Ten Things I Wish I Knew About Open Adoption 

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard the open adoption rollercoaster. Strap in, hold on, and the ride will stop … sometime. Eight years ago, after a battle with secondary infertility and hours of Googling, we decided to pursue an open adoption. Looking back, even with hours of research, there are a few things I wish I would have known to smooth out some of the jolts, twists, and turns the ride brought with it.

#10 – You might want to quit.

The adoption process is long, emotional, and difficult to handle. There are multiple phases to the process and all are stressful. Your emotions will run high and you’ll lose patience from time to time. There will likely be moments you just want to give up and say “Screw it, my life is fine the way it is.” It’s understandable, don’t be too hard on yourself. Take a deep breath and hang in.

#9 – It isn’t always about your child.

Agencies want to make matches and finalize adoptions, so they may put the needs of the birth parents ahead of the needs of the child. It’s your job as the parent to put your child’s needs first.

#8 – Your family tree can explode with new growth.

It’s not only a birth mother you may be adding to your life, you could also fold in the birth father, and members of both of their families. Understanding the expectations of all these new people can be challenging. But remember, you have one thing in common, you love the child that’s becoming part of your family.

#7 – Not everyone is fit for a fully open adoption.

Open adoption means information is exchanged between birth parents and adoptive parents. Contact and information sharing may occur before and after the child is with their forever family. But not all birth parents are well-suited for open adoption. Those with cognitive, addictive, or personality disorders may have a difficult time understanding the boundaries of open adoption and may struggle greatly. And unfortunately, not all agencies screen out these birth parents. Openness and contact should be based on the individuals involved in each adoption.

#6 – Words will fail you.

We don’t have good words for the relationships created through open adoption and the adjectives can get lengthy. “Oh, she’s her birth mother’s uncle’s first wife.” And words will fail other people too, you’re bound to be asked about your child’s “real mom” more than once.

#5 – Theres no such thing as typical.

Everybody’s different, and therefore every birth parent/adoptive parent/adoptee relationship is unique. There’s no one-size-fits-all open adoption arrangement so tread carefully if anyone tries to convince you there is.

#4 – Don’t assume! Ask about the birth parents’ expectations early and often.

You need to know what the birth parents are thinking, what access and information they expect, and what role they see themselves having in the child’s life. Don’t just rely on your agency to give you the answers, ask the birth parents, listen to what they say, and follow-up if something doesn’t feel right to you.

#3 – Be honest about your boundaries from the beginning.

Talk to your agency about your expectations for the relationship you’ll have with your child’s birth parents. Then do your best to communicate openly with your child’s birth parents about the information you are willing to share and how often you’re willing to share it.

#2 – Be direct about the help you need.

Many of the challenges of open adoption involve deeply emotional issues, be kind, but direct. Be explicit with your agency, family or friends about what you need from them. If you have a problem you’re trying to solve, be clear about what you’re trying to achieve.

#1 – It’s scary as hell.

You decided to pursue open adoption because you want the best for your child and have love to give. Giving away your heart is scary and I won’t lie, you might get it broken one time, or ten, in the process. But believe me it’s worth it and your heart will heal.

The scary, wild roller coaster ride of open adoption was long and left us a little sore, but it was worth every single moment. Throughout the process, I worried there would always be a metaphorical asterisk next to my child because I was unable to birth her, as if the fact we adopted would matter. My love for her is true, deep, and everlasting. And there is no asterisk.

Raising an Artist

There’s no denying we’re raising an artist. Our dining room table is often an explosion of Play Doh, paints, crayons, markers, and paper.

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Our six year old daughter is known to wake up before six in the morning, wander downstairs to the dining room and begin a new project. A couple of weeks ago she was forming Play Doh into ‘beans’ to use with a math game her teacher sent home. On another occasion when she couldn’t find any paper, she took coffee filters out of the pantry and made ‘tie dye’ using watercolors. It was beautiful.

