By Birthmother – Today is May 11, 2015. My first child, Catherine, will reach 8 years of age in August. My second child will be turning 4 this very month. These children are both fully and undeniably planted in their families, rooted into their own lives with their own routines, functions and dysfunctions, pains and joys. Their lives are healthy. This is what adoption allows us to accomplish! Amen, praise God, and hallelujah! I’ve posted my excitement and pride about adoption before, and I will most assuredly post it again. There is so much uncertainty before an adoption takes place (as I’m sure you know), so many decisions to make. What a relief to see that somewhere down the road the pieces begin to fit into place.
But as I stop to consider the passage of years I must not hesitate to mention the one person who, by choice, is not necessarily “planted” in these families: me, the Birthmother. With each year that passes I become more of a stranger, and the process of staying in contact becomes more strange. My open adoption contracts ensure that I will never completely lose track of these families, but distance ensures that my maternal connection to the children I carried will grow more faint each year. Distance is the one reality of adoption that each birthparent must truly be willing to face. My biochildren are very far away. Our lives are very far apart.
Does this sound tragic? It isn’t. It may be painful, but it isn’t tragic. The important thing to remember is that distance can be healthy for everyone involved. Distance allows the adoptive parents to grow secure in the fact that they are THE PARENTS. They need to know that their position of authority is sound. Distance allows the children to grow up in their own ordinary, everyday lives without being bogged down by their (sometimes very confusing) heritage. Distance allows birthparents to feel safe their own decisions and to carry on the processes of building their lives. In fact, I purposefully chose birthparents in far away states to ensure that healthy distance would exist. As much as I believe that I will never become the tragic biomom stereotype who changes her mind and tries desperately to get her children back, I do not want to be faced with such a temptation! Hormones are strong, my readers; studies show that frequent interaction with a child can trigger parental behavior in just about everyone. Don’t worry, folks: the laws of our country are increasingly changing to protect the children and their adoptive families from any such tragedy, hormones or no hormones.
OK, so I’ve established that the distance between me and the adoptive families is healthy. What about contact? Almost every adoption site will list GREAT reasons for keeping an adoption open (the list at http://www.adoptionhelp.org/ includes avoiding the consequences of secrecy, encouraging open communication, and acknowledging the fact that children will always be related to their birthparents). From what I understand, the benefits of an open adoption are strongest for the children being adopted. An open adoption makes an adopted child’s heritage more transparent for them, with less feelings of doubt or shame later in life. But what feelings arise for the parents in the meantime? That’s what I’m learning about right now! For instance, I’ve had a few questions on my mind this month.
Question 1: Do I persist in staying in contact when the adoptive families are ambivalent about my presence? Catherine’s adoptive father explained to me recently that by this point in our journey he “feels like there is a hurdle that has been passed.” He doesn’t dwell much on the subject of adoption one way or the other. Catherine is his daughter. What’s done is done. (Isn’t his sense of security amusing in contrast to the constant questions and feelings that Karen and I express on this site? Ha!) So if the metaphorical adoption hurdle is passed… where does the biomom fit in? To help you understand the feeling, imagine being a far-removed aunt or cousin who insists on sending birthday cards and Christmas letters, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she is nothing but a footnote in the lives of the people she contacts. I know, I know, I’m more than a footnote in the grand scheme of things, and the adoptive parents care for me very much. I’m not discounting their attention to me. What I’m trying to say is: I feel like I don’t belong! I fear that my very existence might undermine the happy, ordinary lives that my children have found! As much as I want to keep in contact with Catherine, I have no idea how much contact or what kind of contact to give. But I can’t let my own insecurities (or those of the adoptive parents) stop me from doing what I hope will be best for the children. So I continue to send presents and letters to my biochildren on their birthdays and at Christmas. Which brings me to…
Question 2: What (if anything) do I say to a child who doesn’t know me? Yes, Catherine and my son know that I exist. Open adoption helps with this. But let’s be real – I’m not there every day (or every month, or every year). From the perspective of a 4 year old child (or an 8 year old child), what is my relevance? I’m not too concerned about this question right now. When I was 8 years old, I thought that getting letters was pretty much the coolest thing ever. I had many pen pals. I don’t think it would have mattered to me if the person writing the letter was a friend, or an aunt, or a biomom, or a second cousin twice removed. So, I’ll write about whatever pops into my head and hope for the best.
I will continue to post my feelings and questions here, as will Karen, but our stories are only two out of THOUSANDS. Our stories will not be yours. If you have questions about which type of adoption is best for you, I encourage you to connect with an adoption agency or support group for more information. Ultimately, only you know what your preferences are. And guess what: your preferences may change over time, long after the paperwork is signed! How troublesome is that? At least an open adoption leaves some room for adaptation.
I suspect that no matter what you choose you will eventually find yourself like me, trying to navigate within the reality of your very unique adoption experience. There isn’t an etiquette book for this (the parents who adopted baby Catherine and I learned this very quickly)! Sooner or later you will find yourself with questions that no one but you can answer. Truly, I wish you the best of luck and all the blessings that God can bring.