Tag Archives: Open adoption

We Are Family

I grew up in a very traditional nuclear family. So did my parents. So did my grandparents. And so on, and so on. I remember thinking nothing of it.

Today all the folks we consider kinfolk has expanded dramatically. Adoption, marriage, babies, step kids…I often joke that we have duct taped and stapled folks to our family tree.

And that’s a good thing for all of us.

Over spring break we visited Hope’s side of the family. Previous visits were short,this one had us in the area for 3 days. It was worth all the driving and all the angst.

I’ve always known this but I see and know it more than ever now: There is something about being with your people that is incredibly powerful. Nature means folks look like you and sound like you, act like you. Hope’s biological relationship with her kinfolk is undeniable; she looks just like them.

We learned a lot about Hope’s family on this trip. I better understand why kinship adoption wasn’t the best fit and how that truth has nothing to do with love. I wish that things had been different for Hope and for them, but we can only look forward. On this trip I learned what it feels like to also be grafted into a family tree. I imagine that this isn’t quite what Hope felt, but maybe something along a parallel track.

This is the family visit when it all came together.

Well it did for me anyway. I think Hope is still trying to figure it all out. For us adults, we have life skills and emotional intelligence to make this work more easily. I see their love for my daughter; they see my love for their daughter. There doesn’t need to be any drama; we are a family and we’ll do what we have to in order to make it work for Hope because that’s what sensible grown folks do.

Hope still has some work to do in this area. She has quickly become territorial about aspects of the experience and even the chocolate cake her grandmother made because she knows I love cake. Hope isn’t a big fan of cake. It will likely go uneaten because I decided to just let it be her cake, which I know she will not eat (more on the cake in a separate post).

It is a strange thing for all the adults in a room brought together by the love of a child to get it together only to watch the child struggle.

My daughter was frustrated by the family desire to talk about her parents; she quietly complained that she didn’t want to talk about them unless they came up in conversation, but they did, a lot. My inner monologue also was running and said, “Well why the hell are we here if not to be around your family who will no doubt talk a lot about your parents???” I knew better than to ask that question out loud.

I relished in getting pictures of my daughter as a little girl with her parents, while she alternated between balking and sobbing at the imagery and demanding copies of everything. Mid-trip we talked about what it felt like to sit up at night and intensely study the pictures looking for resemblance and connection.

While I’m happy to have taken this trip, now that we are home I’m realizing the real emotional cost. It is hurts to know that my daughter doesn’t understand that there is enough love and loyalty to go around. There will be more questions, there will be more trips. I feel grafted into the family, but I’ve still got lots of questions and curiosity from my own biological family about “them.” If history is predictive, there will be big emotions. There will be clingyness. There will be pulling away. There will be anger. There will be just a lot of stuff. It exhausts me thinking about it.

But I would do it again. How could I deny Hope her family? How in good conscious could I do that? My emotional output is minimal compared to the opportunity to reconnect with family. To see her family delight in seeing her again, getting reacquainted, to have the chance to share childhood stories of her lost parent, to see themselves in her…it is a beautiful thing to witness.  This isn’t just for Hope; it’s for all of them.

We’ll visit again and again. I look forward to inviting them to visit, to graduations, to a wedding, to birthday parties and other events.

We are family.

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Boxes on Shelves

I listen to an absurd number of podcasts. Today on the way home from Hope’s orthodontia appointment, I cued up a recent episode of Modern Love. The episode featured essays read by recent Emmy winners. The first essay was written by a birth mother and her experiences with an open adoption. It’s a beautiful story that is full of love, heartbreaking and shows that these relationships can be beautiful but complicated.

At one point in the story, she says it is like being invited to dinner but not knowing where to sit. I totally get that. Even with the privilege that comes with being the legal parent, it’s awkward as hell.

Sometimes, depending on the content of a podcast, I might switch it up. Hope gets regular doses of politics, essays, crime stories, diversity and inclusion content…yeah, she is subjected to a lot, and at some point I’ll write my own essay about why this has been an academically good thing for her.

Today, I inhaled deeply as I realized what essay was about to be played. I’d heard the essay when it first aired, but Hope had not heard it. I thought about changing to another podcast, but stopped myself.  I know she listens when she’s in the car; it’s one of our most sacred spaces. I guessed that she might not want to talk about the essay later, but I was curious what she might say when she heard it read.

So, I just let it play.

I periodically glanced to see if Hope had any reactions; she really didn’t. But know she was listening, and I know that at some point we’ll probably talk about it.

Then I got lost in my own thoughts, thinking about how our own family has expanded in the nearly three years we’ve been together.

We observed the birthday of one of her first parents earlier this week. It was healthy, but emotional observation complete with a birthday cake.

I wondered what it must’ve felt like to be separated from Hope.

I wondered about how difficult it was to know that legally they would be separated forever—legally, not necessarily physically.

I wonder what Hope’s extended family thinks of how our relationship is going? Do they believe that Hope isn’t very chatty or that I am preventing her from calling them? I’m not, but do they recognize how complicated this relationship is for her? Do I realize how complicated this relationship is for them?

