Connecting Coaches, Creatives, & Curious Folks through what's emerging in this moment

Assumed Blessings

The day we met - 9/26/91

It’s natural to assume that a mother being handed the most beautiful baby boy imaginable would feel blessed.  Add to the equation the fact the mother couldn’t bear children of her own, and of course this is an extraordinary blessing.  One by one, people showered their well wishes and gaped in awe at how lucky we were.  They brought the cutest little clothes and said things like, “You must be so happy” and “Amazing!  What a miracle!  How fortunate you are!”  Trouble is, a part of me was miserable.

Since I was 23, I had known that I probably would never have children.  I’d known since I was a child that I wanted to adopt one day.  I thought I’d give birth to one or two and then adopt a beautiful rainbow family.  It was going to be an Angelina Jolie-esque family without the fame, fortune, or paparazzi.   I was idealistic and imagined I’d be a very nurturing, loving, creative mother.  My adolescent fantasy also included homesteading, goats, sheep, and a home made entirely by hand with my perfectly wonderful guitar-playing hippie husband.  Oh, and a llama.  We just HAD to have a llama.

In April of 1991, when the doctor told me my last 5% chance of ever getting pregnant was probably gone, I didn’t grieve.  Instead, I saw this as motivation to get the adoption ball rolling.  After all, they said it could take years to successfully adopt a child.  Though I knew in my gut this wouldn’t be true for me, I bought into the myth enough to believe I should start soon.  A month later, before we’d begun to explore adoption, my sister mentioned there was a woman in her church whose daughter was pregnant and wanted to place her child for adoption.  She wondered if she should ask her if she’d consider an open adoption with us as the adoptive parents. I said, “Sure, why not.  It’s a long shot, but you might as well ask”.

June rolled around and we found out the birthmother was interested.  Oh my GOD!!  What do you do?  How does one go about such things?!   When in doubt, check the yellow pages under ‘adoption’.  Voila!  We found the coolest social worker imaginable at Lutheran Social Services.  She told us about creating a portfolio and we were off and running putting together photos of our lives, letters, and anything else we could think of that would enroll this stranger-to-us in why we’d be excellent parents for her child.

In July, we learned she’d probably chosen us.  Still no contact.  Still no confirmation that any of this was really going to happen, but we knew she was due in September.  We started painting our world ‘cream’, just in case.  We bought a crib, just in case.  It’s a strange thing to be maybe seven months pregnant but not sure.  Most women have a growing belly as an indication.  They’ve been getting used to this idea for a while.  Often when I see women who are 8 or 9 months pregnant, they are so ready to NOT be pregnant anymore and get on with mothering this ever-growing baby.  I was there with my flattish belly, working my butt off with our glass business, and trying to plan a life around maybe having a baby in a month or two and maybe having the heartbreak of no baby.  It was all so surreal.

I believe in August, we heard nothing.  More cream.  More just in case purchases.  More hanging out in the mystery of what our future would be.

On September 24th, while sitting in my darkened living room watching the most intense scene in the movie ‘Misery’, the phone rang.  It was my sister enthusiastically announcing that the birthmother had given birth to a baby boy, and that we had been named the adoptive parents!  Oh my.  Oh my.  Oh my my my!

Full speed ahead!  Off we went to WI to meet this child that was likely to become our son.  Everything seemed like a sign of the perfection in the grand plan.  Synchronicity was everywhere.  When they handed us this beautiful baby I wept tears of joy and gratitude.  He was the one.  I’d been waiting for him and he had found us.  God was clearly involved in this soulful matchmaking event.

The depression kicked in shortly after bringing him home a month later.  It made no sense to me.  How can one have post partum depression when there’s no partum to post?  Here was this beautiful gift of life… it took just 5 months from finding out I couldn’t bear children for sure to having a gorgeous blonde-haired, blue-eyed babe in arms.  Almost everything had gone smoothly.  We had our own business, enough money, support, and love around us to make this possible.  There were no llamas, goats or sheep to get in the way, and my non-guitar-playing non-hippie husband was totally engaged and endlessly helpful.  I couldn’t find anything out there that talked about this side of the equation.  I was ashamed of how I felt, so I didn’t talk to anyone about it.  I stuffed and suppressed those feelings as much as I could.

