Open Adoption, Open Heart, And Needing More

I’ve had this post in my head for quite a while now. It’s existed in parts, none of them very well-expressed or complete in form, but I’m tired of it rattling in my head, and weighing so heavily in my heart, that I’m setting it free. In doing so perhaps there will be some relief, some comfort in just “speaking” it, or, if I’m really lucky, some guidance and comfort from those that understand — no matter which side of it they come from. Read on.  But pour yourself something cold to drink, you’ll be here awhile.

As folks hanging here for any length of time know, we’re in an open adoption with Maeve’s birthmother. Well, maybe I should tweak, for now, my description of it to call it a semi-open adoption in that our connection is through the adoption agency, through letters and photos, and an annual visit at an agency picnic. When we first began this journey, just even having this amount of contact was, for us, considered open. Not because it’s all we wanted, but because in Thomas’ own adoption, the dearth of detail is so real, the sealed records and blacked out information are the walls we face, he faces.

So meeting Maeve’s first mother, holding her, talking with her, sharing stories and details with her — it was like an adoption floodgate had opened. It was so wonderfully different than anything we’d known, so opposite of the closed adoption in our lives, the simplest way to describe it was open. Light had been let in, like fresh Spring air blowing through a newly opened window after a long winter of hatches battened down.

When I think of Thomas’ adoption, my mind conjures up stacks of paper, yellowed and dusty, banded together with elastics, placed in the corner of a Catholic Charities basement in Ohio, next to other stacks pointlessly detailing the lives of other babies born that month, that year. I see them being guarded by some governmental rule, by legislators not left dealing with the effects of decisions to keep my husband’s life — and myriad other lives — stacked tidy in a box somewhere. They’ve moved on to their next cause, and my husband’s story, his complete story not winnowed by Sharpie marker gone wild, sits somewhere. Seemingly forgotten, with no one to care about it.

But it’s not so. Someone does care. Someone hasn’t forgotten. And as the wife of someone whose origins, whose story of his very own life, are kept so mysterious and tucked away, I care. Deeply.

And this is why, when we began our own adoption journey, openness was a light leading us forward.

When we were selected by B. to parent Maeve, we learned her selection of our agency had to do with its focus on open adoptions. A few days after we were placed — while Thomas, Maeve and I remained in her birthstate waiting for legalities — we all sat down together, meeting for the first time. The emotions were so high. It was like nothing I’ve ever been close to before — or since.

We hugged. We talked. We were all nervous. We were all pleasant. We were all there for the good of Maeve. We were all humans joined by the force of this little life before us. The scope of it all was not lost on me. As I sat in the same room as the woman who just a few days earlier shared with Maeve the single-most intimate experience I can imagine — the birth of a daughter by her mother, I tried to take freeze frame images in mind. I knew that The Future Maeve wouldn’t be able to piece together that day in any tangible way other than what those of us there could share with her. I tried so hard to remember, amid my own emotional roller coaster, to pry my eyes open from the ride and just watch, for her. Just remember the images, the movements, the words shared, I told myself.

It was in that first visit that a role I hadn’t really thought about before, had come to be. I needed to be there to preserve whatever I could for her until one day she takes the information, the relationship I hoped to forge with her first mom, and forge ahead herself, her own heart and vision leading her.

Considering the enormity of the day, the joy and sadness, and all the nuances needing considering, the day’s overall tone in my mind is recorded as gentle, as special, with a genuine goodness to it. Because despite fears and nerves and complexities, and because a little new life deserved it, we had all come together.

Yet there is something I would change about that day. 

At the time, we just went along with the minimum required by our agency, letters and photos monthly until one year, then letters and photos yearly until age 18, and visits at the agency’s annual picnic. While the idea of photos and letters suddenly didn’t feel like enough at the time of our actual placement, everything was so incredibly emotional and new, and it seemed like there would be plenty of time for us all to move forward together and get to know each other through our letters and visits, and open our relationship more as time passed. After all, just days earlier, at the time of placement, we were told that B. wasn’t sure if she was ready to meet us. When we learned she wanted to meet, that afternoon’s event became my focus, wanting it to go well, wanting to be able to get across all the things I felt and wanted to share, despite being frazzled and overtired and human.

