It’s always interesting to me when a new family comes to us for assistance with adoption and we ask what they know about adoption, and what they want in an adoption. There are families who have heard all of the horror stories of birth families and there are families who have read every book on Open Adoption and want a full blown relationship with mom because that’s what’s best for child. End of the line is Family is Family, Birth, Adoptive, Step, By Marriage and like everything in life these relationships cannot be controlled. What may start out one way – ends up another.
We have four children by adoption, each with a different level of openness. This weekend we had a reunion after 21 yrs with our twins birth mom. I have been talking with her for over a year now on Facebook. She had a daughter that was 4 when the boys were placed with us that we reunited with a few years ago and this daughter has come and stayed at our home. I have been in contact with their birth father and he was ok with just that and nothing else. There are some paternal siblings that myself and the boys have been in virtual contact. Twenty one years ago next month we were chosen within a 48 hrs period to parent these boys. We knew nothing about them except that they had been born prematurely. We didn’t care, we were presented and chosen and rented a van to go pick them up 3 hours away. We met with mom for the first time, saw the boys and went to a park to talk. We had lunch at Red Robin’s and drove home just a few hours later with the boys. They were 4 months old.
There was about 6 months to a year of contact after that. We helped her find stable housing, she got a new job. Her first child at the time was living between her and her ex husband. We received cards and letters from her. By two to three years the communication stopped. Phone numbers get disconnected, there are no forwarding addresses. Life happens. Fast forward to now, we met again at a park. We drove 3 hrs to meet with her, she was late and I was worried for my sons that she was not going to show. An hour and a half later than the time we arranged I was able to get in touch with her, drove to her apt and picked her up. This reunion for me was much different than our oldest sons birth mom. I don’t know if it has been life’s circumstances or age (maturity) or just personalities. I felt like we have known each other for years. I did not feel uncomfortable at all. She was very nervous, I could not tell this, it was what she shared with me. The visit went well, one son did more talking than the other (the quiet one did not initially want to go, he decided at the last min) the one that did most of the talking is the son struggling with addiction, something his birth mother has struggled with for 23 years. She was able to share this with him. She was able to share why she decided on adoption, that it wasn’t an easy decision but it wasn’t hard either knowing that she wasn’t going to have any support from family members even though they told her she would. She was able to tell them that she did feel shame, but never regret and that when people ask her how many children she had , she always said 3. She told them that she was happy for them, that they had a family who loves them, and most powerfully that if she hadn’t made the decision for adoption that she knows they would have ended up in the foster care system and she would never know what happened to them. They learned about their family medical history and they were able to ask her questions that they pondered with over the years..Reno point blank no holding back asked her “why did you drink while you were pregnant?”
I could see in their birth mom’s eyes that she was tired, I imagine I would have been exhausted too. She was afraid initially that the boys would be angry with her. They aren’t- not for choosing adoption. I’m not sure what the future brings, I’m not sure who will stay in contact with who. I do know that it was the right time for everyone. I do know that I love this woman for trusting me with her boys. I do know that I love my sons and feel grateful for the opportunity to raise them, and I do know that I am very proud of them for fighting to live that day that they were born even though it was 13 weeks too early.
