A Million Ways, Wrecked

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Paul and I had hoped for what the adoption industry refers to an "open adoption".

Wait.

Let me rephrase that: we always hoped for what we thought the adoption industry meant by open adoption. What we quickly discovered that most "open adoptions" are not really open at all. While families may meet each other or parents relinquishing their children may choose or interview an potential families, they may never know which state their child ends up in or what the adoptive families last name is. Most of the time communication is handled through the agency. Often agreements are made about how many times a year families are to send pictures or updates. Of course, it all hinges on good will and intention of the adopting family and none of it is really enforceable. Many times these updates are only expected for the first few years, or requested only once a year until the child turns 18.

Many families adopting infants feel safer with these parameters. Sometimes, it is our unexamined insecurities over the perceived legitimacy of the family we are attempting to build. Or, maybe it is our discomfort with the potential role that our child's bio family may play. At any rate, many of us welcome these guidelines. While we speak with great warmth or respect about our child's bio family, we are careful to not to push towards an actual relationship. To be fair, many bio mothers and fathers have their own feelings about desiring (or not desiring) a relationship, and sometimes the safety of the child is a factor. It is never simple. I know that. BUT. But. More often than not, it is the agencies setting these parameters for the relationship in order to reassure the adoptive family that they are in control, or to minimize the grief and loss inherent in these situations. Obviously, there are exceptions. Many agencies and states are working to discourage anonymity. Some families are able to see their way through their own stuff to find a healthy way of including part or parcel of their child's family. Even so, the more I've read and researched and lived, the more uncomfortable I am with what adopting parents have become accustomed to accepting. Domestic adoption is not the cloak and dagger secrecy of decades past. But sometimes– specifically in the case of infant adoptions– it doesn't feel like we've come far enough.

The out-of-state folks that facilitated both our adoptions were both pragmatic and empathetic. We have checked in with them over the years and J has told us that she felt like she was treated with compassion and honesty. We know other folks who have worked with them and have felt the same way. Still, we had to push through the status quo in that first year after Augie came home. While J had specified the type of communication she wanted, she had been advised by them as to what was "typical" and they cautioned us against providing too much identifying information initially. And while I understood their rationale for our particular situation, we let them know that we would like her to know as much as she wanted as soon as they felt it was appropriate. We talked it through. We understood the risks. Even then, I think we loved our kids enough to know that Paul and I would probably never truly be enough as they got older.

I want to talk about our feelings about openness and our reasons for desiring it in more detail, but for now, let me just say that our desire for each of our kids is that they have the best chance possible at feeling Whole. There will be plenty of unknowns in their lives, but there are also plenty that is known: including living, breathing, people that love them and know them as their flesh and blood. It is complicated (and I ask you: WHAT FAMILY ISN'T??) and heart breaking. It is also beautiful.

Which brings me to now and a trip we had been saving for and planning for a long time.

The six of us flew to Florida to spend precious time being in the same space as their living, breathing, loving flesh and blood. It was an enormous privilege. It might prove to be the best decision we ever make. I learned that 98% (conservatively) of who my kids are is related entirely to nature and that the nurture part of their being is merely a bonus. Turns out all the crap I've been trying as a parent… well… I can just stop now and live a little. They are going to be fine. We have always considered these people as a part of our family, but it is now something more than theoretical.

We are home now. Changed. I am wrecked. My kids are wrecked. The grief is palpable. But (and again, I say BUT) we are also closer to being whole and seeing our way through to something better.

It is a gift.

41 Comments

  1. I’m a bio grandmother of a 13 year old that was placed for adoption at birth. It was an open adoption and the adoptive parents encouraged our contact and visits. In the first couple of years it ripped my heart out – I didn’t know if I could survive the grief, but as time went on it became easier. I have to say that I cannot imagine a better situation for that young boy to grow up in. It is obvious to him that he basks in the love of this huge extended adoptive and bio family. He has so many parents and grandparents and great grandparents, uncles and cousins, to love and spoil him, but also to answer his questions. If I were to design a perfect situation it would be just like what we have. This is only possible with adoptive parents who are confident of their roles as parents, and with bio family that are sensitive to the adoptive parents and needs of the child. My grandson lives about 60 miles away and often stays over on weekends, and has gone on long trips with me to visit other family members. All of us are working together to give him the kind of life we wish him to have. We’re so lucky that we all get to love this boy so well! Open adoption can work.

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  2. Thank you for this post that once again confirms that we chose the right adoption agency. We have a very open relationship with my son’s birthfamily largely because of our agency’s education, mentoring and then stepping back to let birth and adoptive families create their own relationship without having to go through an intermediary (unless a problem arises and one of us asks them for advice). Yes, adoption is full of grief on all sides, but how much less scary is known grief than the unknown “what-if’s” and “I wonder’s”? I am so happy to hear that your families had a chance to spend time together. That is powerful and important. Blessings to you all as you process your trip.

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  3. Laura–
    I am grateful to you for sharing your story. I think adopting parents need to do a better job of looking at the long game. The act of adopting is a one time act– the act of building family is never ending. Thank you.

