Do My Birthparents Love Me?

Since we decided to adopt I’ve kept a mental list of questions our child might ask about adoption. Whenever our daughter, now seven, wants to talk about adoption, I do my best to stop whatever I’m doing and focus on her.

We can go months without a mention of adoption. And then there are times when questions come in rapid succession.

Last night, as she was snuggled on my lap before bedtime, she asked “Mom, did my birth mom love me?” There was a hint of sadness in her voice.

“Oh, YES!” I said before kissing her on the cheek and hugging her tight. “She loves you very much.”

We adopted our daughter through open adoption. We know why our daughter’s birthparents chose adoption. We met them before she was born and heard about how excited they were to meet her. We were at the hospital with them as they held her close and covered her with kisses. We saw firsthand their love for her.

I hope our daughter will come to know in her heart that her birthparents both loved her very much when they chose adoption. And their love, like ours, is everlasting.

Thanks & Gratitude in Adoption

Showing gratitude in an adoption can be tricky business. How do you say thank you to the people who created the baby that becomes your son or daughter?

The moment I laid eyes on our daughter I was in love. I was immensely grateful to the couple who were making it possible for me to be her mom. How could I possibly express my gratitude to her birth parents?

While we all marveled at the new baby I saw the pride and love they had for her. And I saw their pain too. I saw them struggling with the thought of not parenting the baby they had created. I saw them hurting in ways I could only begin to imagine.

Logically I knew I wasn’t responsible for their pain or their struggle. I wasn’t responsible to fix their hurt. But emotionally I wasn’t convinced.

My gratitude didn’t feel like enough. They were making a sacrifice I would never make. Their loss was my gain. Therefore, I decided their emotional needs were more important than mine.

I felt I needed to make sure I never forgot their sacrifice. I wanted to find a way to ensure they understood how grateful I was for the tremendous gift they gave our family. If I was successful maybe it would ease their pain, make the struggle a little easier and help them heal. Maybe I could stop feeling responsible for their hurt.

So, I figured I needed to find a way to acknowledge and respond to their hurt whenever they asked me to. When they called I needed to answer. When they asked for pictures I needed to ask how many. When they told me they wished they never chose me to raise their daughter, I needed to accept it and absorb the pain.

Thankfully seven years of hindsight has brought a deeper understanding of my experience. I did not cause our daughter’s birthmother’s pregnancy. I did not make her chose adoption. I am not responsible for her healing.

I have shown gratitude toward our daughter’s birth parents. I have said thank you many times and each time I did I meant it. And I show my gratitude, for both my children, every day by continuing to be the best parent I can be.

A Month of Anniversaries

I love anniversaries. The happy ones, the sad ones, the ones I wouldn’t remember if it weren’t for Facebook’s “On This Day” feature. Anniversaries provide an opportunity to stop, reflect and celebrate. I try to appreciate what I have, where I’ve been, and spend a few minutes dreaming about what’s to come.

Every year as our daughter’s birthday approaches I take time to remember the events that unfolded in the month before she was born. We had waited over a year for our family to be chosen by a birthmother, and by the time our daughter’s birthparents were introduced to us, we only had a few weeks to prepare.

I think about the morning I decided to click through my junk folder instead of automatically deleting everything. If I’d followed my normal routine I never would have seen the adoption agency email about a couple expecting a baby girl. I think about how we sat at a table in a 24-hour restaurant a week later trying to get to know the people who would make us parents. And I think about the Saturday I let our four year old help me paint the nursery. (It turned out he and I made quite an efficient painting crew.)

And I remember struggling to put her crib together, on what turned out to be the night before her birthmother went in to labor. I wanted our daughter’s nursery to be ready and waiting for her when we brought her home.

So now every year as the days lengthen and the weather warms I celebrate the anniversary of those four short weeks before we finally met our daughter. And every year these events are a reminder of the thousands of decisions that had to align for the baby girl with big blue eyes to become our daughter.

Open Adoption -Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

Eight years ago, faced with secondary infertility, we decided to adopt a child. After hours of research, we chose open adoption.

We learned a lot through the over year-long rollercoaster ride of adoption. And holding our newborn daughter in my arms I felt the euphoria of a dream realized and knew there was another woman beginning to deal with a tremendous loss.

As I read Amy Seek’s piece Open Adoption: Not So Simple Math in the New York Times this week I couldn’t stop the tears from running down my cheeks.

In rapid succession I relived eight years of experiences in the ten minutes it took to read the article. I lingered over some sentences, letting their meaning sink in and thinking about how those key lines related to our experience of open adoption.

Seek’s description of herself, a near Xerox copy of the birthmother I had dreamed up while we waited to be chosen, is very different from the woman who gave birth to our daughter.

Seek writes about the ‘exceptional commitment’ it takes the adoptive family to keep the adoption open. I don’t know if it was her intent, the bias I bring based on our experience or a little bit of both, but I cringed as I read and reread that sentence.

In my experience, it takes ‘exceptional commitment’ from the adoptive family as well as the birthparents to make an open adoption work. And in our case, no matter how hard any of us tried, parts of the relationship between our daughter and her birthparents had to be closed.

