A's Story

I would like to introduce myself, I am A's adoptive mother. A is a sweet boy who is very social, loving and hard-playing. He is fun and intelligent and most of all makes me feel like smiling every time I think about him. A is 4 years old and challenges me in many ways, I think he is too clever for his own good, or perhaps it is my own good I am more worried about!

Things I had to think about before adopting A were mainly adoption issues such as acknowledging that differences are a good thing, that we can celebrate good things but we must not ignore the painful things. Adoption is a blessing as well as a burden for parents and children alike: there is a catch 22 in adoption. 'If a child is adopted, thus chosen, first he must be rejected or given away.' If we ignore the second part, we ignore half of the child's story. I see a lot of parallels in adoption stories and DSD stories. We cannot keep something quiet or ignore it and hope it goes away if it is fundamental to our character development. We have to face it square on, however uncomfortable it can be.

So, I hope if you decide to read my A's Story, you will be refreshed by my openness about sex, trust and development and not offended.

Knowledge is power, 1 July 2011 

Giving A Control, 10 September 2011

What does a willy look like? , February 2012

Will he look like a girl? , March 2012

What to say, what to do…. , April 2012

What to say, what to do….

This piece follows on from an earlier instalment 'What does a willy look like’ which started a discussion among dsdfamilies.org volunteers about questions other parents or friends who are not familiar with our children’s conditions might ask us like ‘why does your child have an exemption?’.

Look out also for the next instalment ‘Swimming in Junior Infants – part 1’, which is about empowering and not hiding.

‘Erica! Stop!’, you shout as your daughter steps into the street as a car is coming. A hundred times a day, you tell your child to look both ways and 99 times the child will look. But that 100th time is what scares the life out of every parent. We want to protect and shelter our children from harm, danger, attack, abuse, and being hurt. But the fact of the matter is that we are not there with protective arms around our children as they go off to school. Six to eight hours a day our child spends completely independent from us, dealing with hurtful words, unexpected dangers, unsought attacks, and potentially getting hurt. But as parents we let them go to school anyway. Why is that? Are we out of our minds?

Parents of children who live with genital difference are even more alert to ‘dangers’ than parents of children without them for one main reason - there is seemingly no explanation for why we want to shelter our kids from things like having a friend change your baby’s nappy, or take him swimming, or change him out of wet clothes on the beach.

So what can we do? Well, first of all, we have to accept that there is no way we can change the fact that someday someone will accidentally find out that our child looks different. If we start with that premise, then our behaviour will be different from day one. The reason for this is the same reason that after we make the big mistake on a driver’s test all our manoeuvres are perfect- we no longer panic about what could happen and just deal with what is happening at the moment.

Nappy Changing

Alright, so imagine you want to be the only one to change your child’s nappy. You don’t want anyone else to do it. If you say something like, ‘we never let anyone change our child’s nappy’ then you are offending people in general because the subtext is that you think everyone out there isn’t trustworthy enough to do this intimate job, and you personally insult the person who offers because you are saying that person in particular isn’t trustworthy enough to care for your child. So what can you say?

How about this? You know, I really love changing his nappy! There are studies out there that claim that nappy changing is a fundamental part of parent-child bonding and I really think that is true. I love changing his nappy and really want to do it myself- I hope you understand. I feel that love that comes from comforting him is essential to our relationship. (ok, put it in your own way, but you get the gist!) This way, you look like a parent with some extreme ideas but good positive ones, not negative suspicious ones. Another tack would be to simply say something like, ‘oooh, just now, his nappies are very dirty- he has had too much fruit. I’d say you’d be better off letting me do it, but thanks anyway.’

Pants wetting in public

So your little one is proud of her toilet training efforts and wants to go without pull-ups but you know that little accidents happen. So, being prepared as we all are (not!), you have a spare set of clothes all ready. Not only that but your nine month old is extremely clingy and screams the moment you put him down. A friend is with you and offers to change the wet pants allowing you to mind the baby- PANIC! What do you do??? Well, just as you are prepared for the wet pants in the first place by packing a pair of trousers, you are prepared for this. Why not say, ‘That’s really nice of you, but I’ll help her- we have a routine and I don’t want to risk spoiling it. Kids are so unpredictable. Would you mind holding the baby while I run into the toilets with her? I know he’ll cry but I won’t be a second.’

Changing clothes on the beach

This one is easier: You take your little one, bring a big towel along and wrap it around him while you change him. Tell your friends that you want to encourage the kids to be polite to others and being naked in front of them can make some people a little nervous. If they object, just reply, ‘Oh I know you don’t mind, but it’s easier to be consistent with kids so I’ll just keep the usual rule in place. You know how it is!’ Many first time parents may not be aware of those fabulous towels that have Dora, Ben Ten, Barbie or Scooby Doo designs and are specifically designed to wrap around a child to change on the beach. If you get one of these, your child will get to use it, instead of have to use it.

