In Defense of Open Adoption – This might be part 2

When it comes to adoption I often hear: “Do you have to have contact with the birth family?” “Now is this one of those situations where you share her with the birth family?” “You’re better than me, I could never do what you do.” “You’re a saint.” Or my favorite, “I don’t know how you do it.”(Certainly that phrase is a topic for another blog post because it strikes a chord with me)  I’m no saint. I actually fail miserably at this thing called open adoption. To be quite honest, there are days when I’d like to shut my door and stop all communication with our birth families.  Not most days, but certainly some days.  But then again, who can say that family relationships are easy? Have you ever rolled your eyes at a family member, your own “flesh and blood?”  I’ve heard your stories of family drama.

I’m still learning how to do this, and make mistakes all the time. There are times when the husband and I have to give ourselves a pep talks on the way to a visit with our birth mom.  Then we decompress on the way home about the hurtful things she said or the inappropriate way she treated us or our children. But in the end, if I have to soul search I recall something I said once in a job interview.  I was asked why I wanted the job.  I went on to reply that I could see myself doing a lot of different jobs, but when it came down to it, what really mattered to me is that I do something that helps people. That’s how I see open adoption.  I could do just plain do adoption, but when it comes down to it I wouldn’t be helping my kids if I didn’t work at loving their whole family.  This job sort of came to me by accident, a collision of fight and fate in my life that led me to fall in love with a my first child’s birth family that then led me to desire an open adoption with whomever my second child’s birth family would be.  I just felt like I would be losing part of my child if I didn’t have their birth family in our lives.

The long and short of it is, open adoption isn’t easy. It’s not always warm and fuzzy (but sometimes it really is), sometimes it really hurts me. Sometimes it even hurts my kids. But more often I am blessed by open adoption if I choose to change my expectations. Sometimes that blessing comes directly like today when my daughter’s birth grandpa, with tears streaming down his face, thanked us once again for sharing photos and coming for visits even in the midst of trying to diagnose and care for some medical needs our daughter has. He went on to say that he understands what we are going through as parents.  His acknowledgment of our struggles as parents and our efforts to include them in her life validated what we are doing, or at least what we are trying to do. It made me think that sometimes we get it right. Moreover, I was struck but what he said to his daughter, our child’s birth mom, during our visit: “They love her as much as you do.”  That is a phrase I will try to remember on the flipside: Her birth mom loves her as much as we do.  If that is true, and it is, then how should we respond?

Monday: I’m getting ready to head out the door to work while my daughter is raking in Cheerios and blueberries, and my son is busying himself doing exactly the opposite of whatever I ask of him. It’s the typical morning, only it’s not. It’s my daughter’s first birthday. She’s one. Really? She’s one.  I hear the text blurp and note that my daughter’s birth grandmother is saying a package is on the way. To back up a little, I am caught off guard by this because based on a somewhat recent not-so-pleasant phone call with her I got the sense that I would never hear from her again. Without going into detail for the sake of my daughter’s privacy, it was one of those calls that left me feeling so sad and so sick to my stomach. It was a call where I had to say no to her about something, which meant doing the absolutely right thing still left me the bad guy according to her.  Long story short, she had all but told me that she no longer wished to be considered a grandparent of my child, but that she still loved us blah, blah, blah.  Hard conversations ending in a package that arrived simply signed with first names. No longer the addition of a grandparent title on the signature. This is adoption. This is the sad side. This is the side I don’t know how to explain to my children.

