Psst…for those who are new, it’s a November Adoption Celebration Month on my blog! Have you ever wondered or worried if you’d be able to handle a relationship with an adopted child’s birth parent? Find courage in reading my personal story and the perspective of my friends at the end of the post! Thanks for stopping in!
It’s irrational to expect to meet an intimate stranger at a retail store- but welcome to my irrational imagination. I scanned the Babies “R” Us for any sign of what I believed her face must look like. Why on earth would she be here of all places? You don’t have to convince me I’m crazy. I’ve never actually met her. To be honest, I don’t even have a picture and I don’t know where she lives. But I know her name. And I know I see pieces of her in my now three year old son…because the woman I’m looking for gave birth to him.
We have friends for whom the decision to adopt seemed quick and calculated. Our desire was always there, but we meandered and poked and investigated quite a bit before deciding to pursue a child through the foster care system. By the time we jumped in we had two young biological children, but my heart longed for another baby. After six months of licensing and home study, and seven months of waiting (a story for another time) we got a miracle phone call and our lives swelled to make room for a three day old infant with no name.
My husband found metered parking by a snow bank near the hospital in the dead of winter, me with grungy hair and a gloriously bewildered heart. We met some social workers in the lobby, then down a hall, up an elevator, wrong floor, elevator down, and stopped. That final antiseptic clean hallway we conquered is still etched in my memory. There was a small conference style room at the end on the right where we were told to wait. Wait. Wait for a little boy with a total of zero shared DNA that we’d only known about for 72 hrs.
The door opened, and they wheeled in a tiny baby with a nose that melted my heart (I’m so serious) in a slightly oversized Christmas outfit, even though the holiday was well over. Now what? With my biological children, people asked in the hospital if they could hold my baby. But this was foreign territory; a baby not from my own body. I found myself asking someone else permission to pick up that precious almost-mine child. Seven something pounds doesn’t do true justice to the weight of the miracle I held in my hands that day.
As beautiful as that hospital moment was and remains to me, it owns an untold sadness as well. Though we often want to view adoption through the celebratory lens of love that grafts a new limb on a family tree, it’s not natural for a limb to need a new tree in the first place. As I heard at an adoption group early on, no adoption story comes about without loss first. That hospital may be last place my son ever encounters his biological mom, the one who brought him into this world and carries a family history I know so little about. I had no idea how painful it would be to own just tiny scraps of the story that rightfully belongs to my son.
Initially we had some limited contact with our son’s biological brothers, and though we haven’t had the chance to see them lately, I’m beyond grateful for those moments. They’ve each been able to hold him as a baby, and one brother even passed our baby’s picture along to his biological mom. Briefly we thought a window might be opening up to meet her, but she never reached back out. I don’t judge her for it; her life is full of it’s own grief and loss, that I’ll never be able to know or erase.
Why was I so afraid of contact with the birthparents when we first started our adoption journey? In my insecurity, I couldn’t imagine trying to maintain a relationship with a woman who, in my mind, had a stronger claim to my child than I did. How agonizing might that be? But by the time we were waiting for a child, I knew in my heart that I would make room for that possibility because it would be in my child’s best interest. We would adopt not just this child, but his story as well.
I never dreamed of the pain on the other side of the coin. I never conceieved we simply wouldn’t know his mom or dad at all. In all my rosy adoption dreams, not one included me frantically searching the internet, or the aisles of a random Babies “R” Us, for a strange, precious face. I’ve dreamed of his mom and long to be able to look into her face and see my son’s eyes, or cheeks, or (bless me) his nose. I can only offer him his resemblance to his biological brothers as we have their pictures and I share them when I tell him his birth story. This is his thread-bare history-the bits and pieces of his pre-story melted into the story of how he filled our lives with joy. But I long to give him more.
Oh I know there’d be a distinct pain in the knowing, in the seeing. Maybe it would be much harder than I imagine, trying to let my son grow up knowing two moms. Would he face a more personal rejection? Would he struggle to make his two worlds fit together? I can’t speak into that because it’s not our story. But for those who have always thought like I did that it would be better not to muddle through an open adoption, communicating with your child’s biological parents, I can only say there’s a deep loss to not knowing them as well.
When we send our children off to school for the first time or to camp perhaps, we often feel we’re somehow missing a piece of who they are by not being with them. We eagerly anticipate asking them how their day was, who they played with, if anything bad happened, so we can fill in the gaps we missed. Because our child’s story is part of our story and we want to own all of it. The same is true of my adopted child: somehow I feel I’ve missed a piece of who he is by not being there to access and know the roots of his life that are invisibly intertwined with mine. There are questions I can’t ask or answer: Where did he get his whimsy and love for dance? Is his extroverted self a carbon copy of his dad? Did that smile get passed down from a great-grandfather? And those are just the tip of the iceberg. In the end, I’m simply left with swiss cheese pieces of his heritage.
Maybe one day we’ll learn a bit more about his biological mom and reconnect our son with the thread of his past that remains. In the meantime, I’m not sure I’ll ever stop wondering where she is and trying to find her face in even the least likely places. Whether I meet her or not, she’ll always be part of our story.
Thoughts on Birth-parents from other Adoptive families…
Caroline’s Story: (foster-adoption) “Our daughter’s birth mother visited her several times when she was very young. It was important to me that I always treated her with kindness and compassion. I wanted to make sure I respected her dignity and I hoped that she would see that her baby was being taken care of by a safe and loving family.”
Lisa’s Story: (Private US adoption) “We have a semi open adoption with G-‘s birth mother. From day one we decided we wanted G- to know her story. Once she turned 3 and could kind of understand things we started mentioning her birth mother as her ‘tummy’ mommy and that she couldn’t care for G- the way [my husband] and I could so we adopted her. We would read adoption books to her and still do to this day. She seems to get it…as much as a 4 year old can. We also have made it a point to meet with her birth mother once a year and we send her pictures every month. We want G- to know her story and if in the future she wants a relationship with her birth mother that door has already been opened for her.
Becky’s Story: (foster-adoption) “We met her [birth mom] a few times and agreed to send a few emails a year. She has not responded to them since the first one. We are open to emails and letters but not interested in visits. We might be when F- is older and has a better understanding of the entire situation.
Pamela’s Story: (Sibling Adoption from Ethiopia): “Since it is an international adoption distance hinders relationship with birthparents/family. We worked with another agency program to locate birth family and send letters and photos of children. We intend to travel back to Ethiopia in a couple years to reconnect with birth family. We describe our family as a blended family so that the children maintain their connection to birth family within our family.”
Closed adoption: An adoption in which the adoptive parents do not maintain any kind of relationship with the birth parents through visits or correspondence. This was once a very common kind of adoption, sometimes with parents never telling their child about their adoption at all. But studies are showing more benefits to open or semi-open adoptions, though they aren’t always possible.
Semi-Open and Open adoption: Adoptive and birth families maintain some form of ongoing contact. This could mean the adoptive family sends emails or pictures to the biological parent(s). It could even mean occasional visits. In private adoptions, an agency usually helps coordinate the parameters for ongoing contact. Semi-open adoption involves non-identifying contact (bio family doesn’t have access to adoptive families last name, address, etc.)- but correspondence (and even visits- see Lisa’s Story) can occur.
In foster-adoption, prior to adoption, the state will decide the amount of contact the biological parent has. The biological parent is given specific goals to reach in order to be reunified, and visits are often a part of that. The state may also require that the foster-child visit with his or her biological siblings. Post adoption, the adoptive families can decide what amount of contact with the biological family is safe or healthy or their child.