Art is teaching her to experiment, problem-solve, and try new things. It’s her way to burn off excess energy and relax. Her joy and enthusiasm when she’s in her creative zone is contagious.

We’ve spent the last two Sunday afternoons learning about ceramics under the tutelage of a local clay artist. Our instructor helped her explore and learn about clay, working with her to create a one of a kind piece born of her imagination.

Painting her Lauren Original Halloween sign.
Painting her creation – a Halloween sign.

Hopefully we’ll continue to find ways to keep her imagination alive and her creativity flowing. Because creative outlets are as important to raising an artist as food and water.

Excuse Me Young Man, What Have You Done with My Little Boy?

“Hey Mom, what’s up,” he asked casually as he sauntered into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator door, and began scanning the shelves.

“Hey bud, whatcha looking’ for?” I could swear he just ate 15 minutes before.

“A snack,” he said followed quickly by the unmistakable sound of a string cheese wrapper being pulled apart.

“Didn’t you just eat?” I laughed and glanced over my shoulder, momentarily shocked that the person standing there had little resemblance to the little boy I swear he was just months before.

“I love ya mama!” he said before wrapping his arms around me and lifting me off the ground.

“Whoa bud!” I warned as my feet landed back on the ground. “Please don’t pick me up.”

“Why not?” A look of true bewilderment filled his still boyish face.

“Boundaries dude,” I wrapped my arms around his broadening shoulders and gave him a squeeze. “Kids aren’t supposed to pick up their parents.”

“Whatever,” he said with a quick laugh as he walked toward the living room. “Love you!”

“I love you more!” I called back standing momentarily stunned at the kitchen island soaking in the incontrovertible fact that we’d entered a new phase of our mother/son relationship.

The days are long but the years are short. – I don’t know who first said it, but I’ve been reading it a lot lately.

I don’t remember ever seeing the saying before I became a mom. And now it seems to be popping up everywhere – Facebook, Twitter, overlaid on Instagram photos.

Maybe it’s just suddenly hitting a little too close to home. In what feels like the blink of an eye my seven pound newborn is now a five foot tall 11 year old.

Gone are the days of carrying his sleeping body to bed when he falls asleep in the car. Gone too is my ability to scoop him up and away from danger. And all too soon, gone will be the opportunity to lean down and kiss the top of his head as he stands next to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the benefits that come with having an older kid – he doesn’t need constant supervision, only occasionally has to be reminded to wash his hands, and he can get himself a snack.

And we haven’t hit the teen years yet. Luckily he’s still willing to hang out with me in public (even when we accidentally dress like twins), and even pulls himself away from the Xbox from time to time to sit down next to me for a snuggle. Most importantly, he still indulges me allowing me to tuck him in at night and cover his soft cheeks with kisses.

But there’s a part of me – a bigger part lately than usual – that feels the years of being a mom to a little boy went by too fast.

Um Mom … It Wasn’t All Bad

It’s been a long week. Kids were busy, work was busy, and I was short on sleep. The short on sleep part was my own fault as the husband and I stayed up late every night binge watching Hawaii 5-0 on Netflix. As our six year old would say “Not the best choice, right?” while tilting her head to the side as her eyes widen and her mouth curls into a crooked little smile. She shakes her head until I agree with her.

And to make it just a little more challenging to get through the last workday of the week, I was awoken by the shuffle of feet in the wee hours of the morning.

I opened my eyes and waited for them to adjust to the darkness as I searched for our early morning visitor. I could tell by the sound of the footsteps it was our daughter.

“What’s up baby-cakes?” I asked as I pulled myself up onto my elbows. I tapped the mattress next to me as she rounded the corner of the bed, her blanket swung over one shoulder.

“I had a bad dream,” she whispered hoarsely as her voice threatened to crack.

“Oh man, that stinks,” I said as I cuddled her in next to me and instantly felt her tense shoulders begin to relax. “Wanna tell me about it?”