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  4. brought tears to my eyes. thank you, as always, for sharing your thoughts and heart here. sending love to all the branches of your amazing family. xo

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  5. Reading this with the perspective of a “custodial” step-mom of a 19 year old. The mom lives in the next time zone. Visitations were few and far between and it was hard to let him go (even though it was the right thing) and I can only imagine how hard it was for his mom to let him go with his dad. Frankly, I could only imagine it once I had a baby.
    I’m so impressed with how intentional you are being with having your guys know more about their whole story having them know more people who love them (you can’t have too many.) And having reciprocal opportunities for J.

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  6. Wow-what a gift you gave all of your children. This is the example of true family and a brave mothers love. Being so secure in your love for them and their love for you is what is going to make four amazing people for the planet! Thank you for this! I’m not nearly as well written as you but this is such a super cool thing!

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  7. oh my. Wow. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.
    My mother-in-law is adopted and has struggled long and hard to come to terms with it. She seached relentlessly for her bio mom and finally, when she was in her 60s, she found her in England. And now, my m-i-l very deliberately opens her vacation home every year so an adoptive family and a bio mom can meet on neutral turf and connect. I LOVE the healing in her story. If we ever adopted a child, I know I would want the path of openess and honesty. (Also, related, I just finished reading Brother and Sister, a novel by Joanna Trollope about adopted adults finding their bio moms – beautifully written and not bitter.)

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  8. You understand what family really means. It isn’t always easy or pretty, but it is so good for everyone. Your thoughtfulness about everyone’s place in the whole picture is sn inspiration.

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  9. I have read your blog for years and I don’t think I have ever commented. Thanks for putting a perfect piece to this. We experienced similar moments from this summer. And “wrecked” is the perfect word. And its hard.

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  10. Ya’ll are a beautiful family! Opening your hearts to hope and love, and to the wounds that come with love – you are giving your whole family a great gift.

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  11. I was reading your post aloud to myself and I broke down in tears when I got to the end. I surprised myself. I was adopted at age 7 by my grandparents who raised me. Not the same, but I have a heart for the grief and the feelings of longing and being whole. Thank you so much for sharing this. I am a foster parent awaiting a placement…I’d like to give back what I was given as a child. You inspire me to be brave. Thank you.

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  12. both of my boys are adopted…. and each one has different sides of openness. We told the birth families we wanted to be considered “part” of their family if they would accept us in, as we would accept them into ours. One birth family has opened their hearts fully~ and we are all both really close…. like sisters close…. each member of the family call us, communicate with us, and share stories (both birth father and birth mother sides) We tease that my son has a family bush, not a family tree.
    One birth mother has kept herself at a distance. Her extended family also wants nothing to do with us. We have encouraged and invited her over many times, but she struggles with the openness. But she also always knows that she has a family here, who love her unconditionally, are her biggest cheerleaders, and want to see her grow.
    all this to say, open adoption looks very unique and special…. but always stretches the definition of family…. where you find your heart can hold a lot of love for many many people you can call family!
    I am so glad to hear you stepped out… and flew! May this trip open more doors for you to walk through.

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  13. We have had a wonderful open adoption experience and I salute you for opening your family to include your child’s birth-family. Our son’s birthmom was 16 when he was born, and in a way we were blessed with two young people in our lives. We’ve spent Mother’s Day together, watched our son’s birhtmom graduate from high school, and then college, and have a family of her own. As I get older I’m reassured knowing that even if something happens to me, my son will always have a large, loving family.

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  14. I read your post over a week ago and at the time did not know what to say. I have since thought a lot about this and still do not know what to comment. I am not an adoptive mother. There do seem to be simple truths evident here: you and your hubby are generous people, your children – all of them – are fortunate to grow in your generosity, time, like waves, reveals new things, you are blessed, accept the blessing and hold it fast as you move forward. I wish you well.

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  15. xox love reading your stories. thank you for sharing. and for inspiring me to remember what i have and to never stop trying to do better (even if it means letting go even just a little xox

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  16. You really are an amazing family. Your heart is so full and open and your sons are so blessed to have found their way to you. I have no doubt they will live rich and fulfilling lives and in turn build relationships of their own on the same basis.

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  17. What a powerful story, and one that I am very connected to for so many reasons. I am black and was adopted as an infant into a white family. So many struggles came with my closed adoption. So many times I attempted in vain to find my birth family. But because I was adopted in 1970, the laws were very different and unless there is a medical emergency, I can not petition the judge to open my records. I am registered with the Central Adoption Registry (as well as others).
    When I was 19 , I had a son. I raised him for a year before making the very painful decision to release him for adoption. There is nothing more heart wrenching. I was broken and lost for a very long time. The one, right decision that I did make, was to have an open adoption.
    My journey has been an incredible, tumultuous, heart breaking, joyous and spiritually fulfilling one. It is not an easy journey…not for the faint of heart or weak willed. There is not enough time or space in this comment section for me to speak at great length about the last 23 years of my life.
    But I will say this. You are a remarkable for simply being open and gracious enough to extend yourself to the birth family, to your children’s family. That takes courage and grace. And I am blessed today to have a warm, loving, honest and open relationship with my 23 year old son. He is a blessing and the embodiment of grace and forgiveness. He is physically, spiritually and emotionally my twin. My purposeful decision for open adoption is not one I regret.
    Over the years our families have blended to the point that we no longer identify as birth and adoptive families. We are all simply family.
    I thank God for parents such as yourselves. Continue in the knowledge that you will reap the rewards of happy, well-adjusted, giving, gracious and loving children because of how you choose to live.

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