Do they also feel the push/pull that both Hope and I feel? The desire to build this healthy relationship and to try to quickly foster something, some kind of connection with the need to feel and be emotionally safe?

I wonder what will the future look like? I have information that some days burns a hole in my lock box because I want to chase Hope’s mom. I wonder what things will be like when we all do meet one day, since I believe that we will.

As the story concluded I gathered my thoughts and put them back in that emotional box that I keep on the shelf and put them away.

I looked over at Hope, still no expression, no words, no facial movements, no nothing.

But I know her; I know under her stoicism that a lot runs through her mind.

As that segment of the show came to a close and another reading began, I saw her reactions. She giggled and asked questions.

Like me, she had put those emotions away for another day.

Figuring out how to *do* this adoption, family, open thing is complicated, but something we’ll continue to try to figure out together.


From Closed to Open

I owe a debt of gratitude to countless adult adoptees who have schooled me on this adoption thing in the last year. I’ve learned to respect my daughter’s intersecting and layered identities as an individual, as my daughter, as an adoptee, as someone who has a first family and a life that preceded me. I’m glad that I started reading their blogs, their tweets, their articles, watching their movies (Closure…if you haven’t seen it you should, just Netflix it). I’m glad that I didn’t knee jerk label them as angry, bitter, isolated bad experiences or anti-adoption. I’m glad I just shut my pie hole and listened.

I’m not sure when I really got hip to #flipthescript; certainly it was before the hashtag, but I’m not sure when I really started reading about the adoptee viewpoint.

That, some good therapy with Absurdly Hot Therapist, and lots of prayers to relieve me of anger and fear and to grant me patience and grace have helped me figure out how to pry my and Hope’s adoption open, at least a bit.

Credit: Open Clip Art

Credit: Open Clip Art

To a lot of outsiders, it may seem inconceivable to be inclusive of a first family in an adoption like ours. It’s complicated and I’d prefer not to share the entire story of Hope’s life to protect her privacy, but these were people that Hope knew as a child, visited during the summers, had fond and sometimes complicated memories about. These are people, her family, trigger strong reactions from her. And make no mistake they are her family.

I remember being totally freaked out when they found us on Facebook. Oy! It was hard. But, as I have written before, I had initiated a search for Hope’s family. I was curious. So it stands to reason that they would look for Hope. It was inevitable.

It was so very hard figuring out what to do. I struggled to construct some boundaries, some rules of engagement for the family. I struggled to figure out who in the family was “safe,” who did Hope really remember. I wrestled with what it must be like to be somewhat of a prodigal daughter, but one who didn’t hit the lotto when she was out there somewhere. I wondered whether Hope’s anger about being “lost” would fade; she was so angry about why no one fought for her or why they didn’t even call.

I struggled with how I was supposed to feel about it all. I still do, to be perfectly honest. There are so many things on an adoption journey that make you think, “I didn’t sign up for this ish.” I was deliberate in pursuing children who were in foster care but were legally free. I didn’t want to foster and give a child back (Kudos to you folks who are built for that calling; I am not), and I thought that legally free would mean I wouldn’t have to deal with the messiness of birth families. I mistakenly assumed I would have a closed adoption by default. I was absurdly naïve to miss the fact that Hope had a whole family out there somewhere and what if they found us? I didn’t start really thinking about it until Hope had been placed with me for a couple of months.

It’s nearly a year later. I’ve sent pictures and cards. Christmas gifts were exchanged. I finally spoke to an aunt and recently, after nearly 5 years, Hope spoke with her grandmother. In the moments I was monitoring the call; I ended up stepping away because the grief of missing my own grands was overwhelming. I can’t imagine what it was like for both of them. We hope to visit this summer, but I have a lot of negotiating to do to make sure my daughter is safe. Boundaries people, boundaries.

Recently I was sharing about how Hope and I are negotiating this family thing. My companion went in, ranting a bit about how they didn’t agree with my decision to open this adoption at all. Um, ok, didn’t ask, but ok.

I sat and listened to how this non-adoptee/non-adoptive parent discussed how they would feel in this situation (irrelevant, but ok), and what their friend who’s adoptive parent did (denied the child any information or contact until he was 18 and then he didn’t want it) and how I really should consult with professionals before doing what I’m doing.

Yeah, ok.   Thanks. You know, why don’t you have a seat…in fact, you can have all of the seats.

Opening adoptions that you thought were closed, even had hoped they were closed, is a really emotional thing. I can’t imagine having family, then one day just not having family and getting a new one. This isn’t what I thought it would be. But yeah, I’ve consulted with a lot of folks on how to handle this. Ultimately, I’m relying on my gut and my daughter’s readiness to connect. I’m not forcing it, but I deliberately keep the lines of communication and access open. I’ve got rules in place and everyone seems to be playing nice. Really, I want my daughter to be happy, to be well adjusted to this crazy life and able to love and be loved by as many people as can healthily love her back. And right now, that means a larger extended family.

