By now you have probably heard a lot about birth families wanting openness in adoption. Chances are that, at first, it sounded like a scary concept and it felt somewhat threatening. I didn’t know much about open adoption when starting our adoption journey in 2002. So I read; I read a lot. I learned how beneficial open adoption was for the birthparents and our future child. I quickly realized that, for the sake of our child, we would pursue an open adoption. My husband, on the other hand, was slower warming to the idea. But with enough education and soul searching, he too was open to the idea. And as time went on…we were BOTH actually looking forward to it!
Then we received “the call” in June of 2003. The situation was ideal, except for one thing. Both birthparents wanted a closed adoption. I thought, “What? Hadn’t they heard the benefits of openness?” I guess I had just assumed that all birthmothers would choose an open adoption. But we decided that it was something we could live with and certain that they would change their minds down the road. I knew openness usually changes over time and hoped this might be the case. And things did evolve to a certain extent. Shortly after our daughter’s placement, they did request photos and updates, which we were eager to send. Although we never met them, spoke to them, or corresponded directly with them, I was confident that someday we would. I was hopeful that the updates and photos were the first among many steps that would eventually lead to an open adoption.
Initially, the most difficult thing about having such a closed adoption was not knowing how our daughter’s birthparents were doing and wondering if they regretted their decision. I longed to hear their words of validation. The “not knowing” caused me to make many assumptions. I pictured them grieving heavily and barely functional. And I even took on that grief on their behalf. And, for a time, that grief hindered the bonding process between me and my daughter. Although she was a dream come true and the most beautiful baby one could imagine, I felt guilty being allowed to parent her. Guilty for being so happy, when they were going through undoubtedly the most difficult time of their lives. It’s like I needed their permission to love her and be happy. I know they chose adoption and they chose us to parent, but I can’t help but wonder if having an open adoption would have made a difference those first weeks. Maybe if I had heard it from them, then just maybe I wouldn’t have felt so torn.
But the months went on, and our daughter grew into the most loving and happy baby. Of course we thought she was the smartest and most beautiful child to grace the earth. We were so proud, proud of both her and her birthparents. We were so eager to share with them all the fascinating details about our daughter. And, for a while we did.
Then, when our daughter was 18 months old, her birth mother asked the agency not to send any more updates. Her birthfather had stopped picking up his updates shortly after her birth. Apparently they both felt that it was too difficult receiving the photos and updates. Although a part of me understood the request, it was also devastating. After so many months spent attempting to cultivate a relationship, the door had been closed. And it felt like a personal rejection. But as much as it was a shock and disappointment to hear, I had to remember that it was not about me. And it was not about what I felt was best. The decision was ultimately theirs and it was my job to respect it and make the best of it.
Two years later, it is still difficult. I still think of them so often and wonder how they are doing and where life has taken them. So often I watch my daughter in amazement. The pride is overwhelming and I wish I could share all of her accomplishments with her birthparents. I wish I could just pick up the phone to call and tell them the cute and funny things she does each day. I wonder if they will ever regret all the moments they have missed. I wonder if I have tried hard enough. I wonder about a lot.
At first we wanted an open adoption for the sake of our child. It was almost seen as a sacrifice we would make. But I now see how important it is for not only the birthparents and the child, but also for the adoptive parents. As wonderful and joy filled as our lives are, there always seems to be something missing, someone missing. I can’t help but think that our lives would be enriched so greatly if they were a part of them. As I consider the loss I feel at not having them in our lives, I wonder if it will match the loss our daughter feels one day. I don’t know what the next year, or five years, or twenty-five years will hold. I can only do my best to give my daughter the details I have, to convey her birthparents love for her, and keep the faith that someday our family will be complete.
Susan Reardon 2006