My biggest regret. I would have written out our full names, our address, our telephone numbers and email addresses and put them into B.’s hands myself. If she wasn’t ready to do anything with them then, well, at least I knew she had them should she become ready.

When we met again 10 months later at the first picnic after placement with Maeve, I sat on a blanket, nervous and fearful that B. might, in the last moments before traveling to us, need to stay away, to pass on this second meeting since placement. She was late, and as the minutes ticked by, I wrestled with my hopes and expectations, reminding myself that really I am just a third party in all this. I can work to make her feel welcome and wanted in our lives, I can follow through and get Maeve there for B. should she decide to join us — but her walking into the park that day? That had to be up to her.

A weight lifted from me when I saw her in the distance. She waved a gentle “hiya” wave, like she was meeting someone in a crowd and wanted to get their attention, a casual someone or other she’d met for lunch the week before. It was a strange and unexpected sense of famliarity I felt toward B. Like seeing a good friend after a long time. It’s a strange juxtaposition, knowing someone a short time and not that well, yet feeling an intimacy toward them usually reserved for family and longtime friends. It’s a connection both simultaneously shallow and deep — the brevity of the relationship contrasted with the depth of its emotion, commitment, connection and love. Lots of history in a little period of history.

During that visit, I asked if I’d been sending too many photos with my letters, if my writings were too detailed, too specific, too much — or not enough. (When I write B., my words come from the deepest part of me that loves this child and the woman sharing her with me. I try to share everything about Maeve that I would desperately want to know if I wasn’t in her life every day. I share everything I think her hurting mama heart might need to know. They are handwritten and many, many pages, trying to best capture on paper the living, breathing existence that is our litle girl and the life she is living. Paper doesn’t do the reality justice, but, oh, how I try.)

Her answer to my queries? She’s enjoying the letters and their detail, and laughed at me worrying so much. And as for “too many photos”? She said, and notice the quote marks, “There can never be too many.”

I was so happy to hear her say that about the baby before us. To me, it was a statement on where she stood, on her connection to Maeve. Something I could share with Maeve one day. Something B. herself could share with Maeve one day.

As for B. writing to Maeve or us, she sent a letter a few months after B. was born and placed — and it’s a most-beautiful sentiment and something so dear to us. But it’s the only letter we’ve received. She’s mentioned writing again, mentioned getting photos and a letter together. But nothing has come.

This summer was the second agency picnic since we were placed with Maeve. A few months before, I learned through the social worker that serves as the link between us, that B. was excited for the picnic and would be bringing additional family members. Thrilled doesn’t adequately describe how I felt.

We extended, via letter, the formal invite as the agency encourages, and in that letter I also expressed our desire to increase contact, to open our relationship, to let additional light shine in. While I explained we wanted to share telephone numbers, addresses, emails and increased real-life visits in her state or ours, I made clear that, should she agree, we could proceed at her pace toward any degree of openness she desired. In asking her to consider it, I explained that if she didn’t want to change the openness at this time, we would honor her wishes.

Weeks later as the picnic neared and no offical rsvp rolled in, I began to worry: Had I scared B. away? Attempts to reach her with the social worker conduit were unsuccessful.

The picnic came. This time I was determined not to sit on the picnic blanket, stomach in knots, worried whether she would join us. Since Maeve was older now and able to partake in some of the park and picnic activities, we made sure various social workers and agency staffers knew where we were in the park should B. come. Maeve had her first face painting (on her leg), she played with other children in a volleyball pit, watched the band in awe, looked in on some older children and their families playing soccer, she walked around like she owned the place, petting a dog that passed her by and nibbling lunch and enjoying time with us at our picnic spot.

Was my head on a swivel the entire time? Yes. Did I mistake other women with similar body type and hair — from a distance and in between the trees — hoping it was her? Yes. Did she come? No.

