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

Swimming in Junior Infants – Part 1

It took a lot of courage to do this, and I'm not sure it will be something other parents feel they could do, but I know that hiding something as if it's shameful is more damaging than admitting it's there and getting on with it. So, on approaching our principal who is also the Junior Infants teacher (my son's class), I asked for a meeting regarding A's swimming lessons. I start with the attitude that A cannot be treated any differently than any other child, especially his sister. Anna just completed swimming lessons with the school today and A's class will start up in May. As you know, A has PAIS. It is on his school record as a medical condition, and his teacher/the principal, knows about the condition. At first glance, you would assume he's a girl.

It took a lot of courage to do this, and I'm not sure it will be something other parents feel they could do, but I know that hiding something as if it's shameful is more damaging than admitting it's there and getting on with it. So, on approaching our principal who is also the Junior Infants teacher (my son's class), I asked for a meeting regarding A's swimming lessons. I start with the attitude that A cannot be treated any differently than any other child, especially his sister. Anna just completed swimming lessons with the school today and A's class will start up in May. As you know, A has PAIS. It is on his school record as a medical condition, and his teacher/the principal, knows about the condition. At first glance, you would assume he's a girl.

So, my first rule: do not treat him differently, had to be addressed when the principal asked that I come along to help A dress. I told him that I could not and would not do this. First of all, I'd have to explain why Anna didn't get mommy to come along (that's not fair!), and secondly, I'd have to explain why A gets special treatment the other kids don't get (other mommies are not allowed to come along).

Secondly, I had to explain to the teacher that he could not be treated differently by the teachers, or the other supervisors (swimming instructors in the pool facility), but that as boys often think it's funny to yank swim trunks down, or A might jump up suddenly out of the water, which could accidentally pull his shorts off of him. So, each person involved in A's minding is asked to go to dsdfamilies.org and to familiarize themselves with his condition so that if something occurs, they know about it and are not shocked. I want the parents and adults around to react to A as if his body development is his own and thus perfectly normal. I asked that all the people involved in his care get training. Finally, I would like the adult who is there at the awful moment when all the kids point at A and say, 'LOOK! A looks like a GIRL!' and start laughing at him, to tell the children, 'A is different. He does not look like a girl, he looks like A, and that is good. We like A just as he is.'

I told the principal that at this age, the children will take the lead of the adult in charge, and if that adult looks embarrassed or confused the children will know it. If the adult treats it as they would in any case of children who mock another child, then it will be treated as any other case of laughing at someone for having a tear in the knee of his trousers, old shoes, long or short hair, anything.

So, I'm holding my breath, and hoping all will go well. The principal seemed to take my advice on this to heart, seemed to agree with me and will go forward with this plan.

Wish A luck; he will need it.

Swimming in Junior Infants – Part 2

We can never plan on things happening the way we hope they will; I knew this. I’m a little let down at the way the swimming lessons turned out, but I’m not upset or angry (anymore). Wiser, I may say with some confidence.

I won’t go into all the details of what happened, but let me just say that I had no idea that other parents were going to be at the swimming pool, that the children would begin changing in a communal room, nor that A would be more afraid of getting his face wet than of changing in front of all those little boys.

My feelings skyrocketed from calm and in control to that dizzying feeling one has looking down from a great height- palms of hands and soles of feet tugging at the same time making my guts clench up. Why? Because the principal did not tell me about changes to the plan that occurred on day one of swimming lessons. I found out by chance. This is what shook me more than anything else. I trusted the principal to let me know of any developments, but I realize now that I shouldn’t have trusted him. It was not in his best interest to be forthcoming for if I didn’t find out, he had one fewer meeting to hold with a parent and if I did find out, he’d still have damage control to manage. Not saying anything to me was in his best interest. But this is what angered me the most.

I dealt with my anger in the best possible way; I got out a stuffed toy and beat the stuffing out of it.

The school has no idea I was angry and this is the way I want it. I want to be that parent the teachers feel comfortable with…. I don’t want to be avoided.

So, what about A? Well, the most poignant moment of the whole experience was when he said, ‘Mommy, all the boys in my swimming class have long willies.’ He looked sad. I asked him, ‘how do you feel about that?’ He said, ‘I want my willy to be long, too. Can you fix it?’ I said, ‘I don’t want to fix it, A, because I like you just the way you are. I love you exactly as you are. Also, I don’t like to think about changing you. But, do you remember going to the hospital? And you said you didn’t ever want to go back there?’ He nodded. I continued, ‘well, the doctors there think they can change you to look different, but you would have to be in the hospital a lot.’

He said nothing and hasn’t said anything about it since. What is going on in his mind? Did I say the right thing? I guess I’ll find out if ever he decides to share his feelings with me again.

One of the things I struggled with during the 5 weeks of swimming lessons (he missed the sixth session because of chickenpox) was trying to figure out if A was really afraid of swimming because of his fear of getting his face wet. Could it be fear of being exposed in the locker room? Now, having been there once, and realising that his age was a big factor in why this was a good experience, I can say that a 5 year old doesn’t have any self-consciousness about his or her body. He really was afraid of the water, and I was projecting my fear onto him. After the second swimming lesson, A asked me if he could be sick on swim day, saying he was afraid. His claim was supported by the fact that every night he had nightmares, and in the morning he’d wake up with the fearful question on his lips, ‘is today swimming day?’ So, I found out that dunking his head worried him, got that sorted by moving him to a less advanced group that was not forced to dunk their heads, and sent him to lessons. I was torn. I wanted my baby home with me, safe and sound. But I sent him on. How I had the strength to do it, I don’t know. I was so badly tempted to let him stay home ‘sick’ on that third swim lesson day. I didn’t want him changing his clothes in front of all the other boys- vulnerable to laughter. One story he came home with was about a little boy with dark skin. ‘Toby laughed at a boy because he had a brown willy,’ A said. I asked A if anyone laughed at A. He said no. Then A said that Toby asked him why he looked different, and A said nothing. I told A that next time he could say because he’s born that way.

Good things that have come out of A’s early swim lesson experiences:

  • A is aware he is different and has time to cope with that awareness before he goes through puberty.
  • A asked me about surgery (kind of) and I was able to tell him I love him just the way he is but that he can be changed in a hospital. (I hope that this put him off the idea because he really hates hospitals)
  • A was not laughed at by his friends however I was able to give him an answer for the next time someone asks him about why he’s different.
  • I have survived my first major ‘letting go’ experience without ending up in a straightjacket.

The Fanny Story , November 2012