Living Mindfully Through Infertility and Adoption – An Interview with Lori Holden
“…if you go into the territory of, ‘I’ll never be happy again,’ or ‘I’ll never have a baby,’ or ‘This loss has ruined me forever’ then you’re projecting into the future. Gently bring yourself back to your breath, to your body, and speak only about what you sense at this moment.” -Lori Holden
I had the pleasure of speaking with the amazing Lori Holden, author of the hardcover book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, written with her daughter’s birth mom.
Lori, who also authors the blog LavenderLuz.com, is one of the Adoption, Loss, and Infertility (ALI) Community’s foremost authorities on open adoption, and more specifically, on mindfully approaching a child-centered open adoption and moving through trauma.
Lori is a writer at the Huffington Post and a regular columnist at the Denver Post’s MileHighMamas.com. Parenting Magazine calls her blog a Must Read. Adoptive Families Magazine has named her a Top Blogger. She has written about open adoption for Conceive magazine, The Examiner, The American Fertility Association and others, and has had guest appearances on many radio and TV shows. She appeared in the inaugural cast of Denver’s Listen to Your Mother Show.
Lori’s mindful approach is not just about adoption but for all aspects of her life, and is inspiring for anyone facing something as daunting as infertility. Regardless of the circumstances that have brought you into the ALI Community, her voice is one that you will find yourself turning to for guidance again and again.
KB-The book you wrote with your daughter’s birth mom is changing the way adoption agencies train their clients, both adoptive and placing parents. Tell us about the book.
Our book starts with the infertility journey and flows from the premise that adoption creates a split between a person’s biology and biography, and openness is an effective way to heal that split. Hence the focus on the child becoming whole through the openness of the adults who love him/her.
Openness means not just contact, but also the way in which the grownups in the adoption constellation comport themselves. We are open to co-creating a relationship together. We are open to being clear and honest with ourselves so that we can be clear and honest with others in our adoption relationships. We are open to having tough conversations as our child grows and develops cognitively. We are open and vulnerable and authentic, for it is from this openness that we can best give our child the space to wonder, to develop, and to integrate his identity that comes from all of his parts.
While it’s largely understood why open adoption serves well the people living in it, this book also tells how to create and sustain an open adoption over the years as a child grows. It covers common open adoption situations and how real families have navigated typical issues successfully. Like all useful parenting books, it provides the tools for parents (both adoptive, and birth) to come to answers on their own, and it addresses challenges that might arise one day.
Our book was written for people involved in infant adoption, in international adoption, in foster adoption and even in donor sperm/egg/embryo situations — in any circumstance in which the result is a person whose biology and biography come from different sets of parents.
KB-How did you come about referring to yourself as Lavender Luz?
- Lavender because I love the color
- Luz meaning light-bearer in a language I’d like to become fluent in
- I love the letter L
It was REALLY hard to find a new name once a toy company kicked me off of Weebles Wobblog. I loved how my previous name symbolized resilience.
And now I love the sound and meaning of “LavenderLuz.”
KB-Can you briefly explain for our readers what mindful living is?
LH-Let’s start instead with mindLESS living, which happens when I’m not present in my body. Instead I might be in my emotions, in the past. I replay old hurts, rehash conversations that happened or that I wish had happened. Or maybe I’m in my head in the future — I’m planning tonight’s dinner, what gifts to buy, posts to write, or wondering if we’re saving enough for college and retirement…on and on.
In the meantime, I’ve missed my highway exit, I wasn’t listening to the speech I paid to hear, I can’t remember if I just used the shampoo or the conditioner.
So then, mindFULL living is being where you are. It’s about being present and in your body. It’s doing whatever you are doing with your full attention. If you are sitting down to plan dinner, then have your head there. If you are doing financial planning, have your head there. If you need to process a conversation you’ve had, then have your head there. If you are sitting with a friend, have your head there. If you are driving, listening to a speech or taking a shower, be there fully, mindfully.
An easy way to move back into your body is to pay attention to your senses. What do you smell? Hear? See? Feel? Taste?
To help me with this, I have ways of capturing the things that come into my head. Once I get them on paper or voice-recorded, I release them and get back to what’s in front of me.
