Father's Day, Mother's Day, Parenting and Poultry are on my mind...Before you run off thinking this associative list means I have cracked please take a minute to consider I am going somewhere with this!!
When your life has been touched by fertility or adoption issues, Father's and Mother's Days typically bring a greater variety of emotions.
I don't usually write about my daughter but this year I will. Those of you who know me more personally know I am a city person. My daughter on the other hand raises hens, had an accidental rooster named Albert (story for another time); and then a fox killed the rooster and three of our seven hens. The carnage was horrific, but even more poignant and meaningful was my fourteen year old daughter's reaction to the loss.
First, she cried of course; and then she said "let's gather the eggs, get an incubator, and re-create Albert." Without skipping a beat that is what we did! I was skeptical about our ability to pull this off, but she was correct in her expectation: Thirty-three out of forty eggs hatched and with all of this came many life lessons for her and for me that I would like to share with you.
- Life Lesson 1: The Desire to Reproduce is Strong even in kids who don't just play with dolls!
When Albert and the three hens were killed, my daughter's wish to 'reproduce' Albert was intense; and frankly, a little surprising to me.
We often talk about how women knew they wanted to be parents from very young ages when they played with dolls, and are devastated by infertility. While that is true, our understanding of the desires to reproduce and to parent need to be expanded to include young girls and boys who do not just play with dolls! Animal-loving girls and boys, and kids who play with whatever, all connect with how special reproduction is, and experience the deep need to nurture.
I find it poignant to touch base with these youthful dreams of birth, parenting, of becoming a mom or a dad when I think about all of the adults we see at IAC Center whose desires to parent are frustrating and painful.
The wish to parent is so strong; reproduction is a miracle every time it happens and a tragedy every time it does not.
- Life Lesson 2: The Impact of Loss and Our Amazing Abilities to Process it
Watching my outdoorsy, nature-oriented daughter's drive to remedy her loss of the beloved rooster and hens, her determination, the daily watching and tending to the temperature and moisture in the incubator was wonderful and made me smile. I definitely felt some fear that the incubator would not work; after all, we are not farmers so could we really hatch some chicks?
The rooster's main 'girlfriend' named Colette also reacted to his death by literally grieving, she walked around quite lost for several days and then she went "broody" which means she sat on eggs all day rather than playing in the yard with her girlfriends; essentially skipping recess to reproduce. We were surprised by the abrupt change in her personality - who knew that hens grieve?
Difficulty reproducing leads people to consider all sorts of family building options once the grief is managed.
For poultry, each hen lays a particular color egg, so we put Colette's chocolate-colored eggs right underneath her to hatch. The other hens' eggs were in the incubator. A few days after the chicks were born; we put 10 more with Colette, letting her ADOPT the chicks from some of the other hens, since she was the 'broody' hen with the obvious maternal instinct.
- Life Lesson 3: Empathy and Parental Instinct are Universal
We saw Colette's instant maternal instinct toward ALL of the chicks, warming them, clearing a path on a ramp so they could take their first steps outside, herding and protecting them, letting them sleep underneath her and burrow into her feathers; making herself 'big' when we came near just like a Mama Bear!
British researchers at Bristol University, School of Veterinary Sciences have shown domestic hens show a clear physiological and behavioral response to their chicks' distress. During one of the controlled and non-invasive technical procedures, when the chicks were exposed to a puff of air, the hens' heart rate increased, eye temperature decreased, the hens also changed their behavior and reacted with increased alertness, decreased preening and increased vocalizations directed to their chicks. This research also supports the theory that in humans our empathic ability resides in the 'lower' parts of the brain, which we have in common with other mammals.
Maternal instinct in Colette has been beautiful to watch. The basic, primitive instinct we all have. The maternal and paternal instincts that fuel the desire to parent, the sadness when this wish is frustrated by the inability to get pregnant, the difficulties that may occur with the adoption process, and the tough times with our children when we can't easily figure out how to soothe them or to help them to feel good about themselves.
Empathy was once thought to be a completely human if not mammalian trait. Of course this finding about hens has implications for the welfare of chickens in battery farms and research labs - something else to think about...and leads to a completely different conversation about tofu, soy curls @ http://www.butlerfoods.com/ , etc. Not now though....I promise!
Not that any of us need research to prove this, but parenting is a most natural instinct, whether poultry or people. It is tragic when the wish is not more easily fulfilled, and requires excessive efforts - physical, legal and/or emotional - to be achieved.
- Life Lesson 4: The Resilience We All Possess....Because We Dream
Watching my daughter blossom into a beautiful woman I am reminded of each of our childhood and teenage dreams. Our dreams most frequently include the desire to become a mom or a dad.
My daughter's passionate and proactive response to the massacre reminds me how much credit each of us who have struggled or are struggling to become parents deserve-- for overcoming deep loss and finding a way to satisfy that most basic of instincts- the wish to parent; and for those of us who struggle to be the best parents we can be. Happy Father's and Mother's day to you all, whether it is now, or in the soon-to-be future.
Please join us for groups, workshops, counseling if you need it, and in celebrating all kinds of families.
Please note (in more detail below):
- We are interviewing for Fall groups for kids and teens beginning this summer.
- Baby Care for Adoptive Parents September 2012
- IAC Center will open in Philadelphia, hopefully as early as September 2012!
Parenting, Poultry, Poignancy and Promise. We are here at IAC Center to help you wherever you are in this journey.