My Voices of the Year Video: The Bridge That Is Any Bridge

Jenna Hatfield, Voices of the Year 2014

I’ve been reluctant to share the video here and elsewhere for various reasons.

There’s that thing where you’re looking down and reading something and you end up with approximately eleven chins even though you don’t have eleven chins. You know this on a logical basis; you know this on an “it doesn’t matter how many chins I have” basis. But still, you look and you see chins. And you listen and you hear your tiny little child voice and think, “Why didn’t my voice age with me?” And your hair keeps falling in your eyes. And your posture is kind of off, and you know your Grandfather would look at you and yell, “Pull those shoulders back, Wren!” And your lips are a little pursed, but that’s just because you’re working really hard to keep the tears behind the eyes. You practiced so hard, so many days and nights and in front of the people who matter most to you, to not cry, so dag-nab-it, you’re not going to cry now.

Chins and All

And then you take a deep breath and glimpse at the words sitting next to your desk in your office, placed there to remind you to come back from the space that is any space, and you realize none of those things matter. Not the green dress. Not the jewelry. Not the alleged chins or the childlike voice or anything other than the words.

The words.

Here’s my piece, “The Bridge That Is Any Bridge,” read aloud at BlogHer ’14 at the Voices and Photos of the Year Community Keynote.

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I’m always more comfortable writing my words than reading them. But as I arrived at the Grand Ballroom that afternoon, deer-in-the-headlights nervous, Elisa Camahort Page reminded me that my words needed to be read aloud as they were written, for someone else to hear as someone else needed to read.

I received an email from a beautiful soul since BlogHer ’14. She shared the piece with her daughter, and her daughter shared something about a friend. Together they reached out to the other girl. If that one young girl knows that she is not alone on her figurative or literal bridge, I’ll take all the chins in the world.

Thank you for listening. Thank you for receiving. Thank you.

Please check out the other video from the conference, which includes Keynotes, 10×10 Presentations, and Voices and Photos of the Year. All are amazing and worthy of a watch.

 

 

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How to Craft the Best Blog Post Ever

Writing Old School

This morning I clicked through some shared blog links, my feed reader, and the Internet at large. I saw a number of posts dedicated to the topic of blogging itself, which isn’t shocking as BlogHer ’14 kicks off next week. I read these posts with interest, but have my own list of ways to craft the best blog post ever I’d like to share with you.

Like to hear it? Here it goes.

1. Write your heart out.

2. Press publish.

Ta-da! You win!

You can write it sitting down at a computer, standing up on your phone while waiting in line at Starbucks for your latte fix, on the train commuting to your job while balancing your iPad on your lap, dictated through an app on your phone or to your kid who types faster than you. You can even write it on paper, kick it old school with a journal and a pen and a lake and the sunset; type it into your blog later, when you have time, energy, space removed from the immediacy of whatever it was you needed to write right then, in that moment.

Writing Old School

You can put a picture on it. If you do, it can be a fancy pants picture you took with your DSLR, full of shiny bokeh and perfect focus. It could be a snap from your smartphone. It could be filtered within an inch of its life. It could have text on it. Or you could simply not put a photo on your post. The world will not end. Your words don’t matter less if you do not include a photo on your post. “They” say that posts with photos are shared more. I say that good writing is good writing is good writing. True facts.

You could share it. On Twitter or your personal Facebook page or your Facebook Fan page or Google+ or Pinterest or StumbleUpon. Or you could just let people find it, relate to it, and share it at will. Or you could do some combination thereof. Or nothing. It doesn’t matter.

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Because crafting the perfect blog post has less to do with views and shares and potential for going viral and more with writing what you want to write at the time you want to write it. Too often, and more so in recent years as we’ve become hyper-focused on making sure other people want to share our posts instead of simply reading our words and relating, we censor ourselves. Or we forget to tell our story and instead blather on about things that matter very little to us in the end. Or we completely lose track of why we started blogging in the first place. Not to say your reasons can’t change, but our voices have changed over the years and a lot of that can be attributed to people telling us what success in blogging means, what it means to be a “good” blogger, what it means to be listed or not.

