Thursday, December 10, 2009


I opened my inbox today to see another writing prompt over at Production not Reproduction, the blog that is among other things the hub for the Open Adoption Blogger network that I'm a part of. Every month Heather posts a writing prompt about something open adoption related. This month is #11, and is about the holidays. The last time I participated was for #7, which was about blogging and privacy.

There are a lot of reasons why I haven't participated since #7. #8 was posted the day before Choice was born and, well you know the story. But this time I'm not posting because I haven't written this post yet. This is the post about how I'm not actually in an open adoption.

What we have with J's first mom, I am going to call her Z, is what is called a semi-open adoption. We've agreed to send pictures and written updates every month for the first six months, and then once a year after that until J is eighteen years old. She hasn't agreed to anything, aside from the part where she agreed to give her daughter up for adoption which is a giant thing. I don't want to diminish the power of that choice. But Z has never seen our profile book and I don't think she knows our first names. The letters and pictures we send will be held by the agency, in case she wants to pick them up. If she ever does, then in that written material will be the information that we are interested in more openness. The agency didn't seem to expect that she would come back to get updates. I hope that she does. I hope that I can always continue to prepare them as if she will.

But this post is not about Z. It's about me, and what it means for me to be in this sort of adoption. I'm not complaining - I have found my daughter and would have it no other way - but this part isn't what I had in mind. So it's taken some adjusting to. In some ways I started adjusting when I said goodbye to Y, the day that unbeknown to me, J was born.

At our post placement visit Karen asked us some questions about bonding with J, and how it's going, when it happened, etc. I thought immediately of Choice, what it felt like to be in the hospital room with her and Y, and how I did not feel like she was my baby. I don't think that was fate or destiny or anything like that. She could have been my baby, if Y had chosen differently. I think the reason I didn't feel like she was mine was because her mother was right there. I had spent the past three weeks focused on Y and our relationship. If I was bonded to anyone in that hospital room it was Y, not her baby. I can see why some of the adoptive mothers I know in open adoptions struggle with their mother-identity at first, why it is not uncommon for adoptive moms to have a hard time moving past the first mother's grief and some feel guilty about their own joy.

At this point Z is a name to me. While I know cognitively that J has a first mother who is just as real as Y, I don't know it in an experiential way. In my experience of J I am her only mother. I have been her mother from the moment I first saw her, from the moment I first saw her picture, even. Fate, destiny, and the alignment of the stars aside, this is probably at least part of why I bonded to her so quickly and irrevocably.

So in some respects, the self-centered adoptive parent focused ones, this way was easier. I believe that in the long run it won't be easier. I believe in open adoption, that when it can be arranged it is better for the most important person in the adoption triad, the child. The other two parties are the grown-ups. We are supposed to take the harder hits so that our child doesn't have to.

After the experience with Y and Choice, Andrew and I had some long talks about our expectations. That situation had seemed like our dream scenario, and the connection with Y was part of that dream scenario. But we walked away feeling like Y made the right decision. So, if that was the case, then we concluded we might need to revise or expand our dream scenario. Choice, we decided, didn't need us. I am definitely not saying that this is true of every open adoption situation, but it was true of that one. We decided we needed to be open to a child whose need for us was clear, even if that meant letting go of some of the expectations we had. One of those expectations was a first mother like Y - someone who would have been capable of a fruitful and open relationship. We decided to be open to situations that were a little more dire, where the need for the baby to be placed was more obvious. I talked to Marla about it, and we were all set up to be shown for some cases that fit our expanded scenario when J's ten days came up.

My daughter is perfect in every single way. But because this post is about me, I'll stick to the topic. The scenario I didn't really imagine was actually this one. The one where the first mother stays in the shadows of our lives for now, and possibly forever. But I would be so good at openness, my heart says rather plaintively. If she just knew me...

But it is not my job to evaluate Z's decisions. Her choices are hers, and I cannot - should not - imagine what they are about. "Semi" means "half." In this adoption relationship there are three sides, not two. But I have control over my part, and the "semi" can be me. There are things I can commit myself to, in this semi-open relationship. The first one, the one that all the others comes from, is to respect my child's first mother. This means speaking of her with honor and compassion, and not sharing information about her with those who might judge, or who just don't need to know. Respecting her means not fantasizing about why she did what she did. I will not make her into an angel or a demon in my own mind, or in our family lore. She is a whole complicated and real person. This means raising J to honor her - J will have questions and feelings and her own Z stuff to deal with and I'll be supportive of whatever that is, but she will be raised to respect and honor the person who gave her life. It also means being open with J. She will have hard questions and I will give her honest answers, as appropriate, as she grows able to ask. And if Z ever wants contact, I will do all in my power to facilitate that in a healthy way.

There is a lot I wish I could tell Z. It is a litany in my head, sometimes, when I think about her. Your child is safe. Your child is loved. I hope you are okay. I know you probably aren't. But your baby is safe, your baby is loved. Our daughter is thriving.

I think about Z a lot.

So there it is. I can still be an open adoption blogger. In some ways, I am more open now than I was last time I participated. Some people can have open adoptions, some people should have them, and then there are situations where it's just not possible. My personal bias is that any adoptive parent can and should be at least capable of considering it. I know that not every first parent is, nor should they have to be. And my child, my daughter? Right now her adoption can't be all the way open, it is just not in the cards. And I want her and no one else. So I am in the adoption I want to be in, because this is reality for my family.