At school- why don’t you have to change with the rest of the kids?

So you decide to get a medical note exempting your child from locker room communal changing environments. Someone asks you about it. You freeze, thinking what do I say??? This isn’t necessary. Relax because you have right on your side. Begin by asking yourself who is asking, and what their intentions are. Most often we don’t know why they bring things up so why not just ask them?

‘Why do you ask?’

Most people will back down if they know that their question is inappropriate and walk off muttering something under their breaths. If they don’t, and keep up the asking, just stand firm: For example: Imagine the person is just nosy. You ask them 'why do you ask?' They say, 'it's not fair that your child can get out of the locker room when all the others have to do it.' you reply: 'Really?' is that why you are asking? Are you seriously asking me to justify something that the school sanctions? If it was unfair, the school would not agree.' By responding this way you take it away from your child and put the discussion on them. And you are making it a ‘school’ problem. Redirect!!

A lot of times people have good reasons for asking: For example: Imagine, you have someone ask you how it is that your child doesn't have to change with all the rest of the kids. You ask them why they are asking, and they say, ‘Well, my daughter is afraid that the other kids will see her naked’. You can reply, ‘I see, we have a doctor's note for our child that exempts her from the locker room. If you think your child is traumatized enough that it warrants a doctor's note, then talk to your GP’. If the person goes on to ask what is wrong with your child. You can reply that there are medical reasons for your child, that could prove traumatizing if she needs to undress in front of others. Something as general as that is enough information. Your child could have a birthmark, a scar, burns, eczema, a third nipple, anything! NO one should quiz you on it more. And if they do, you can reply in a firm voice, 'this is my child's confidential medical information and is not mine to share.'

Growing up

Your child is growing up; they are doing things off their own bat now and you no longer have control over what they say and do. You hope that they won’t be in a situation where they will say something that reveals personal information like ‘Mommy and Daddy like jumping on the bed but they don’t let me do it. It’s not fair!’ Or, tragically, ‘my penis looks like Mommy’s more than Daddy’s’. A fact of life is that children will begin speaking for themselves and stop parroting what we say around the age of 6. Your child will go to a sleepover and maybe take a bubble bath with friends. What can you do? I know this is painful, but the answer is nothing. In fact, it may be a good thing that these things happen a lot when your child is surrounded by parents and family who love and support her. In this loving environment, and with a safety net of family to soothe and support them, your children will face some of the most painful moments. Tears come to my eyes as I say this, because I don’t want any painful things to happen to my kids. But at the same time, I know that I’d rather be there to pick up the pieces than to be 3,000 miles away and unable to wrap my arms around my 19 year old, who had no idea what painful things can happen. Imagine it. Imagine your child feeling alone and hurt for the first time outside your protection, crying down the telephone line with no one there who understands to give a loving touch. Be grateful when these things happen while you are there, because the lessons learned in a safe environment are painful but not as risky as those learned when you feel all alone and vulnerable.

Telling the truth

We tell our children in different ways that telling the truth is important. But like smokers telling their children not to smoke, our example is much stronger than our words. So, when is it ok to tell ‘little white lies’? How do we explain that ‘lying is bad’ when we set an example of lying to others?

‘I love that colour on you!’ (but for heaven’s sake, don’t ever wear it again!)

A: ‘why can’t you come to our pool party?

B: ‘I have a cold’ (but really I can’t get undressed in front of others)

We need our kids to see us telling the truth but protecting our privacy, as well. In this case, partial truth is enough. We are not obligated to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in our day to day business. In fact, that would be considered unacceptable by most people. So explain enough to satisfy the curiosity, to explain why you are missing something you would normally not miss, or to not seem to give the brush off to a friend. For example, in the conversation above, B can say (depending on age) ‘my mom won’t let me’. So mom is the bad guy- that isn’t shocking. Or if older, ‘I don’t really like getting into swimsuits- all that changing in and out of clothes is boring.’ (If other kids assume she has her periods, then let them. If they directly ask her that question, she can say, ‘think what you want- but it’s none of your business.’) It is good to train our kids to feel they have a right not to answer questions. And to say, sometimes diplomatically, sometimes forcefully that they are not inclined to answer that question.

There are plenty of situations where people choose not to join in; in the above situation the answers are true, but the core reason is not mentioned. I don’t run around saying I never read books because I think most books are boring. I just say that I have so many other things to do that I never get around to reading. It’s true, I’d rather wax my legs than pick up a book, but I don’t feel obligated to share that fact.

Swimming in Junior Infants , May 2012

The Fanny Story , November 2012