Based on what I’ve read from adoptees, I think my approach is a good one. This doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but it seems like a solid plan for now. My daughter is a kid, but she’s not a little kid. I respect her and understand her need for familial connection that’s biologically rooted. I get it. This isn’t about me, this is about her. It’s about figuring out who she is; Hope’s coming of age. I’m here to help her do that. Sometimes, that process is more complicated than we thought.

So Hope and I are slowly moving from a closed to open adoption, and all that comes with it. It’s complicated, but it’s good.


That Dang Facebook

So, we’ve all read how social media can be a pain in the butt. It’s been blamed for the demise of countless relationships. Irresponsible posts have ruined friendships, busted up families. Heck, if we include blogging in the larger context of social media I have to own my own drama, with how I fell out with my own mother after expressing my anger and frustrations on this very blog.

Hope has a Facebook account. Now I wasn’t particularly a fan of this, but she already had one when she was placed with me. Her therapist encouraged me to allow her to continue using it to keep in touch with friends from back home. The truth is that she really is not really on it much; when she is on Facebook, she’s looking at Justin Bieber posts and absurd short videos of the latest dance moves.   I check her page regularly. I log on as her to check her private messages too.

A few days ago, I got a friend request from a complete stranger. Now usually I dismiss these quickly. I keep my privacy settings pretty high and rarely get such requests from folks without a mutual friend or acquaintance. For some reason I didn’t act on the request and just let it sit for a day or so. Last night I actually clicked it and reviewed the sender.

That dang Facebook. Damn if the sender wasn’t Hope’s paternal aunt. Sigh. Panic set in. I’ve never felt panicked before about Hope’s biological family.

A few weeks ago, I set out to search for them so that I would have information to share with her at some point. I want her to know about her family and to decide what kind of relationship she wants or doesn’t want. Her mother is out of the picture and her father is deceased. She was closer to the latter and I’ve always created a lot of space for her to talk about him. She wonders aloud about them ever so often. I’ve never felt threatened—emotionally or otherwise—by her biological family. But this all felt like an invasion of epic proportions.

I logged out and logged into Hope’s account to find that half a dozen paternal family members had sent friend requests and a couple of messages, including one from this aunt, were in her private “other” message box. The messages talked about how happy they were to find her and just kind of jumped into conversation like nothing happened.

I deleted the friend requests. I deleted the messages. Then I sat down for the first of a couple of sad cries.

I thought, I will take a day or two to figure out what to say to these folks. How do I protect Hope? How do I talk to her about this? How do I wrap my own brain around how these folks could reach out to her, send her messages without consulting me and most of all—WTH (W=Where) were they for the last 4 years when she was in foster care? And where were you when she had a failed kinship placement with one of y’all bamas a few years ago…talking ‘bout some, you wondered where she was and how she was doing? GTFOH!

I don’t know if I have the right to ask some of these questions of them, but dammit where were they when she was floating around?

I hate thinking about how I’m going to eventually talk to Hope about this; I will but I don’t know how right now. I rather talk to her about anything else under the sun.

I’ll take another awkward sex chat, Alex, for $2000.

Oh, and I do not want to talk to these people. At least I do not want to talk to these people right now. I owe them nothing, right? Oh, and for the record I don’t care what they think of me. That’s not a part of my freakout.

The rush of emotions is overwhelming. I am angry that they would send her messages directly and not even think they needed to come through me. I am scared that they will persist in trying to contact her without my ok. I am sad that I feel the need to protect Hope from her biological family. I am empty headed about what any kind of relationship might look light, never mind how long it will take to get there.

So, when I awoke from a nap earlier yesterday to find a direct message through Facebook from her aunt, I freaked out again. She thanked me for taking care of Hope, and she said how she’d looked for Hope for years. She then started telling me how she’d reached out to her on FB and gave me contact information to pass along to Hope.

This was one of the few times in my life when I had chest pains. I decided to use a life line and call my sister, who validated my emotional free fall.

I eventually wrote back to her. I explained that I saw her messages and all the family friend requests to Hope. I explained how upsetting this could be and why. I confirmed that Hope is entitled to relationship with her biological family, but that right now we need some more time. I asked her to cease contacting Hope directly and to kindly ask her other family members not to either. They can contact me and I will determine when and how their contact with Hope will happen. I promised to give her some updates from time to time.

She wrote back that she understood and would respect my wishes. But will the others? I feel like I might’ve started a game of Whack-a-Mole with folks just popping up.

I will broach this with Hope sometime this summer. I discuss it with our Absurdly Hot Therapist and see what he says about this.

I want her to have this family; but I don’t trust them. I don’t trust them at all and I don’t want them to hurt her or us. I didn’t really sign up for a forced open adoption; so this is all a shock. I’m glad that we are finalized and that I feel like I’ve got the papers to legally shape what happens next. That doesn’t really help the pit in my stomach but it’s a start.


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