After what seemed like hundreds of people telling me how blessed I was, one day a close friend of my mother’s phoned me and the first thing she said was, “Oh Helen, isn’t it just AWFUL?!?”  I burst into tears – big, fat tears of relief!  She had two adopted children my age and she acknowledged the hard bits of having a child handed to you that you had no idea how to take care of.  She told me how awful it had been for her to have life as she’d known it halted, to have this tiny human full of needs depending on her, and to feel so helpless as this once competent person was faced with her incompetency daily.  Now that’s a blessing!

Once my feelings were given a little space, were acknowledged and validated by another as well as myself, I could let it all go.  The victim melted away and I joined the ranks of all the rest of the parents in the world that feel incompetent much of the time.  My depression lifted and I could embrace the miracle and blessing that greeted me each day in the form of our beautiful son.  Waking up in the middle of the night didn’t get easier, but it only lasted nine years.  He didn’t do any better on formula, and I still longed for the naturalness of breast-feeding, but he got bigger anyway.  My business didn’t run itself, and I still struggled to juggle the demands of keeping it going while parenting a newborn.  Yet, somehow, I knew we’d get through.  We’d survive the hard times and revel in the good, and every day of my life I marvel at this miraculous blessing of becoming a family.  The gratitude I feel towards the courageous birth parents of each of our children is immeasurable.

I invite you, dear reader, next time you catch yourself starting to say something like “You must be so happy” or “You’re so lucky!” to stop for a moment and connect with the person you’re about to say it to.  What’s really true here?  Is this your stuff or theirs?  What’s beneath the surface?  Is there something they may not be so proud to share?  Are you a safe place to share it? As a Co-active Coach, I often help clients normalize, acknowledge, and express their feelings.  And still, from time to time, I catch myself assuming blessings or misfortune where it’s simply not helpful or true.  If we can just help each other accept what is, methinks we can make room for all that can be.

As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments, and generous responses.  We are creating a better world by being real with one another and engaging in conversations that matter.  Thanks for hanging out with my words.




Comments on: "Assumed Blessings" (24)

  1. Brilliant and insightful as usual. Thanks for letting us into your heart and then sharing the learning.

    • Thank you, Jeanny! We all know… if it weren’t for you following your own calling in life, this connection never would have been made. It’s good to remember that though. Thanks for being willing to see the potential in that connection years ago! Love you….

    • Thanks, Deb! Knowing you’ll be one who reads my posts gives me courage to click ‘publish’. This one sat in waiting for weeks! xo

      • Any time you need a little boost/inspiration/encouragement (or a kick in the butt to hit publish, perhaps?), just say the word my friend.

        Your writing is a real gift; it’s real and true and YOU. (and it, obviously, speaks to many …) xo

      • Thanks, Deb!! Heart swells… wheels turn… gas pedal down! xo

  2. Sigh. Yum.

    A conversation that matters, indeed, Helen. xo

  3. Brilliant. Takes me back 22 years, to the adoption saga of my first son. An enormous blessing, and one that encompassed a great deal of heartache. Thanks for this.

    • You’re welcome, Laura! I’d love to hear the story of your ‘adoption saga’ one day. We need to hear one another. You paved the way for us to follow 2 years later. There are so many layers to the journey, yes? hugs..

  4. I love learning more about you in bits and pieces. It’s also so rich and delicious, making you all the more beautiful in my eyes. Thanks for this – your summary at the end is spot on and exactly the same conclusion I came to myself in my first trimester when I was angry about being pregnant after making the conscious choice to try! Emotions sure are tricky little buggers… 🙂 Sending love to you… SLN

    • Thank you, Sarah! You being open about what went on for you gave me more courage to write this. Give that belly a lovin’ rub for me, will you? Sending visions of smooth sailing as you near your due date. xo

  5. Helen,

    I think you hit the nail on the head…. It’s often easy, as an outsider looking in, to get caught up in the excitement of an event in someone else’s life and project what we want to feel. I think it’s a way that we cope with their own disappointments and difficulties.