We still talk to our daughter about her birthparents. We openly and honestly answer her questions. We send pictures a few times a year to her birthparents so they can see how she’s growing and glimpse the person she’s becoming.

When we decided on open adoption, we thought we would have the opportunity to build a relationship with our child’s birthmother very similar to the one Seek describes. After reading the article, I find myself once again grieving for the experiences we will never have. And I grieve for my daughter, that she can’t go for walks in the woods with her birthmother and enjoy time alone with her.

I often wonder about our daughter’s experience of life and family. I wish I could crawl inside her head to see and feel the world as she does. I want to understand. I want to anticipate her questions so I can be ready with answers. And I want to know when the time is right to re-open what we had to close, so she has the opportunity to build a relationship with her birthmother.

Seek is right, there is no simple math in open adoption. There are simply too many variables. There is no way of knowing what the relationships between the birth and adoptive family members will be like. But there’s one thing for certain, there are many people who love the child at the center of the relationships that open adoption creates.

 Number of Parents

A couple days before Christmas, with a few days off, I had time to cross some personal to dos off my list. As my husband and I coordinated our family’s schedule for the next day, our daughter overheard my plans and asked to come along.

Being a working mom I try to spend my days off with the kids, but sometimes I really just want me time. And the first item on my list for the next day was my annual mammogram. I wasn’t sure how bringing her along would go. She’s so inquisitive and was sure to have a lot of questions. How do you explain a mammogram to a 6 year old?

But when she looked up at me with her big blue eyes, how could I say no? “Please Mommy, I don’t want to hang out with stinky boys!” she pleaded.

“Sure sweetheart, you can come along,” I said leaning down to give her a kiss on the cheek.

The next morning as we sat in the waiting room at the radiology clinic, I did my best to explain what a mammogram was and why I was having it done. “Ew, gross! Taking pictures of your breasts?” Her nose wrinkled in disgust. “And you have to take off your bras?” (Yep, bras plural. According to her two breasts can only fit in a bras.)

The technician led us to a small exam room and began asking me questions to make sure I was the patient whose records were on her screen. Name, date of birth, reason for my appointment. My daughter sat on my lap and I answer the technician’s questions without much thought.

“Number of children?” I could tell she was trying to sound kind and interested, but was bored of the routine.

“Two,” I said giving my daughter a quick squeeze.

“I only have one here,” her tone laced with a drop of annoyance, “2004.”

“Yes, that’s my son,” I said as realization dawned. “Is your question number of pregnancies?” I raised my eyebrows as I held her eye contact, hoping she’d catch the full meaning behind my question. There’s an important difference between number of children and number of pregnancies. I do believe the information you’re trying to confirm is number of pregnancies, I thought.

“Yes.”

“That’s a different question,” I said trying to keep the annoyance out of my voice as adrenaline rushed through me. “I’ve had one pregnancy, your information is correct.” She looked at me with a quizzical look, “She’s adopted.” I said feeling frustration rise.

“Oh,” she replied brightly, “You have two sets of parents,” she said to my daughter.

Heat rose to my cheeks as I tried to quickly figure out how to respond. What was my daughter thinking? What would I say to the technician? What questions would my daughter ask me as we walked back to the car?

Before I could say anything my daughter responded, “I have three kinds of parents. Parents, birth parents, and Godparents.” How does she do that? How does she bring out the simplicity of her experience.

“She’s lucky to have so many people who love her,” I said giving her a peck on the cheek. “Are we ready to take the images now?” I asked the technician, anxious for the appointment to end.

The experience reminded me once again that adoption expands your family tree in new and unexpected ways. It also expands your heart’s capacity for love and changes your definition of family.

Love continues to grow. Last night her Godfather came for dinner with his fiancé. They’re getting married in September and my daughter is excited to attend her first wedding. She’s been so excited she even designed the dress she wants to wear on their big day. Her Godfather and his fiancé are family, uncles to be silly with and share her life.

To show her excitement she made them a bouquet of flowers, with a vase to hold them in. Sharing her artistic talent with two of her favorite guys.

Her capacity to love is one of the many unexpected lessons she has taught me.

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.

Remembering the Night You Were Born

The chapter I’m writing this week is about the night my daughter was born. It was the first time I ever stayed awake more than 24 hours. It was scary, joyous and magical all at the same time.

As I wrote about that night, that spilled into morning, my heart began to race and my palms began to sweat. I was transported back to the darkened delivery room, standing next to my daughter’s birth mother, doing my best to give her the support she needed.

A confusing mix of emotions rolled over me and then receded like ocean waves.

I was excited. I couldn’t wait to meet our daughter, hold her in my arms and wonder at the miracle of her.

I was sad. My heart was breaking for her birth mother who had nurtured her for nine months and was also waiting to meet her.

I was scared. Would the delivery go well? What would the days ahead hold for us? Would her birth parents change their minds?

I was filled with love. A new life was entering the world. There were so many people waiting to meet her, so many waiting to announce her birth.

About eight in the morning my daughter finally arrived. Her birth parents and birthmom’s parents there to greet her. My dad joined my husband and I in welcoming our newest family member.

At the end of those long, emotionally intense hours I held my daughter in my arms. The mixture of emotions all receded and I was left feeling only love and awe.

My beautiful baby had finally arrived and our family was complete.