Closed to Open Adoption and a Birth Mother Meeting
November is adoption awareness month. So, far I’ve come across this great post on how to talk to 2nd graders about adoption, a newspaper article on older child adoption featuring the One Inch of Grace family, and there are always some really thoughtful posts about open multi-racial adoption over on See Theo Run.
I don’t talk about adoption much here anymore. In part because adoption and adoption-related issues are no longer first and foremost in our daily lives. We’re more likely on any given day to be dealing with teens who haven’t handed in school assignments, coping with the highs and lows of requited and unrequited love, moodiness and sulkiness, and mustering up the very best of the skills we have to parent effectively.
We deal with teen issues. The ups and downs, the hormones, the gentle directing, the active listening, the boundary setting, emotional maintenance and the coaching that comes along with launching your kids to be somewhat independent in a few short years from now.
Most of our parenting has to do with age, and our kids’ specific learning and behavioural needs. Very little of our lives are directly related to adoption any more. It’s not that adoption irrelevant. It’s just that it’s no longer the lynchpin. We grapple more with the long-term effects of why our kids needed to find an adoptive family in the first place. Our kids’ are permanently marked by the legacy of poverty and impermanence. They’ll be forever shaped by their childhood experiences.
The other reason why I don’t often write about adoption is because it’s no longer my story to tell. I’m hesitant to speak of anything that isn’t directly my experience with our adoption of Bella and Bubaloo, or how adoption has shaped me.
But there is an important story to tell. Bella saw her birth mother a few weeks ago. It was the first time that she had seen her mom since parental rights were relinquished and her mother said goodbye.
While our adoption is supposed to be closed (as are all public adoptions through the province of Ontario) and any contact by way of exchanging letters and photos is supposed to be done through Children’s Aid, our adoption was a little different.
As our kids were older when our adoption was finalized, no amount of redaction could keep us from finding out the name of their mom and all of their relatives. While we never saw names in print, the kids could clearly tell us stories about all their aunts, uncles and cousins. And of course, their mom.
We felt it was important to our kids to take whatever last name they wanted when they were adopted. We wanted them to have full agency in a decision that would shape their identity as they had very little say throughout their lives. And, they were 9 and 11 at the time. It was important to honour their voices. They chose to keep the last names they were given at birth (both of which happened to be different as they have different fathers) and then they added my surname into the mix. The end result is that every member of our household, even the dog, has at least one commonly shared surname.
The unanticipated outcome of this naming is that the kids were very easy to find. And their mom found us on the internet a year after we had adopted the kids. We had registered for a local fundraising event where their first and last names were public on an online fundraising platform. She reached out and we reached out back. Overnight our adoption transitioned from closed to open.
At first we asked that she not contact the kids as they weren’t ready to hear from her. They were still settling in here, still angry and confused and we didn’t want to add anything else into the mix. We were pretty unsettled by her reappearance. Not telling the kids that we knew where their mother was and that we knew how to contact her was one of the hardest white lies I’ve ever had to keep.
After a few months, we shared with the kids that we had heard from their mom. It opened a flood gate of questions. So many things that they had always wondered about they could now ask and get a plausible answer. What about their cat? What about a toy? Where did their mom live? Did she have a phone?
We posed those questions and came back with answers. The kids had more questions, and this evolved into us eventually setting up a teleconference with her. It was two years from the time she first contacted us until she spoke with the kids.
The intervening years featured sporadic communication. There’d be intense periods where she’d want to connect with us about the kids and then she’d disappear for six months to a year, and then out of the blue we’d hear from her again. She moved a lot, but always ensured that we had her current contact information. I’ve never actually spoken with her, only Otto has. At times she was persistent and aggressive about wanting to see the kids, and at others, it was all about explaining herself or relating things she knew about the kids to us.
We were concerned on a couple of fronts, but mostly when she re-emerged each time, it unsettled us. We never really knew what to expect and we were concerned for the kids. That she would hurt them because she wouldn’t stick around. Or that maybe one day she’d show up at our house or the kids’ school and they would hop into a car with her and disappear. In those first few years, our kids’ attachment to us was not stronger than their attachment to their mother. And this fact alone was threatening.
After the phone conversation with the kids, their mom went dark again. We didn’t hear from her for a while. A few years later she popped up on fa.cebook and friended Otto. Then she friended the kids, and they friended her back. They didn’t want to talk to their mom, or see her, they just wanted the reassurance that she would be there if they needed her.
Over time, the relationship has evolved between the kids’ birth mother and us. There is a level of respect there for each other. She recognizes that we acknowledge and respect her. We don’t make decisions for the kids around their relationship with her, but we do mediate it. In return, she respects the role that we have in their lives. Even though we’ve never openly discussed this, we all speak positively of one another. It’s an unwritten and unspoken agreement.
Bella went to meet with her mom in October at a local diner. The diner was four blocks from our house. Their mom chose the meeting spot as she lived right across the street from it. For the past two years, she’s lived right around the corner from us. I’m not quite sure how it’s possible that we never bumped into one another on the street.
When she contacted us to let us know she was moving down east, she let us know that she had some items that once belonged to the kids that she wanted to give to them. I can’t remember which party proposed meeting in person, but we presented the kids’ with the option. Bella chose to go; Bubaloo chose to stay home.
Otto accompanied Bella and relates that it was an incredible encounter. We’ve had contact with Bella’s dad, his new wife, and their two children over the years, and we thought that over the phone they were remarkably similar. As it turns out, Bella is a lot like her mom, too.
My only regret about Bella reconnecting with her mom is that we didn’t think to bring a camera — that the moment they first saw each other in over eight years wasn’t immortalized on film.