Tuesday night: I was just crawling into bed and my phone rang with an out of state number. “Hello?” I said. “Hi baby!” the voice on the other end exclaims.  I’m tired and I want to sleep because my daughter never does and it’s my night to get up with her, but that voice immediately makes me smile. It’s the voice of my son’s birth grandma.  She’s spunky, loud, outgoing, frank, hilarious and why quite obviously a very good combination of my son and myself!  I fell in love with her long before I ever laid eyes on my son.  She adopted me long before my son was born as her “other daughter.” For those that know me personally, having not had a living mom since I was 15, this was no small feat because I don’t let just anyone adopt me.  She notices fatigue in my voice, and says, “You sound tired.” I explain.  We chat casually for a few minutes. She catches me up on the latest news. She is calling in response to a photo I just texted her where I told her that her grandson, my son, insists upon sleeping with the blue bunny she sent in a package at Easter, and that I often have to go searching for it because he claims he cannot sleep without it.  She laughs and says to tell him she’ll send a bunny in every color she can find, and I know she means it. That’s because it’s a connection, any connection, to her grandson, and she loves him madly – just like all of her grandchildren. Except she has had to love him silently from a far for many years out of respect for my son’s birth mom who for a while didn’t want contact, and didn’t want her mom to have contact either.  To have this woman back in my life (I know I still owe you that blog post, but I just haven’t found the right way to explain it yet) is not only a miracle, it’s a gift. I see her in my son every day and know this is how he will be when he is older.  This is family. This is adoption. This is the sad side. This is the happy side. This is the easy side.

Thursday night: I have a headache, and we are scrambling to clean the house and get ready for our visit with Girlfriend’s birth family this weekend.  I get a phone call from my child’s birth mom. She’s calling about the visit, telling me about the birthday cake she ordered and all of the gifts she carefully picked out for our daughter. She’s gone overboard even though we had already agreed on a toy I suggested and another previously decided small sentimental item. She’s animated with the excitement of the visit, where I feel a small dose of anxiety surface. The truth is our visits aren’t easy.  Sometimes she wants to erase my existence because she is still mourning not being able to parent her daughter.  Most of the time, it takes a great deal of energy to enjoy our time together. It pains me to say this because it isn’t how I want to react. I won’t defend myself because I don’t have to.  You’re going to have to trust me that my feelings (again without going into detail blah, blah, blah) are in response to actual inappropriate behaviors and words that transpire during our visits. I can suck it up and pretend our time together is beautiful for the sake of my child’s birth mom and for the sake of my children.  But I struggle with finding a way to stop her from hurting my children in the meanwhile. How do you tell someone that they are hurtful when they don’t see it, when they cannot see it, when they will not ever see it? This is adoption. This is the confusing side. This is the sad side. This is the side I want to be happy.

I sit her typing while my daughter plays on the floor over an hour after her bedtime, and my husband is half asleep on the floor next to her. She’s refusing to sleep and after an hour fight we’ve given ourselves a break even though it’s against our better judgment. So here she sits playing away. It’s been a weird day, and it’s looking like it will be another long night. But when I go to bed tonight I will answer the text message from my child’s birth mom with grace that I actually feel tonight.  When she says that she had a great time etc. I will tell that we did to and that we are so glad she did.  And it will be the truth. At least for today.  And that’s all I can promise or hope for.  I don’t know how to do open adoption. I don’t know how I do it. I don’t do it sometimes. But on a day like today, when I ignored the hurtful statements and the mixed messages, I actually did have a good time, and in doing so I helped my children, their birth family and myself. If I close my door and shut them out, I will lose part of my children and in the end I will lose part of myself.

This year we will get on a plane and fly out to see my son’s grandma for this first time since he was 7 days old.  I will introduce him to his half-brother, and watch them terrorize the neighborhood together. We will cry tears of joy over this reunion.  I will easily have a good time. Grandma will joke with my husband, who she also adores.  I will get called Baby a hundred times.  We will feel fully part of this crazy, loud, strangely fun family. She will be crazy and wild, and I will not care.  My son will eat things he normally isn’t allowed to and probably stay up way too late.  I will romanticize all of this in my head whether it is true or not.  And I will dream that one day we will have a glimpse of the ease of this relationship with other members of my children’s birth families. I will remember that this could all be invisible to me if we didn’t have an open adoption.  This is adoption. This is the happy side. This is the hard side. This is the easy side. This is adoption. We will get this right, or we will die trying.

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