    As you were receiving these projections from others, you weren’t being seen or heard. And isn’t that what we all want; to be seen, heard and ackowledged? This really speaks to how important it really is to really show up for the person we are coaching and be present to what it going on at that moment. I would also argue that if we are present in the encounters we have in every day life, we could make a difference and not even know it.

    What a wonderfull story you’ve shared. Thanks for that!


    • Thank you, Chris! When I read your words, I also see how what we want to believe does matter and have its place in relationship. Maybe all those projections and assumptions also, in a funny way, helped hold the vision of me being able to fully receive this amazing little human into our lives. It’s the balance of the two I think we need to strive for. How do I have all of my own thrill, excitement, grief, compassion, etc for another… and still give them loads of room to be themselves? That’s a question I’ll keep living into. Thanks for the inspiration! Love, Helen

  6. Ahhhh….dear Helen….I am sure that once again, you are the voice for many. I love being reminded how connected we all are whether it is through sharing of pain and heartbreak or joyful celebrations.

    Every adoption has a story that goes with it. I will never forget the mix of emotions in the three days of preparation and the years that followed. Thank you for sharing your story and the reminder that we do not all feel as others expect us to.

    • 3 days! I know this used to be standard practice. I feel so fortunate to have adopted in the years when open adoption was becoming the way to go. I’m not so good at unknowns, though I do love surprises! One day… let’s sit down and share our stories. I’d love to hear yours!

  7. So poignant and truthful… Certainly I connect with all that your saying. My journey was different in ways, but those feeling of inadequacy I think all parents have (if they’re at all aware) are doubled with adoptive parents and tripled when you’re a single, adoptive parent – oh not to mention a cross-cultural/racial adoption and the SINGLE mom is also BI-Sexual – what on earth was I thinking. While I’m not a believer in destiny, certainly there is serendipity in some adoptive matches. Love makes it’s way…. Beth

    • What a gift to NOT be able to see TOO clearly before we make some of our biggest decisions in life! I’m not sure where I fall in the destiny/serendipity belief thing. I do think you and Zoe are one helluva good match though! Beth, you’re an amazing mom. How real and aware you are helps me find my way in every conversation we have. Thank you for your friendship. Xo, hh

  8. laura volpe said:

    Hi Helen,
    Thanks for sharing such honesty.
    its part of what makes you so dam loveable.
    so without the partem..
    i know this is silly, but tonight i went and received a manicure and a pedicure.
    and as this woman was touching and massaging my feet and legs i noticed the urge to look away.
    i noticed her urge too.
    so weird. being touched by another and needing to dis- ackowledge the connection that is occuring.
    so i looked at her. and noticed how beautiful her eyelashes were as she glanced down at my legs.
    noticed the tiny beginning of the frown lines that grew on her forehead
    noticed her skin was yellow toned
    noticed how beautiful she was
    noticed that i wanted to acutally connect with her
    and break the unspoken rule of “youdontreallyconnecttoyourpedicurist.

    yes you do
    if you want

    and yes you do..get to express what you are and what you feel and what your freaked out by and what your amazed by and what your blessed by and what you feel joy in and what you feel afraid of and what your…
    w h a t e v e r
    it is that your being feeling knowing loving
    we are human
    and with that comes the knowing of what to feel and the unknowing feelings that surpirses us
    you and i
    we’re gifted with the understanding and the love
    that EVERYTHING is ok
    and we love it all- all of the love the fear the joy and the depression

    thanks for insipiring me
    yet again
    you are a teacher.