I should be clear that mindfulness, for me, is a process. I’m a lot more mindful than I once was, and I have a long way to go. Even Perfect Moment Mondays, which I started several years ago in an effort to live more mindfully, became routine one Spring and I had to give it a rest (it’s back now as a monthly exercise on the Perfect Moment Project).
When I am mindful I am not on auto-pilot. I tune in to my body and my intuition when faced with a decision. I then take a moment to weigh my options and determine if they come from a place of love or a place of fear. In essence, I choose my actions and reactions.
KB-How does mindful living work into the way that you frame your childrens’ adoptions and all of those interrelationships?
LH-Being mindful is, for me, key to living in a successful open adoption because it keeps me aware of my own motivations, emotions and fears. For example, we were told by the adoption agency to make a clean break when we brought our daughter home from the hospital the day after she was born. At the same time, our daughter’s birth mother, who still had 3 weeks before she would sign relinquishment papers, was hoping that her dying grandma would be able to meet her daughter. My husband and I talked it over and decided that the reason we would follow the agency’s advice was fear, and the reason we would take the baby to meet Crystal’s grandmother was love. We consciously chose love, and thus began an amazing relationship with Crystal.
When my children, now 11 and 13, say potentially triggering things like, “This isn’t my real family!” or “I’d like to go live with my birth mom for a while” I don’t automatically assume what they are saying is about me and I don’t go into fear about it. Rather, I’m present with them. It’s that simple. I open my heart and listen, giving them the space to process their own issues without filling that space with my own stuff.
I teach about recognizing and neutralizing these triggers when I speak at adoption agencies around the country.
KB-Which came first, your passion for open adoption or for mindful living?
LH-I’ve had a thing for living mindfully ever since I met my friend Ethel, a mystic, whom I began studying with more than 20 years ago. There’s a percolating that happens when you adopt a new way of living. First you hear about it, then you talk about it, and it gradually works its way down and through your being as you take it from thought to manifestation. The change to be more mindful continues to be a slow and steady process. Eight years ago I added the practice of yoga for the physical and spiritual aspects it offers and the way it yokes the two.
My passion for open adoption is relatively new, but I see now that navigating any complex relationship and being more conscious are closely connected.
KB-Your writing about adoption has been featured by The American Fertility Association, as well as in Adoptive Families Magazine and others. You have appeared on NBC News and ABCNews. When did you first realize that you were meant to become an advocate for open adoption, and how has this advocacy changed you?
LH-The first time I realized it was when Melissa of Stirrup Queens asked if she could feature a post I wrote about choosing an adoption agency on Operation Heads Up. I was shocked when Adoptive Families was amenable the first time I pitched them — it felt like a bold act to write that query letter (here is my latest article in Adoptive Families magazine, in the current issue). I am so grateful for all the opportunities to advocate about openness in adoption.
People in roles of advocacy are curious, observant and passionate. So I would say that moving into this role has sustained my innate curiosity and passion about openness, and requires me to keep observing what does and doesn’t work for families in open and closed situations.
KB-Our readers come to us through loss, infertility, or adoption. What advice can you offer to help people mindfully work through their feelings related to adoption? Related to infertility? Related to infant loss?
LH-When I first joined the ALI community I was aware that I can often represent both an infertile person’s worst fear and best hope.
I am what happens when you get to the end of the line of fertility treatments. I am what happens when you grieve that loss, take yet another chance, and open your heart to the path that unfolds ahead of you.
Recently I had a really horrible thing happen to me, my own personal earthquake where everything was shaken loose, and I had no idea how things would settle. What would remain intact? What would my new life look like? How in heaven’s name could I loosen the knot that had me 100% completely stuck?
My usual pattern would have been to lament all that had led me to the crisis, to replay things that may or may not have contributed to it, and then to plan for every contingency I could think of. All this would take place in the past or in the future, all of it mere mind chatter.
This time, though, I decided over and over again to stay present. In this moment I am OK. In this moment I have what I need to live. In this moment I am breathing. In this moment I am loved by someone. In this moment I am. Whenever my mind would start to chatter, I would gently bring it back to now. Not kidding — this might have been ten thousand times in a fortnight.
Know what? The seemingly unsolvable crisis eventually passed. I relentlessly aimed to be as unattached to a positive outcome as I was to a negative outcome. For now, I am alright.