This was in June — just a few months after her sharing with the social worker how excited she was to come. I’ve since sent her a letter again expressing that if she isn’t interested in or ready for additional contact, then we respect her wishes, but me asking for additional contact was never meant to lose the contact we already had. (Of course, it’s just been two months since the picnic.) I included in the letter the information I wish I’d given her the first time we met. Address, phone numbers, emails, all the details a Sharpie marker can wreak havoc on.

Between our history with Thomas’ adoption and our love for Maeve’s first mom, I find myself in a position where all I can do is wait. Wait and continue to follow through with the commitment we made, but all the while I don’t know what B. is thinking. I don’t know how to reach her (and I don’t mean literally). I have to reconcile with the fact she may not want additional contact at this time — I cringe, because I know that qualifier is necessary for me just to type that statement.

Inconsistent contact is hard. Painful even. And Maeve is only two. So right now the pain is for me and Thomas to bear. As talks with Maeve about B. occur in our home, as she points to B. in the photo album from their last visit and says her name, as she sees B. holding her and playing with her in these photos, I wonder what she’s thinking. She looks intently, proud to name the cast of characters in a very real-life situation. The possibility of contact broken breaks my heart.

Desperately wanting contact and conversations and to make more memories — wanting all of this for the child that we share with B., so that one day Maeve doesn’t face the life-sized question marks that her dad faces — and not knowing when and if a response will find its way to us? It’s almost too much to bear.

Yet it’s all countered with knowing that B. has to be ready, has to want it too. This isn’t my shot to call. She’s a primary player in this. It’s her story, too.

I do know I must keep on keeping on. I will continue to write, continue to document in pictures the life her daughter is living,  continue to remember B.’s birthday, holidays, Mother’s Day.

For Maeve. For B. For the commitment we made. For the next time we are all together. For the possibility of it all.

Still, though, having the contact, relishing in it, and then wondering when it next will appear is more difficult than I would have predicted a few years ago, sitting clean-faced and shiny-shoed in an office opposite a social worker. I would have blindly reasoned then that at least that contact is worlds more than what Thomas has. And I would have reasoned that somehow that would be enough. Oh, how wrong I would have been.

Don’t misunderstand: I’m grateful for what we do have. The letter, the visits we’ve had so far, the photos of it all, the records of Maeve’s birth, the meeting with B.’s siblings. I am. Yet, it’s not enough. Not consistent enough. Not enough for the whole of us, the whole of our family. The family of which she is such an important part.

Whether it’s the unknowns of intermittent contact or the biting coolness of a Sharpie marker in a third-party’s hand — darkness in adoption takes its toll.

Anyone from any angle able to shed light on the darkness?

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9 Comments

Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Children, Closed Adoption, Discussing Adoption, Love, Maeve, Open Adoption, Parental surrenders, Parenting, Promises, Relationships, Still learning, The Call

9 responses to “Open Adoption, Open Heart, And Needing More

  1. aislin13

    I don’t know how much light I can really shed on this because every person is different. For myself and the other first moms I talk to the first yeaar was the easiest. I know lots of people say its the hardest but I have found that to be false. The first year I was still very detatched. I was numb. It wasn’t until around the first bday that I started having major problems. Yes I was very upset the first year but nothing compared to the second. All I can say is keep sending the letters and pics. Never stop doing that. maybe she will be able to get to a place where she can have contact again. I doubt its because she doesn’t want contact. Its more likely she just can’t.

  2. An invite to open an adoption can be daunting for a birth parent. Did you go into detail what you might expect from her with that openness? If not, she might have panicked. Even though you had the best of intentions, she might have honestly freaked out. It’s hard for birth parents to understand their role in OA and without specific guidance at the beginning of such a juncture, it can feel very overwhelming.