This is probably one of the hardest things I have ever written. Several times I wondered whether I should actually put the words down on paper and whether I should share them with the entire world. I decided to share because I think these feelings are important, I try to share honestly even when I think it may make others turn away. I wanted to share so that those who have had the same moments will know they aren’t the only ones. If I have learned anything in the many therapy sessions I have attended over the years is that feelings are feelings and no one gets to decide whether they are right or wrong..they just are. But I am a control freak (something I work on daily) I spend many hours justifying my thoughts and how they may or may not affect someone else. I think one of the biggest reasons I struggle with this particular subject though is because of what I do for a living. I spend all my waking hours supporting expectant-birth parents and educating adoptive parents on the importance of this relationship. It’s easy to get up on my soapbox and tell everyone else how they should react, or how they should feel. Not so easy to deal with my own feelings. So in the end I have decided to SHARE so that we can all recognize that no matter how ” politically correct” we want to be – we can have “slips” we can detour from what the therapists and professionals and bloggers and all other adoption related material says because we are human. In rereading this I think I may have just tried to justify this feeling but who cares it is who I am………
Our oldest son just returned from Ecuador after spending for the second time in his life a 3 week period with his birth mom. She is an American citizen living over there. This son just turned 21 and 2 days later, for the first time went on a trip , a trip abroad by himself, the week of Christmas. His first encounter with his birth mom was when he was 16. She contacted him on My Space without contacting us first. We have a great relationship with him and he immediately shared this. I had no problems with her contacting him, we had been trying for years to find her. (come to find out she was only an hour away!) My wish though is that she would have contacted us first, to find out if he was in a place emotionally to do this. Being the adoption professional that I was, I was excited and supported contact. Many things when on to happen in the next year..some not so good. In hind site I wish I had monitored things more closely and set boundaries for everyone’s sake. There were many positive things that came of out this time..of course our son was finally able to meet his birth mom and find out some answers about his biological family, he met aunts and cousins too. A lot of questions about who she was got answered for him. Even though we had spent time with His birth mom before he was born and could share some of that, it of course is never enough. Having been though this with my own children I fully support Open Adoption and ongoing relationships when it is appropriate (and safe). It also provided a lot of answers to some of his behavior. It also provided us with some medical history and an opportunity to seek treatment, which would be a blessing. So from that time age 17 to now 21 he has communicated with his birth mom over email from time to time.
We were able to Skype with him a few times while he was over there. He was having a good time but of course was feeling a little home sick. On the day he was supposed to be home, we got a call from him saying his flight was cancelled and he couldn’t get on another flight for 5 days! He was upset, tired and I could tell frazzled. This of course was making me a bit anxious and worried for several reasons…I wanted to hug him and tell him it was okay…i knew how much medication he had with him…..he was out of money……and we were leaving for a family vacation in just a week. Was he going to get home in time and what kind of shape emotionally was he going to be in when he got home. First things first we wanted to make sure he was safe, was his birth mom still with him and did he have a place to stay in the city for the next 4 nights. His birth mom wanted him to travel back to her home (6 hrs from airport) with her and return closer to date. Being in the city was very anxiety producing to her. He did not want to do this, she got upset and left. We spent the next few hours depositing funds into his bank account, communicating with a hotel in the area and securing his lodging. SO this is where the reason for my story comes in……when I asked about what happened between him and his birth mom, and what the circumstances of her leaving so abruptly were..he made this comment” She wanted me to go back home with her..I didn’t want to be that far from the airport..even P said – YOUR MOM is being unreasonable” There I said it out loud…while I was spending all of this effort and time in making sure he was safe, he called someone else his mom. Okay so how many of you are saying to yourself – what’s the big deal? She is his mom..I know that, but it hit me in the gut like nothing else. I’m used to people asking inappropriate comments or the forever question “where’s his REAL mom”. You don’t think you’ll ever get used to that question as an adoptive mom but you do. I have always known that no matter how many bandaids I apply, or how many tears I wipe away, or how many nights I have stayed awake hoping he is ok and worrying about whether I provided him with the right tools to become a good man, that he is not just mine. He is hers too. I have always known that , and I can stand in front of a group of people and talk for hours about the dynamics of adoption and what you have to be prepared for. But even with all that knowledge, even with all these years, even with all the families I have counseled….I don’t think I have the words to describe how that moment felt to me. I tried to talk to my husband about it, he tried to make me feel better, and he was right when he said..that our son has never questioned what my relationship is with him. Still….
So I share this just to confirm – we are all vulnerable, all of us. There are expectations about what relationships should be like in adoption, but when it comes down to it, we are people. We all have our own feelings. We know how we are supposed to feel, what happens when it doesn’t happen the way the book says it supposed to happen? Does it make it wrong? I know my son loves me, and I know he loves his birth mom and I love that he is able to love both of us.
