Mother’s Day arrives each year with an odd dichotomy: It is universally held to be a marketing gimmick, and yet it’s widely observed by even the most cynical among us. If mothers approach the holiday with any attempt at mindfulness, then adoptive moms may have an edge in that department.
Says Marnie Toole, coordinator of the group All Families Touched By Adoption, part of the Family Network at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, “Adopting parents have had chance to think long and hard about extending their family, plus the adopting services put them through a rigorous screening process. This yields a group of thoughtful, smart, highly motivated individuals.”
Adoptive mom Linda Hughes, of Lambert’s Cove, reflected this mindful side when the Gazette caught up with her by phone this week as she baked brownies in her kitchen: “I used to think of Mother’s Day as my mother’s holiday until she died two years ago. Now I’m just happy on my own account to be home surrounded by family.”
Linda and her husband, Chuck, have three adopted children, Jaimie, now 21, Spencer, 19, and Anna, 14. The couple had been living in Bethesda, Md., where Chuck had an office furniture business. They’d been summering on the Vineyard and built their house in 1991. Jaimie and Spencer were born in Korea and flown to the States, each at the age of five months. Anna was born in China in 1993, adopted in 1994, whereupon Chuck journeyed to Beijing and brought the baby directly to their summer home on the Vineyard.
Says Linda, “We thought the peace and quiet of the Island would work in our favor as we waited for Anna’s health to stabilize. At six months of age, she weighed only nine pounds. She simply hadn’t been amply fed at the orphanage. Within a week she’d gained three pounds, and she walked at one year, right on schedule for normal development.”
One spillover trait from the orphanage was that Anna never cried when she woke up. “She knew no one would come to her, so she remained silent,” Linda recalls of those early days when Anna would wake up and gaze around her with silent absorption. “She got acclimated to noise — especially making her own noise — pretty quickly,” Linda says with a laugh.
In 2001 Chuck sold his business. The couple realized they could support themselves only if they lived in a single house full-time rather than two at different times as they’d been doing. It proved an easy choice: year-round on Martha’s Vineyard had Bethesda beat by a wide margin.
“The kids weren’t happy with the move,” says Linda with a sigh. “Jaimie was in the 10th grade in a big suburban school, although she made her peace with the high school here when she met her boyfriend in the 11th grade. Spencer was in the seventh grade and he never really made the adjustment. It’s difficult here for kids with differences; there’s just not that much diversity. Also, Spencer never really gravitated to sports, which also set him apart. I raised my kids to be who they are and not to conform.”
Jaimie went on to Smith College for a year, then worked as the breakfast chef at the Beach Plum Inn, traveled in Europe, Costa Rica and Mexico, and now lives in Houston. Spencer is studying the hotel business at Johnson & Wales in Providence. Anna meanwhile plans to major in neurobiology; last month she won the Island spelling bee which means a trip to Washington, D.C., for the finals.
“We took the kids to Asia in 2004. Jaimie met her whole birth family, although neither Spencer nor Anna’s birth families could be traced. “All of us love to travel,” says Linda, “and the kids particularly like going places where they see people who are different.”
West Tisbury veterinarian and mother of two, Michelle Gerhard Jasny and her husband, Max, were maximally motivated to adopt after six miscarriages. Initially they feared they might be too old to adopt, but research led them to various proven agencies eager to help. “We decided to work with Jewish Family Services of MetroWest Framingham,” says Michelle. “They had a mandatory education program and an open adoption system, which means contact between birth parents and adopting parents.”
Michelle and Max made portfolios of themselves, essentially scrapbooks of their lives which birth mothers could peruse to get a sense of whom best to entrust with their baby’s future. The birth mother of Michelle’s eldest daughter, Lila, appreciated that Michelle was a large woman, as she was herself. She called from Los Angeles, and for five months the bicoastal parent and parents-to-be talked on the phone. At last, the Gerhard Jasnys flew the expectant mom out from California so she could get a firsthand sense of the world her child would be entering. Knowing that Michelle and Max were desirous of being there at the birth, the woman contacted them when labor was being induced in December of 1997.