“We were making pancakes for breakfast, and we ate them. And then a dinosaur came, and the pancake griddle caught on fire, and our house burnt down.” She nuzzled her warm cheek into the crook of my neck.

I tried not to laugh at the random nature of the dream, while at the same time feeling oddly proud that my six year old could come up with the word griddle in the middle of the night.

“Whoa, that sounds awful,” I said hoping that acknowledging her fear would help it quickly dissipate and we could get back to sleep.

“Well mom, it wasn’t all bad,” she said as if I was the one that only moments before had been near tears. “The pancakes tasted great!” I heard the smile in her voice.

“Well, I stand corrected,” I said letting out the laugh I’d held back moments before. “I’m glad it wasn’t all bad.” I kissed her head and pulled the comforter up around her shoulders. “Should we try to go to sleep?”

Almost before I finished the question I heard her breathing slow and within a minute she was asleep.

Ever since bringing our kids home from the hospital we’ve tried hard not to let them sleep with us. We didn’t want to start a habit we’d have to break and frankly, I never slept well with my kids in the room. Even now, I can never fully relax, always on alert for a change in their breathing that might signal a problem.

I knew I wouldn’t sleep well if she stayed in the bed next to me, but my eyes had adjusted to the dark and I could see her sweet sleeping face on the pillow next to me. I had the rare opportunity to snuggle her close for a couple of hours without her wriggling away.

So while I knew I would wake up extra tired, and likely a little sore, it wasn’t all bad. I had the opportunity to watch my daughter sleep and to hold her close.

Our kids are growing up so fast, I don’t know how many more chances like that I’ll get.

Oh s#@t! – A Six Year Old’s Attempt at Verbal Shock and Awe

“Oh crap!” our daughter declared as she walked through the front door after school and dropped her backpack next to the dining room table. “I forgot my lunchbox at school. Harrumph!”

“Well hello to you kiddo,” I said looking up and trying not to laugh. It was so hard to keep a straight face; her tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language were just the perfect balance of drama and genuine feeling.

“Oh kah-rapppppp,” she said as her eyes widened before she slapped her forehead with the palm of her hand. “I guess I’m just gonna need to bring my lunch in a paper bag tomorrow. Dammit.”

The dammit came out in a barely audible whisper as she tried to steal a look in my direction. I saw the gears turning in her head as she hoped for a reaction.

“Whoa there sister,” I said raising my voice slightly as our eyes met. “You know better than to talk like that.” I paused to take a breath, barely able to hold back my laughter that suddenly stemmed more from shock than humor. “How about, darn I forgot my lunchbox? or Oh man, I forgot my lunch box.”

Just as I finished providing the alternative language, my husband entered the house.

“You are so lucky young lady that your mother didn’t hear what you just said. If she heard you she would be very upset. That language is NOT appropriate.” He stood directly in front of her, brows knitted together, his hands on his hips.

I looked at my husband in shock and confusion. His reaction seemed like an eight on the 10 point parenting scale. She only said crap and dammit … and I almost laughed … and how in the heck did you hear her, I thought.

“What’s up?” I asked totally bewildered and feeling guilty for finding such humor in the last 30 seconds. “What’d I miss?”

“I dunno,” our daughter said as she shrugged and walked out of the room the model of six year old innocence.

“I was grabbing something from the back of the car as she walked in the house. Didn’t you hear what she said?”

“Um, no,” I said raising my eyebrows at him curious as to what I missed.

“Her hand slipped on the doorknob and when it swung toward her she said “friggin’ door!”

“Ooooh, I seeee….” I let my voice trail off. That was something all together different. Although still a tiny bit funny. I tried hard not to smile, even a little bit.

In truth, if anyone else heard the crap, jerk, dammit, and friggin’ that we’d heard lately I would be embarrassed at the evidence of my obvious mothering failures. Although, admittedly the feelings of failure would be tempered by the knowledge that this was just another example of our daughter testing the boundaries and trying to get a reaction. How do you know the limits if you never bump up against them, right?