If my heart sinks a little when I see our extra profile books lying on the table, that's okay. There is a prideful part of me that wanted to show that to my child and say "here it is, here is the book we made for your first mommy. She read it and she picked us to be your parents." But for that dream to come true I would have had to have a different daughter and that is inconceivable to me now. In some ways Y picked us for Baby J, because without the choices she made we wouldn't have been offered this match. So we were picked, just not by J's own first mother. It's a more complicated story than the one I imagined. But in my experience real life is often more complicated than the dreams we have about it - and there isn't any dream that I'd prefer over this.


  1. This is an amazing post. We are in a similar semi-open adoption although we did get to meet R before our son was born. She does not want further contact and, unfortunately, I have pushed her toward more openness and she has rejected it. I need to be less selfish to what I want and realize that openness is just not right for her.

  2. Well spoken and right on the mark!!
    Just think how special your books are going to be for the "next adoption"- you are going to have pictures with baby J next time in there! +) And who knows, you may very well have a completely different BM situation, and maybe she might want an open adoption... we just never can predict huh.

  3. Open adoptions are beautiful, beautiful things. While we chose the route of foster-adoption, we had in theory hoped to maintain some amount of limited contact with the parents, whatever seemed reasonable for the situation.

    Ugh... long story. The bottom line is that long-term security concerns with the birth father have prevented us from pursuing additional contact of any kind with the birth parents. It's sad to see that sometimes that piece of the triad is so horribly damaged, it's just not safe enough for the children for contact to exist.

    Perhaps this is what Mommy Z had in mind when she made such a courageous choice, even without any of the assurances that come with open adoption.

    On another note, my husband was adopted when he was a foster child, at 22 months old. The adoption was closed, but the adoption records in his state were fairly open. He had never felt compelled to contact his birth parents, but made the decision to do so as we prepared to adopt.

    As it turned out, my husband met his birth father for the first time about a week before we finalized the adoption of our own sons. And it was good. Now we have more grandparents for our children! How cool is that?

  4. I'm having the hardest time posting from my google account, so I guess I have to go anonymous...

    First of all, you have the most beautiful baby on the planet and I really look forward to following your blog.

    Second...we also have a semi/non-open adoption...our darling girl - now 5 was taken from her bio mom and dad due to neglect. She has started asking questions. I know a lot about her mom but her mom knows nothing about us... Our little one asked me her mom's name and I told her...though, worrying about how much to tell her in the future...My little one is biracial (African-American and Hispanic) and we are quite Caucasian. Appreciate any input in answering those tough questions!!!

    Pam from South Carolina

  5. This is our story almost exactly. Our profile letter went on and on about how much we wanted an open adoption. We had several failed matches and then were chosen, by the agency, profile unseen by our son's birth mom. She didn't want to meet us, didn't want to know our names, didn't want to get letters. It was a HUGE adjustment for me in how I had pictured being an adoptive parent. I wrote the letters anyway and, after a few months, our son's birth mom contacted the agency and asked for them. It has been a long, very slow process, but we have now gotten to the point where we have spoken to her on the phone. We hope that someday we'll meet her. We've just taken it one step at a time, always remaining open to whatever openness she is comfortable with. And every little bit of progress we make, I hold on to as "At least we have this [letter, photo, phone call] for our son."

  6. Thank you for this transparent post. Reading it has helped me to clarify a few things for me in our own journey -- which I'll have to post about soon.

  7. Your little girl is just simply perfect and beautiful! I think I just found a wife for my new son! Our is semi-open as well. I've had quite a bit of contact with his biological mother but things are still evolving. He has a half sibling so I'm sure that will play a part in things unfold.

    I did not really feel completely overjoyed over the adoption because I could plainly see the sacrifice and pain on his biological mum's face, but I don't feel guilty. There has been many touch choices on both sides.

  8. Thanks to both you and Andrew for entertaing all of Glenn and I's questions, it was such a relief just to see you in person and chat. To see Jubilee in person was beyond awesome! It melted our hearts again. I will email Marla my email address and ask her to forward it to you if you don't mind us picking your brains on anything else that comes up on our journey and the match, travel and coming home with baby. +)

  9. Your heart is shown in this post.
    Yes, I'm one of those that had a hard time grasping my claim as Isabel's mother due to our open adoption, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I've grown because of that challenge and it has and is preparing me for the next step in growing our family.
    You said you would be so good at openness, it's funny that something I feel often when I'm trying to communicate with Isabel's bmom. She's so shy it's hard and all I can think is how much I just want to know her as a person so that I can tell Isabel what a wonderful lady she is and that she'd really like me once she got to know me. Not that I'm saying she doesn't like me. Just saying I feel the same way.

    'My personal bias is that any adoptive parent can and should be at least capable of considering it. I know that not every first parent is, nor should they have to be.' Great statement.

    Just like it took our hearts going to Russia to find Isabel it took Y to get you to J.
    I'll be praying that one day Z decides to pick up those letters and wants to know J and you. She'll be blessed if she does.