Some advice I might give anyone in distress is to become aware of your mind chatter. When you start to do it, choose instead to think about what is now. You can say, “I’m sad now. My heart is broken now. I am bereft now.” But if you go into the territory of, “I’ll never be happy again,” or “I’ll never have a baby,” or “This loss has ruined me forever” then you’re projecting into the future. Gently bring yourself back to your breath, to your body, and speak only about what you feel at this moment.
If I might ask you a question back, how would this advice fit someone going through infant loss, Kristin? I had a babyloss that seemed massive at the time. I was curled up in a ball for a while, looking for ways to die that didn’t involve killing myself. I was not very mindful at the time. Sometimes curling up into a ball is what needs to be done for a bit.
KB-I suppose that my advice would be to do just that – to ‘curl up in a ball for a bit.’ Or to scream. Or to rail and wail. I am a firm believer in allowing oneself to fully work through and feel their grief. Our society encourages women to move on, or get over the loss of their child far-too-quickly, because babyloss is taboo, and uncomfortable for many to hear about, but I think that placing that sort of expectation on the babylost is unhealthy, and unfair. The fact of the matter is that whether you deal with the emotions of your loss immediately, or ten years down the road, they are going to have to be dealt with. Women should be allowed the space, the time, and the understanding necessary to work through loss. That being said, I think it would have been helpful for me to know about taking a mindful approach in the early days of my grief. If I had focused on how I was feeling in the moment alone, instead of how I felt in the moment being compounded with the fears and feelings about my future – that things would never get better, or I would never stop hurting – my road to healing may have been easier. Life immediately after loss is breath by breath, hour by hour, day by day. I think that if women knew that it is okay to focus on how they are feeling just in that particular breath, hour, or day, and that they didn’t need to bear the weight of what could happen in the future on their shoulders, it could be freeing.
LH-I also recommend feeling and releasing, feeling and releasing, as often as necessary. Keep the emotions in motion so that they don’t get stuck in you. Movement is helpful — walking, dance, yoga, biking, running, whatever moves you. Likewise, creating moves energy — painting, throwing pots, composing or playing music, writing, acting. Participating in these activities can assist in the effort to release emotions so that they don’t get stuck in the body.
KB-Since the birth parents actually pick the adoptive parents in open adoption, what advice can you offer prospective adoptive parents to stay mindful and positive in the face of rejection? What advice can you offer to them to stay grounded through the process?
LH-I tell my clients that finding this match is much like finding your partner. Back when you were looking for a mate, you weren’t just looking for any one. You were looking for the right partner for you. Same principal, same requirement to be patient.
A few years ago I wrote a New Year’s post about how to live a charmed life. Instead of using contraction to get what you want, with the emphasis on what you lack, it uses the concept of expansion to reframe: “I already am all that I seek.”
I would also advise waiting people to use the waiting time to prepare to graft onto your family tree a new extended family. Just as you added in-laws when you got married, consider that it is in your future child’s best interest to add his birth parents and possibly their families to your extended family. Prepare to open your heart to them, to engage your heart as much as you do your head, and be ready to embrace these people who are crucial to your family’s formation as important to your child and thus to you.
KB-How did the collaboration with your daughter’s birth mom take shape? Did you develop the framework of the book together? Did you have an idea of where you thought Crystal’s voice would be most helpful and just ask her for that specific input? Or did you work to find or create spaces for things she wanted to add to the conversation?
LH- Crystal and I talked for years about how we might help others develop the kind of relationship we stumbled into with each other. First we had to take a look at what we did and didn’t do and what has made our efforts at openness successful. For years we have taught classes in the Denver area. More than anything we say in these sessions, people seem to get a lot just out of seeing a template for how an open adoption can look.
The framework of the book is mine. Crystal and I had extensive interviews about her thoughts and emotions at various points of our journey, as well as her own deconstruction of how we got to where we are. For a book that is largely about how adoptive parents and birth parents can be on the same “side,” rather than the traditional concept of competition between the two sides, it seemed important for us to work together on this book.
As for which came first, her words or a space for her words, I believe it was mostly the former. We had a few jam sessions in which we put as much on the table as we had in us. I took notes and the book began to take shape. Sometimes the book fit around her words and sometimes her words fit into the book.
I suppose in that sense, the way the book took its form is much the same way Crystal and I have taken our form.