We’d been through a similar shock and awe campaign five years ago with our son. He too tested the limits of language, mostly in front of us, but from time to time when friends or family were around. We all survived and at almost 11 he isn’t foul mouthed, well, not that often anyway.

So bring it on Sister. Show me what you got. Test my self control. I’ll correct you, give you alternatives, and wait to laugh until you leave the room.

Basking in the Glow of a Parenting Success

This weekend was our annual trip to the State Fair. Every year it gets easier – no more nap time to plan around, diaper bag to carry, or stroller to maneuver through the crowds.

Hoping to avoid hearing too many questions about when they could go on the rides, we prepped the kids before we left the house. The plan was to see some animals, visit the petting zoo, watch the carvers and blacksmith before going on any rides. Oh the rides … this could be our undoing. Our son, at almost 11, is just shy of five feet tall and 110 pounds. He wouldn’t have to worry about height limits anymore. For our six and a half year old, who wants to do everything her brother does, it might be a different story.

I wondered how many times we might hear “That’s not fair!” or “I am too big enough to go on that ride!” or “That guy’s just a big jerk!” (When she’s feeling particularly aggrieved lately jerk is her favorite word.) I pictured her furrowed brows, eyes narrowing and lips in a deep frown.

State FairFirst stop was the cattle barn. Our daughter really wanted to milk the fiberglass dairy cow like last year. We were off to a good start as our son took the lead and navigated his sister in the right direction. My husband and I walked a few feet behind, “You see that,” I said looking over at him and smiling, “they do love each other!” I was going to enjoy the peace and togetherness while it lasted.

We saw cattle, exotic birds, sheep, rabbits, horses and even a zebra. The kids were awesome so it was time to head to the rides.

Kids heading toward our next activity at the Fair.
Kids heading toward our next activity at the Fair.

When their dad left to buy ride tickets they began to strategize. I sat quietly and listened. They worked together to decide what ride they’d go on first, took turns choosing the next ride, and even compromised a time or two. And more than once, my son grabbed his sister’s hand and led her through the crowd. They got along beautifully and both had a great time.

Maybe our family has entered a new phase, or maybe we just had a great day at the Fair. Either way, I’ll take it. I’ll sit back and bask in the glow of our parenting success.

One Big Goal – One Step Closer to Completion

Last year, as I sat on the beach in Maui building a sand castle with my then five year old daughter, my husband and nine year old son snorkeling nearby, I decided to go after a goal I’d set three decades earlier.

Thirty years before, after learning S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders while still in high school, I decided I wanted to write a book. At the time I figured I had five or six years to pen my first novel and get it published. (I was ten and figured I could have it finished by the time I was 15 or 16.)

I had a three month summer vacation to fill, an active imagination, and loved the way writing made me feel. I also yearned for the attention a top selling novel would bring. So I grabbed a handful of notebook paper and a pencil, sat down at my small wooden desk, and began writing the next great young adult novel. I wrote five or six pages before I ran out of storyline, lost interest, and was distracted by riding my bike around the neighborhood with my friends.

Over the years I’ve kept journals, continuing to enjoy the relaxation and clarity writing brought. The desire to get my writing published never went away. Although my desire for fame did.

I want to achieve three things by publishing my memoir, The Making of a Mom:
1. Show my kids that with dedication and effort a goal can be achieved (even if it takes a long time).
2. Help someone on an adoption journey know they aren’t alone.
3. Hold a copy of my book in my hands as proof I can do whatever I set my mind to.

After a year of hard work, perseverance, and a few tears, the first draft is done. I wrote 159,876 words filling 473 pages. As a result, I gained both a better understanding of my journey and a greater appreciation for the life I’ve built. I also have more desire than ever to see this goal through to the end.

As I begin to refine the thousands of words and further shape the story, nobody is more surprised than I am that I’ve been able to see my goal through to this point. So hopefully I’ll keep my eye on the prize, maintain momentum, and by this time next year, be a published author.