Remember when we came to our spaces and blathered and pressed submit and didn’t think twice about if it was retweeted or shared eleventy times? Remember when pressing submit on a post you poured your heart into—the very essence of your soul—left you feeling accomplished and proud of yourself, proud of the work you put into your own virtual space? Remember when telling your story meant something to you?

I’ve been working for the past few years on reclaiming that for myself. Last year at BlogHer, I spoke on a panel with three smart women, talking about brands, branding, success, and what it all means to us. We had different experiences, opinions, and processes. I keep coming back to my statement that pressing publish is enough success for me. I’ve written some hard stuff over the past year. I’ve also written about my running journey and sometimes neglected to share with regularity for fear that others might find it boring or trivial or not in “line with my brand.” Then I remembered that I’m not a brand, that I’m a human being and running is part of my story. So is losing my grandmother, watching these brothers figure out brotherhood together, the way I’ve learned to dress myself and this body of mine over the years, my struggles with anxiety and mental health, and everything else I’ve taken time and heart and energy to tippity-tap type out into this space, press publish, and send out into the world.

I recognize that I say this from a complete place of blogging privilege. I’ll walk across a stage in San Jose on Friday night and read a post* at the 7th Annual Voices and Photos of the Year Community Keynote in front of a room full of people I know and love, people I’ve read, people I’ve never read, people who don’t really like me, people who don’t know I exist. I’ll read a post that ranks as one of the hardest posts I’ve ever written. Pressing publish on that post, putting it out into the greater space and showing that part of myself marked a success in so many ways. Instead of hiding, I pressed publish. Instead of censoring myself and being brand friendly, I pressed publish. Instead of letting someone else tackle it, I pressed publish—because it was my story. I’ll be recognized for the success of pressing publish. I get the privilege I have in saying, “Oh, pressing publish is success enough.”

But if I hadn’t been pressing publish for years and years and years and gotten back to a place where pressing publish was enough for me—more than enough for me—I never, ever would have written that post, shared my truth, and sent it out there for others to read, to relate to, to share. It simply wouldn’t have happened.

And so, keep writing your hard out and keep pressing publish. You are successful every single time you do so. True facts.

 

*=Voices of the Year readers have been instructed not to share which post they are reading on the stage until that night. I will have a post that goes live that night so those who cannot attend BlogHer ’14 can re-read what I wrote. Rumor has it there will eventually be video of the Community Keynote as well. Here’s hoping I don’t biff it in my brand new (epic) shoes.

 

I Am Not a Unicorn

BlogHer '11 Voice of the Year Honoree
I am not a unicorn.

One of my dearest friends told me today that her friend (who reads this blog, hi!) refers to me as The Unicorn. I laughed because Charlie the Unicorn immediately popped into my head. As my friend explained that the name stems from the fact that birth mothers like me don’t really exist, I got kind of sad. Not with my friend or even with her friend; their realities and dealings with their kids’ birth mothers are very different than dealing with me. I don’t know how Mandi does it sometimes; she’s an amazing mom and human being.

But I’m still not a unicorn.

I am real. I exist. I am not a figment of society’s imagination.

In fact, once a month, I see — face to face — other real mothers like me. We sit in a circle. We share the joys that have happened since our last meeting. We cry and pass the tissue box. We ask questions. We share anger — most of which is directed at a society that dismisses, diminishes and negates our importance or our existence. For two hours every month, we get to look into the eyes of others who not only know we exist but understand — at the core — how that very existence is often painful and daunting and overwhelmingly sad.

