are just words.


To adopt or not to adopt…

My eyes were slowly closing by the time I reached the top floor of my apartment building and unlocked my door. I could smell the sweat and dirt on me as I pulled my sweater over my head. Just as the fabric brushed my face, sweet chocolate filled my nose. I turned the cotton over in my hands and found not little but huge smudges of chocolate around the buttons and sleeves. With exhaustion creeping in, I felt a surge of happiness. This state could only be caused by an entire afternoon spent with toddling, giggling, adorable children.

While my  personal thoughts on children has remained private as of late, people have asked me all my life, “Will you adopt?”

Will I adopt?

That’s a difficult question to answer.

Have I ever considered adopting children? Yes.

Can I see myself adopting? Of course.

Will I adopt? I don’t know. Adopted or not, I don’t think anyone can answer that question at the drop of a hat at a random time in their life – let alone when they’re young, sometimes unwed and still “perfecting” their first job. Maybe Angelina Jolie could have said Yes…

But it wasn’t the answer that made me flush, it was the question. The way it was asked. As if it is assumed that all adopted children would absolutely adopt. Each and every person who has asked me if I am GOING to adopt children has an expected answer in their head: a resounding and confident YES.

Well, my answer today is no.

Okay. That’s strong. My answer is “no, I will not turn to adoption until I first try the old fashioned way.”

While, of course, I’d adopt, I don’t want to feel guilty when I say that I want to have-HAVE-children. I don’t want to feel bad when I say, “I want to be pregnant. I want to carry my children. I want to experience the 9 – give or take – months of doctors appointments, sonograms, breathing exercises, pregnant yoga… I want to get home early and surprise my husband with the news. I want both of us to then enact our plan of surprising our parents in a creative way that I may or may not have been planning for years… I want to have parts of me and the man I adore more than life in these children.”

But I feel guilty. I know there are unknown numbers of children out there who do not have homes and that each and every one of them deserves a GOOD home.

That’s just how I feel. But I also know that those feelings of “shoulds” brought on by other people’s expectations cannot dictate my actions or reactions. I also feel that I will be incredibly lucky if I can carry children – perhaps a lot of people don’t see it that way, but from my parents’ and other loved ones’ experiences, I sincerely understand why they believe the ability to create life is a miracle – and why they identify with that sentiment in a stronger way. Being completely out of control of having just one child puts a whole new perspective on it.

So, honestly, while I do hope that I’ll be lucky enough to be able to carry children, I also hope I’ll be lucky enough to know what my parents felt like when they adopted me. But, I guess, no matter how I have children, I’m going to feel like all parents do when they first hold THEIR children. And that’s all that matters in the end.