    That said, I’ve got to play the devil’s advocate: you said you’re sending correspondence through the agency. Do you know, for certain, that they sent your letter that mentioned a further opening of contact? It’s not unheard of for agency’s to edit or refuse to send such types of letters. I would personally contact them to make sure the letter WAS sent, in its entirety, before I got any more worried about the situation. Yes, I’m Mrs. Negativity when it comes to agencies but I’ve just seen too many families get burned on issues like this…

  3. This was such a beautiful and heartfelt entry. You are all in my thoughts.

  4. Juli

    I sent a similar entry yesterday to my adoption support group about my second adoption. My nine year old, A, has a wonderful birthmother who we met when she was born. She made us promise to keep in touch until A turned 18 and then allow A to meet her if she wanted to at that point.
    We promised.
    Well her birthmother, J, moved away with no forwarding address when our daughter was 3.
    Anyway, it really makes me sad. If open adoption was legal back then I really think we would have had a good one. I totally loved her.
    I’m thankful for gifts and super sweet notes we got from her those three years. They are tucked away for the day A wants them.
    I called our agency yesterday to ask when/how we could get identifying information on A’s birthmother, but I’m sure they won’t give it to me. I want to try to find her myself. However, maybe J doesn’t want to be found. I can’t figure out what happened or why she disappeared. Some people say birthmothers “move on” after a while, and [I must confess] we even thought that before (cuz this has happened to us twice)… but I’ve never met a birthmother who has forgotten her child or stopped feeling the sting of adoption.

    One lady replied that open adoption isn’t for everybody, at least J can contact the agency if/when she wants to re-establish contact with us. However, part of me wonders if she would feel bold enough to pursue us after so many years (it’s actually been 6 years since we’ve heard from her).
    I, too, wish things were different. I guess it’s just surprising as she seemed so intent on keeping in touch… and I really miss hearing from her.

  5. That’s a wonderful question to bring up in our group in Oct.

    Birth mothers will really give you great insights into their hearts. The ones I’ve met would die for what you offer “B.”

    In spite of our choice to adopt from China, knowing what the type of adoption we would have, I dearly hope one day Kelsey will know someone from her birth family too. It hit me square in the face (and heart) the day we saw her files (and photos) pages and pages of info on birth parents all crossed out and marked N/A.

    Gretchen, you are a beautiful writer with a beautiful spirit. It is a privledge to be able to read your words in this blog.

  6. Very beautiful post, Gretchen. I hope you get your answers. I know that you’ll continue to keep in touch with B. and I know that it will all be in Maeve’s best interests.

    *hugs* to all of you.

  7. I too, live in that darkness of wanting so very much more. My kids’ First Mothers have had our information from the very beginning and upon a move, received it all into their hands. I know they know where we are, or at least in Bug’s case, her Mom knows how to get in touch with her as I chose to let her parents know where we were since she doesn’t have a stable address most times.

    All that said, I feel the burden ALL THE TIME of wondering… if I’ve done the right things… enough or too much… and on and on questioning myself. I hunger for knowing them and knowing they are well. But everytime I go round and round about this I have to come to the conclusion that for now, they know and this is what they want, for whatever reason(s) they want it this way or need it this way. Not what I want for us and for their children whom are entrusted to us by them for sure.

    All you can do is keep the door open. Right now, I’ve got my foot firmly wedged as it feels they are trying to shut that door completely. And yes, it hurts.

    Hugs to you and your beautiful daughter. And to B.

  8. Thanks Gretchen for sharing your story. I knew most of it, but you filled in the blanks for me. I’ve got no advice to offer…you know our story–we were feeling the same way, and thankfully, so far, it has been working out. I guess there’s absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain to keep reaching out. You can’t read her mind as far as what she thinks about this reaching out, that’s for sure, and you’ll drive yourself crazy trying. Know that you’ve got friends here waiting with you for whatever happens next.

    em

  9. Our adoptions are closed, by cultural stigma, agency policy and distance. Reading this, I yearn for even the little bit of contact you have. It simply makes me cry to think about it, especially since my children are teens, one in college and one in high school. Our son’s departure for college has made me realize my dreams may never come true – and even more, that I really don’t have a right to dream them anymore. Search, reunion, relationship belong completely to my children now, if they ever belonged to me even a little.

    Thank you so much for this.

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