I can honestly say that having an open, loving relationship between adoptive and birth families is very much possible. After all, adoption is about children and open adoption is about the child. Yes, there will always be exceptions to every rule but even in the worse case scenario, we can find ways to connect.
My oldest son, Jaren was talking to his younger brother, Noah over the holidays. I heard Jaren say something about “my mom” and then in the next sentence he tells Noah that he went over to “our dad’s” for Christmas. I was thinking, “Really?” After he hung up, I said, “So your dad is our dad but I am your mom? Even though, I have done more for both of you than your dad.”
Explain that one to me?
Jaren was very apologetic. I told him I knew he didn’t mean it the way he said it but I wanted him to understand how it sounds and subliminally what it says. He said he doesn’t know what to say sometimes (when he talks about me and his dad to Noah). I told him I understand.
I reminded Jaren about the time our extended family met Noah and his family for the first time on the east coast. I said to Jaren, “Heck, when we were all down the shore with grandmom, she referred to me as “your aunt” when she was talking to Noah.” I saw this funny look on Noah’s face. I didn’t say anything but I was thinking, “It’s not like he doesn’t know who I am.” Noah has always known that I am his birth/biological mother.
I have a friend; I guess I can call her my friend even though we haven’t met yet. But I feel like she’s a friend. Anyway, she has a blog and writes about adoption and exposes some real issues. As a birthmother, sometimes I feel like she’s linked directly up to my brain and downloading my thoughts. Other times, it’s like she can somehow see right into my heart and feel its emotions. Maybe that’s because she is a birthmother too.
I like it when someone else says exactly how I feel or have been feeling. It makes me feel less crazy.
For me, one of the hardest parts of processing and reconciling with my choice all these years later is how people and by people I mean, family, friends, co-workers and strangers view me as a birthmother. Yes, even my own family.
I remember that very moment when I learned exactly how my mother viewed my role as a birthmother. We were sitting on my back patio. Mom (who came to visit for Jaren’s 8th grade graduation) and I were having a conversation. Then we got to talking about Noah’s family who also came to visit for Jaren’s graduation. She had commented many times over the years at how lucky and blessed I was that I was permitted to be a part of Noah’s life and how gracious his parents are. And I don’t disagree. I am very thankful. But also, mom wasn’t aware of any open adoptions. She believed our situation was rare. So we were having another one of those conversations and my mother emphasizes again about how blessed “I” was. And to be honest, sometimes it sounds like she thinks I’m a vagabond and they are royals. So I tell her, “Well, I think they (adoptive family and Noah) are pretty blessed to have me [and Jaren] in their life too.” I mean, I could have walked away entirely but I didn’t. I think I’m a decent human being. My friends think I’m kind of cool and special. And after twelve years of knowing Noah’s family, I’d say we have become fairly close, like family.
Mom said, “No, they are not blessed to have you. Noah is blessed to have you in his life but not the [name of family].” I knew right then and there just how she measured me up in this relationship. I was somehow less worthy; her own daughter. Not some stranger, not a friend, not a co-worker…her daughter.
This is the same mother, who praised me often for the wonderful job I was doing as a single parent raising Jaren. Who said she thought it would have been easier to abort than to “give up” my child (which she has never chosen or personally experienced either choice as far as I know). Who came to Texas to help me with my “choice” when I gave birth to Noah. AND who couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t just leave behind my precious new baby boy, alone, in the hospital, without his mother.
I still have a hard time processing this. The same person who promoted the relinquishment is the same person that now judges me to be the lessor of.
The sad part of all this is Jaren lost his brother too.
I can handle people treating me callously. I don’t like it but I realize it’s part of the territory. That’s my penance. But when others treat Jaren, an innocent child like a second class citizen because of my choice, it’s inexcusable. When adults refuse to acknowledge that my two sons are brothers, when brothers can’t be treated like brothers for a few days every few years because people feel like they have to be careful of what they say or how they say it, or when family members consider the feelings of adults over that of a small child’s feelings is downright wrong!
But the part that REALLY bothers me is their father, who stated he didn’t want any more kids, who was MIA (as well as his entire family) during both of my son’s birthing experiences, who became physically and emotionally detached when I was making these hard choices, and who never verbally objected to the relinquishment to me is somehow “our dad”. And my mother [and other family members], who was the driving force behind my choice to relinquish, is somehow “grandmom”. But the mother who was alone, scared, deciding the future of her two sons and listening to and believing the critical words, who has remained loyal to her second son and his family in their open adoption agreement, was stripped of all her titles.
I know why I don’t get to be mom, but tell me how does the rest of the family get to reap the rewards and keep their original titles, (grandmom, poppy, granny, grandpop, aunt, uncle) when that was the one thing they either initially refused to acknowledge or adamantly fault against. And I’ve often wondered how Noah’s real grandparents and aunts and uncles feel about sharing their earned titles with these biological family members.
How is that for irony? Please tell me the moral justice in that.
I always feel awkward when someone ask me “How many children do you have?” or “Is he your only child?” I never knew how to answer these questions, especially coming from a complete stranger. You see, I have given birth to two sons. One, my first born, I am raising as a single mother. My second child, who is twenty months younger than my first born, I chose to place for adoption.
Now the positive side of this whole experience is that I have an open relationship with my son’s family who adopted him. Part of that decision was based on the fact that my sons didn’t make the choice to be disconnected. Both families wanted both of our boys to be able to maintain contact and have somewhat of a relationship. My oldest son always knew about his younger brother. There were no secrets back then and they are no secrets today. As a result, he told teachers, classmates and friends about his baby brother. And if the question was presented in the grocery store check-out line, well, you guessed it; my youthful son quickly blurted out, “No, I have a brother but he was adopted. He doesn’t live with us; he lives with his adopted family.” This remark most often prompted a confused look at first, and then a pre-conceived notion. Then, what started out as light conversation fell suddenly short into awkward silence.