What can you do while you wait? Take some deep breaths…and be POSITIVE! The only real thing you have control of now is how you are going to spend your wait, and surprisingly it’s not much different than if you were pregnant. Once you believe that an adoption is really going to happen, that a child will be yours, you will begin to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally to welcome your new child into your life.
Here are some things you, as prospective adoptive parents, can do to prepare:
Adoption books are important but you also need to read some good ole fashioned baby care books. Your baby is going to be going through the same developmental milestones as a child you would have delivered yourself! Also parenting and discipline books. Now is the time you and your partner will want to discuss how you might handle situations. You may be surprised to find out your not on the same page. Of course theory is one thing, experience is another..which means you may have a perception of how you might handle things now and when you get there it may be a whole different world..
2.Organize your home: I was taken by complete surprise the first week our first son was home and I looked at the clock and it was 2 pm and I looked at myself and I was still in my robe! And I worked in a nursery taking care of 6 babies at a time…if there are any projects that need to be done around the house, don’t wait. You may be anticipating some time off to care for your new baby and think that you will also have time to clear all of your closets…WRONG! A new baby will suck every moment from from day. Just giving you fair warning.
3. Take a baby care class.
Look for a class that talks directly to waiting adoptive families, that way you are not surrounded by pregnant bellies..reminding you how lucky you are not to have to go through pregnancy and labor. I know it may seem like a no brainer about how to give a baby a bath ..Everyone is going to provide their two cents to you about how to take care of your baby. It’s great to have a base of knowledge to start from. Just smile when others offer advice and think confidently that you know a little something because you have taken a class.Confidence is a direct result of having sufficient knowledge.
5. Talk with friends and family about adoption.
Now is the time to begin to educate your your circle about adoption as well as yourselves. Let people know that although you appreciate their interest, your adoption is your personal journey and the expectant mom’s history is not one for you to share. This is hard because most people are well meaning, but it is something you need to be comfortable with restating over and over..because people will ask..over and over.
5. Design and prepare your baby announcements.
You can do all of this online now. Start checking out some sites. Photo announcements are really popular right now.
6.Start looking at all of the support systems you are going to be using.
If you are going to need daycare start looking for daycare providers. My best tip for this is a clean center is a center that does not allow for play or creativity. Now I don’t mean it should be a filthy site but messy in this situation can mean great! You are going to need a pediatrician. Get input from others. When I first called our pediatrician to make an interview to check him out, he had a new girl working in the office. I explained to her that I was adopting and when our son was due. She replied “oh Dr. xxx doesn’t take adopted children” I was floored. Come to find out he is the father of 6 adopted children! We have been seeing him now for 21 years and not only our 4 ADOPTED children have seen him but all of our foster children too.
8. Organize a baby scrapbook
You can even start the book before your baby arrives with talking about your journey. Include stories about how you starting looking for him/her. Include pictures of birth family when you meet them. If you are involved in an open adoption (which I hope you are) and you have contact with the expectant mom, ask her to start a book for the baby. This could include her story, her favorites, her experience during pregnancy. If you aren’t a scrapper start a blog online, maybe two, one for your eyes only and one for your baby to view later on.
9.Baby Proof your home and start shopping:
Start putting safety latches on now so you can get use to working with them, especially with only one hand available. Also start looking at car seats and stroller. My favorites are the combo’s. Purchase a bassinet, you don’t have to have a crib yet, that way you don’t have to walk by a room set up with a crib while your waiting. Bassinets with rollers on the bottom are great, you can move them from room to room, and they travel well.
10. If you are a crafter, knitter, quilter:
Start a blanket or some hats. It’s a great way to keep your hands engaged at night in front of the TV. Many women who have had to deal with fertility medications may have put on a few pounds, this can keep from night time nibbling
11.Spend some time as a couple.
Getting to this point has been nerve wracking. I know I’ve been there. So much spontaneity has been taken from you as a couple. Also you aren’t getting to experience the intimacy of a pregnancy. So take some time to reintroduce yourselves to each other. Fall back in love. Remember why you married this person and wanted to have a family with them.
You will have a baby, just remain in your moments, be positive, don’t over analyze. Hopefully you are working with a professional you really trust. Let them do all the work.