“It was a long labor,” reminisces Michelle. “I was the first to hold Lila, after the doctor. Then together Lila’s mom and I held her. It was a tender moment. All adoption begins with loss, and we must remember that. But there is also great joy involved. Birth parents are making the most loving choice they can for their babies. A very courageous choice.
Michelle says that distinctions between adoptive and biological moms are meaningless: being a parent is being a parent — in other words, a commitment to providing the best environment for your children to the best of your abilities. She reflects on Mother’s Day: “It’s an extra poignant occasion for adopted families. It brings up my great gratitude and compassion for the women who made this possible.” She also takes note of her daughters getting older and of how this makes possible glimpses of their birth moms in the young people they’re becoming. “We don’t take Mother’s Day for granted the way other mothers may.”
Michelle also observes that it’s a myth that all you need to do is love the adopted children. “You have to give them as much guidance as possible about their ethnic backgrounds.” Lila is Latino, African American and Caucasian; Sydney bi-racial.
Michelle is the first to admit she may go overboard on analyzing her daughters’ adapting to adopting. “Recently I tried to engage Lila in a respectful conversation about her feelings for her birth mother. Lila rolled her eyes and said, ‘You’re my mom. Not everything in the world is about adoption!’”
Kimberly Cartwright and her husband, Ewell Hopkins, endured seven years of infertility before making the decision, 11 years ago, to adopt. Working with an adoption social worker, they found an agency in Texas. “We’re brown people and we wanted a brown baby,” says Kimberly with a chuckle.
As Kimberly talks to the Gazette on the phone at 6 p.m. on a recent evening, she sends her kids into the Stop & Shop to get popcorn. “The skillet kind,” she adds. An argument breaks out — a classic sibling chorus of objections and suggestions — and a moment later silence reigns.
Kimberly describes the 1997 adoption of Kristine, now 11, in the infant’s sixth week: “We were living in Newton. I worked in advertising for the Boston Globe and Ewell worked for a tech company selling software. I’ve told Kristine that if it hadn’t been for her, we wouldn’t have our family.”
The minute Christine came into their midst, Kimberly quit her job. The couple bought a vacation house on the Vineyard, in Tower Ridge in Oak Bluffs. “I was so much happier and more relaxed on the Island, we decided to move here year-round so that when Ewell was off working, I could chill with Kristine.” The hang time with baby had a miraculous effect: when Christine was one and a half years old, Kimberly became pregnant. Danielle was born in 1999, while the third miracle, Tripp, was born in 2002.
“There will be no more children,” announces Kimberly in a voice of humorous gloom.
These days Ewell has his own software company in Manhattan. “He’s always on a plane going somewhere,” says Kimberly. His wife and kids join him in the city when they can. For the time being Kimberly, who works full shifts at the Art Cliff diner in Vineyard Haven, is putting money aside for an October jaunt to New York for the family to see The Lion King and go out for dinner.
On Mother’s Day Kimberly will be working at the Art Cliff, but nonetheless she envisions a fine day for the family: “The kids will do fun stuff with their dad, then they’ll all come to eat at the diner. I love the idea of serving them but not having to cook!” Kristine, Danielle and Tripp will, according to their mom, undoubtedly order their collective favorite: pancakes.
Back at home, three dogs await them; two pugs, Tyrone and Jamal — “They’re black dogs so we gave them super black names,” says Kimberly — and their chocolate Lab named Leroy Brown. Kimberly says her sister calls them the Von Trapp family when she sees “All these kids and all these dogs pouring out of the house.”
Back at community services, Marnie Toole says the adoption group gives kids a wonderful opportunity to socialize with other families as diverse as their own. “We plan a family gathering and field trip once a month,” she says. The Family Network also hosts a support group for waiting parents, workshops for parents, and other special events. Recently Marnie was able to assume a more personal role in the process when her daughter, Chelsea Barbini of Pepperell, Mass., adopted a baby boy who is now 16 months old.
“I’m a grandma,” she says with a Marnie Toole twinkle in her eyes that you can actually sense over the phone.