I’ve had this discussion in numerous ways with numerous people over the years. It comes about in many ways. Sometimes people think they’re paying me a compliment. “But you’re such a good mom.” Sometimes it’s a legitimate discussion about which voices we hear in the blogosphere regarding birth mother stories and how some of that is related to access and class. Sometimes it’s the stereotypes of what a birth mother should be or look like or act like rearing their ugly heads. “Oh, but you’re not like those other birth mothers. You don’t do drugs. You have a career. You love and care for Munchkin.” Most people mean well and some even have spectacular and important points about the missing voices in the discussion. But every time I hear a sentiment like one of these, I cringe. Not just for myself or for other birth parents — but for our children who will know, all too well, that society doesn’t place any value on their original parents.

I recognize that comments like this often stem from the failed adoption industry that allows all potential adoptive parents to believe that all birth parents are like me; that we are cookie-cutter good girls who got pregnant despite being relatively good human beings and because we’re all pro-life, we chose adoption. If our system was doing right by birth parents, adoptive parents and our children, they would tell the truth that drug use does occur by birth parents and adoptive parents alike, that relationships will be difficult at times in the post-placement years and that we’re all so different — politically, spiritually, emotionally, personality wise, and so on — that no guarantees can be made about anything. But that’s not what the industry wants families to believe; they paint it with rosy colors and claim best case scenario and expect families to not just believe it — hook, line and sinker — but to feel like they are somehow the exception when they find difficulty or failure on their path, so that they don’t turn to the agency and say, “What gives?”

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But it doesn’t change the truth: I am not a unicorn.

And no, not every birth mother is like me, like the other amazing women in our group. All of our stories in that group are different; how we came to adoption, how we view our past and our future, how we feel about adoption and policies and politics, how we live our daily lives. But we’re all real, every last one of us. Some may struggle with various life choices. Some of us may struggle with mental health issues and depression. Some of us may struggle to make ends meet. Some of us may be angry — with the system, with people in our lives, with ourselves. Probably we all struggle with various points at various times. And I can say — for myself — that as a birth mother, a mother, a wife, a friend and a human being, sometimes I’m difficult to understand, get along with and maintain a relationship with… but I doubt that there are many people alive, birth mothers or otherwise, who don’t have a time in their life in which they ooze a bit of difficulty.

Perhaps, to make this discussion hit home just a little bit, I’m going to say that Dee is better than all of the other adoptive parents out there. She communicates clearly. She keeps promises. She is fun, smart, and amazing. She doesn’t do drugs and she is a wonderful parent. Is she then a unicorn? No. She’s a human being who has made choices. As am I. As are you. As are your children’s birth parents. As are the rest of us.

And so, while I am kinda cool — according a recent statement by my oldest son, emphasis on the kinda — I am not a unicorn any more than my amazing children, any more than my compassionate husband, any more than my daughter’s wonderful mom. I am an individual with a unique story and a very personal path, but I am not alone. Please don’t count my story as unimportant to adoption because I don’t fit in with your view of a birth mother or your experience. Please don’t dismiss the other birth mothers and birth fathers who live lives that are greatly different from mine. The truth is that no one starts out life with a goal of becoming a birth parent. To become one means that something went horribly wrong and every person deals with crisis and trauma in different ways. I’m not asking parents to dismiss real issues or expose their children to dangerous situations. I am asking parents to remember that people are human.

I wish I was a unicorn — because then the grief that I live with would be imaginary. But I’m real. And this pain is real. And, yes, I deal with it in healthy ways most of the time, but I’m not perfect and we live in an imperfect world. Until you’ve held me as I sob in your arms because the hurt of missing my daughter is so overwhelming, you have no idea how often I put on my brave face for the rest of the world. I’m pretty sure unicorns don’t cry. And if they do, the world makes no sense anyway, does it?

Because who wants to live in a world with crying unicorns any more than they want to live in a world with cookie-cutter people? Not this woman! I like my unicorns happy and my people with their freak flags flying. Otherwise, the world would be a boring place.

No unicorns were harmed during the writing of this post. That I know of, at least.