Wednesday, April 05, 2000

No visible means of support

A discussion today on an e-mail support group has got me thinking about, well, e-mail support groups, and why I so prefer them to the real thing. What does it say about me that I'd rather type notes to strangers from the comfort of my home than sit with flesh-and-blood women and bitch and moan in person? Does it mean I'm antisocial, hostile, unempathetic, too selfish to actually be there face to face for another person? Does it mean I don't take enough time for myself, don't get away from the kids enough, don't have the social skills to enjoy direct interaction? Personally, I suspect it means I'm too lazy to haul my butt into the car and drive somewhere, and so I use the excuse of not wanting to take time away from my kids. Fact is, I have no problem taking time away from them to stare at a computer screen. Hey, I'm at least physically present, and even when I'm sitting in my desk chair, my lap can be crawled into.

The only sit-in-a-room support group I've been involved with since we adopted our kids was the one that went with my son's early-intervention group. The kids would toddle off to their therapy and we moms were supposed to sit on couches and share our problems and lend one another support. Sometimes a social worker would be present to facilitate the process. Sometimes salespeople would come in and try to sell us Discovery Toys or Avon. And sometimes we'd just walk down the street to Dunkin' Donuts and try to facilitate some weight gain.

I sat through a lot of discussions with these ladies, but I can't say I ever felt particularly supported. We may have all had kids with special needs, but our own special needs were different. Most of them were still grappling with the fact that the children they had given birth to were not perfect, and would need serious help. One had a daughter who was disabled due to medical malpractice, and the regret and second-guessing that went along with that were particularly painful. I, on the other hand, had adopted children with known special needs just a few months before, and though I was just feeling my way into what sort and magnitude of help would be needed to move them along, I was feeling no shock or regret. The fact that I would actually seek out something that they were experiencing as a tragedy--the parenting of special-needs kids--made them see me as a saint or insane, neither of which I was.

Then there were the endless, endless, endless stories of their respective childbirths, in which of course I could not share. Why is it that when two or three fertile women are gathered in one place, the talk always turns to labor and epidurals and episiotomies and water breaking and all manner of greatly detailed pregnancy talk? Does no one ever think, "Gee, I wonder if the infertile woman in our midst feels uncomfortable with this?" I'll tell you what, when I think of all the things I put my heart, soul, and body through trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, I can't feel too terribly sorry for anybody who managed that feat, no matter how much you whine. I'll be polite, and let you talk, but geez, shouldn't about five minutes be enough?

One woman in the support group brought an audiotape of herself in labor, and everybody seemed greatly interested. It made me wish I had taped the four weeks my husband and I spent in small rooms in Russia waiting to go home, playing solitaire and reading books left behind by other people and watching bad American TV, badly dubbed. No one was as interested in my adoption story as they were in delivery minutiae.

And so it was up to me to find a group that was interested in adoption, interested in post-institutionalized issues, interested in how much juice my daughter drank or how many times my son hit his head against the wall. I found one--on the internet. I've joined several more since--some on parenting issues, some on more specific topics like fetal alcohol effect or sensory-integration disorder, some on job-related topics, some for ranting and raving. I like being able to participate where and when I feel like it--at 3 a.m. in my jammies, if that's what works best. I like knowing I will always be able to ask my questions without having to wait for a break in the conversation. I like being able to disappear or drop out without explanations or recriminations. And I like being able to quietly delete messages from people who annoy me or go on and on about subjects that don't interest me.

Now if only I could find a way to do that with family members.

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