Although I was not ashamed of my choice, I still didn’t always feel comfortable telling every Tom, Dick and Harry or Sally about my choice. This information was usually reserved for family and close friends and a handful of co-workers. And maybe a counselor, if need be. So when someone asked this question who did not personally know me or my family, I didn’t know how to respond. In addition, I didn’t want to discourage my son from talking about his younger brother. But how much does this person on the street really need to know or for that matter care to know about me and my family? Usually, these questions are for light conversation. After a few episodes of being met with confusion and discernment, I learned my lesson and proceeded with great caution when the subject of children arose.
Then I read a Dear Abby letter from a birth mother who was asking the same questions. Dear Abby responded, “Technically, you don’t “have” your birth child any more so it is okay if you say you don’t have any children.” This actually made sense to me.
I have never denied either of my children. Even though one lives with me and the other lives with his family who adopted him, I know I gave birth to both children and I love them both. So if I respond to your question, “I have one child”, it doesn’t mean that I am lying to you or denying my birth son. It just means I’m sparing you the minor details. If by chance we become better acquainted, I promise to tell you my WHOLE story.
I’ll admit, before I entered into the birth/adoptive community, I was somewhat naïve, judgmental and probably insensitive to what individuals in this community experienced. Now that I have joined the ranks of millions maybe even billions of other birth parents, adoptees and adopters, I see this community in a whole new light.
When I was seeking my son’s new family, all I had to go on at the time was my instincts. I would be choosing complete strangers to whom I had not once previously met; to love, nurture, and parent my child for a lifetime. This in itself is a very daunting task. And then being the mother of a bi-racial son, added to my apprehension for my son’s wellbeing. I mean, just one year prior, members of my own family wanted me to place my first born child for adoption solely on the basis of his mixed ethnicity. I wondered how the families seeking to adopt my new son would differ in their views. Did some or perhaps most carry the same prejudices? Would they be more concerned about his racial background or would they just see a precious child created by God and be willing to love and honor his ethnicity?
I remember almost every detail on the day I reviewed the two family packets who wanted to adopt my son. Yes, only two. Most women (birth mothers to be) will have around ten or more families to consider for their unborn child. I had two. These two white American families were the ones who told the agency they were interested in adopting my baby. It does seem insensitive at times. After all, it’s not like going to a car dealership. I want this color with this kind of hair and these features and so on. But sadly, this is how some people view adoption should be. So naturally, I wondered if these families really wanted my baby or if they were just desperate for any baby. There is a difference.
I understand why some families may not want to adopt outside their race. They fear what others will say and they wonder how their new family will fit into a society. I can tell you from personal experience; at times, it can be more challenging to navigate in the world when your family is of a mixed race. It is what it is. Choosing to do what is right though is not always choosing to do what is easy. And it appears to me that those who are prejudice against other races or are against interracial couples are less judgmental and more accepting of families who adopt bi-racial children than those who conceive them naturally. However, if you are considering adopting a child who is not of your race, think it over long and hard. When someone gives you a stare or makes a comment, how will you respond? I know of one incident that didn’t go so well.
An adoptive mother was checking out in a store with her oldest, biological son and her adopted, bi-racial son. Her adopted son, who was a young toddler at the time, was sitting in the shopping cart. A lady behind them kept staring at them. After a few minutes, the adoptive mother annoyed by the stares barks, “He’s adopted, okay?” Now I know some of you may not see anything wrong with this but hear me out for a moment.
First of all, I am a white mother of a bi-racial son. I have had stares while checking out and not once have I felt the need to blurt out to a complete stranger that my son was biologically mine or that I conceived him. The adoptive mother’s statement tells this stranger that there is a reason she has this bi-racial child. This is where the hero title comes into play. “You see, I adopted him. I am the good person. I didn’t have a relationship with a black man; I just adopted the child from the woman who did”.
Lastly, if this child was five years old, ten or fifteen years old, would his mother shout out, “He’s adopted,” in front of him? I wonder how that might make her “adopted” son feel? This was neither the time nor the place. Just because he is a baby, and cannot speak, doesn’t mean that he cannot hear or that he doesn’t understand. Trust me; he does understand even if he cannot verbalize his words.
As any mother knows, when you leave your child with someone new, whether it is a new nanny, new daycare or new baby sitter, we worry and hope that our child is getting the best care possible until we pick them up. The difference is when a birth mother leaves her baby with his/her new caretaker, she’s gravely aware that she will not be picking him/her up later on that day. She knows it may be a lifetime until she sees her child again and for some, they weren’t even lucky enough to have that. They left this world not knowing if their choice to relinquish their parental rights to parent their child hindered their child’s experience or enhanced it. Many women took their final breath without ever having the opportunity to see a smile on their child’s face, to caress his cheek or to stroke her hair. I know some of these women and my heart weeps for them.
As for me, I am able to know my son through open adoption. I have touched his face, kissed his cheeks and I’ve seen his beautiful smile light up the room. I know that my birth son’s family has provided a good home to him. And I know they love him. The mere fact that they thought it was important to share their son with his original family says a great deal about their character and it shows respect to me as a human being.
We created our own version of the birth/adoption community and what it meant to us.
Who knows how our son will feel when he is grown. Only time will tell. I hope the fact that he has been able to know his birth family while growing up with his adoptive family has only enhanced his quality of life and that he knows that although I gave him to his adoptive parents; it doesn’t mean that I didn’t love him. I am still here, ever present with love and acceptance, watching him grow and expecting him to do great things with his life.