    • Laura, this is beautiful! Funny the littlexrules we make up that keep us from connecting with one another. I realized when I read you response that I had a rule called youdon’tshareanyofthehardpartswithyourchild’sbirthparents. Good lord. These smart and capable people all have more children of their own. Of course hey know it isn’t all a bed of roses. If I believe in being raw and real, then I best walk my talk. Your pedicure has bolstered my courage to connect. Thanks, Teach! Xo, hh

  9. Dear Helen,
    I’m amazed to see this story in print. It was just a little while ago I “heard” you tell these details and I am in awe of the voice you have.The melding of these two elements together,listening to your heart then describing it’s unfolding in words.
    I love your voice and i love your words. The moment in which you shared this with me in the art cabin,also helps me remember the relationship I had with my mother and the very essence of what it means to be a mother. For me, her silence is a roar, a deafening stillness in which I will always hear my own voice now…….she is forever in my heart.
    I hear your story as you told me and now as your words illustrate, I can only imagine your grief, your pain and your triumph and I am honored to read it.

    • helenhouse said:

      Thank you, Liz! What a sweet and thoughtful comment. I feel heard and ‘gotten’.

      Your words “for me, her silence is a roar, a deafening stillness….” take me right into the pain and mystery of your loss. Reminds me of the Billy Collins poem I read you about the 100 Chinese Silences and how there wasn’t one he could find to describe the silence he felt as he listened to his father’s grave with his left ear.

      It’s curious… this life we live. There are so many things we can feel empathy around and compassion about, though the path another walks can never be fully understood or known as it will always be their unique path.

      Love you,


  10. Hi Helen!! 🙂

    My response started in one place then you last sentences, on the previous note just grabbed me. You said, “…There are so many things we can feel empathy around and compassion about, though the path another walks can never be fully understood or known as it will always be their unique path.” I love this. Thank you!

    Thank you for your story. It’s great to learn more about you in this way.

    I love the idea that a new parent will read your blog and feel better about her or his feelings. I also appreciate that others may provide ‘more’ space for the feelings of new parents. After all, the blessed as well as hard feelings have been true since the beginning of parenting, I suppose.

    And, thank you again for participating in open adoption. It’s so important for us to have access.

    (writing from my phone is always dangerous, please forgive typos.)

    • helenhouse said:

      Fresh! You are my model of knowing we can never fully get the path another is on. You drip compassion, yet you give endless space for the unique experience we are each having. I think that must be at the core of your diversity work, yes? You certainly live it in the rest of your life.

      Thanks for adding your voice to the mix. You always fuel my creativity and inspire me to think beyond all boxes.


  11. Thank you Helen for a bit of honest insight into the adoptive mothers world. I as a birthmom and adoptee always am curious as to how adoptive parents think. Thanks for your honesty!!

  12. Ok, you’ve done it again. You made me cry. Again. When my first daughter was born, I didn’t have that happy glow. In fact, it wasn’t until 4 years later that I realized that I was grieving. You see, she almost died at birth and I didn’t get to see her for 24 hours. She was taken away and they fought to keep her alive. She was in hospital for a long time and I knew that I should be grateful that we had a great hospital, great doctors, that god had put us in the right place to receive this child. But I wasn’t grateful, not at all. I just wanted my baby to be well.
    More selfishly, I wanted her to be well for me. I wanted to be able to pick her up, feed her, hug her. Not watch as she lay in a plastic incubator, with pain shining out of her eyes, not being able to do anything. This is not what I imagined motherhood to be.
    Motherhood is never what you expect. My second daughter was born healthy, yet I still felt inadequate. Such a responsibility. What do you actually do with a healthy baby? I didn’t know.

    I can’t imagine what it was like to not know if you were going to have a baby or not. The hope and yet trying to be prepared in case the answer was no.

    I am so glad I read your story. You are so wise. We should look and really see before we say what seems right. Connect with people, see where they are.

    Maybe this isn’t he place to share my story but I couldn’t keep it. Perhaps I have kept it in too long already.

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