Three days after our second son Colin was born, we left the hospital with him. As we walked through the lobby, my wife and I were both in tears. A few minutes earlier, we experienced an intimate exchange with the birthparents as they placed this little boy in our arms to leave the hospital. Now, we were walking to our car and it was hard not to feel as though we were stealing him.
I don’t completely understand the word “bittersweet” but if I needed an illustration of it, walking through the hospital lobby that afternoon was exactly that. It was a combination of the greatest and most dreadful emotions I believe I’ve ever felt. 3 years of praying, questions, doubt, hurt and pain had now culminated with bringing home a precious little boy.
Our agency encouraged us to call the birthparents in the first 24 hours to give them an update on how he was doing. Lauren and I took Colin into our room and we dialed the phone to call them. I have to admit I was nervous about this call but it was the right thing to do. We talked for a few minutes; they asked questions about his first night at home and how our older son responded to having a baby brother. We asked them how they were doing and feeling. Toward the end of the conversation, they had a question.
We can’t wait a year for pictures and a letter. Would you be open to visiting sooner?
It was the beginning of our conversation about open adoption. We told them that we would be open to any contact provided it was healthy for Colin and in his best interest. Our goal was always to choose what was best for Colin. Since he would be the one with little or no choice in the matter, we didn’t want to set an expectation or standard for him to maintain later in life. Instead, we wanted to have an open relationship with the birthparents that underlined their love and affection for him without expecting anything from him in return.
My own adoption shaped this conversation in a significant way. My adoption (in 1980) was semi-open with cards, pictures and letters until I was 11 years old. At age 11, I began asking questions that my adoptive parents didn’t have the answers to. “Why was I adopted? Why didn’t she want me? Why did she give me up?” As I mentioned in an earlier post, a lot has changed in the 30 years since my adoption. Adoptive parents are (or should be) trained to frame adoption differently now. We don’t use words like “gave up“. We say “placed for adoption”. We don’t say “She didn’t want you.” We say, “She wanted what was best for you.” Some may say that’s sugar-coating or skirting reality but it communicates adoption in a way that doesn’t reflect on the child and something they had no control over.
At age 11, my adoptive parents halted all communication with my birthmother. I didn’t realize it at the time but it had a great effect on me. It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I recognized the issues that arose from it. It wasn’t the only thing to blame but it certainly was significant. This series of events led me to believe that adoption was an identity or a stigma. As our conversation progressed with Colin’s birthparents, I didn’t want him to feel those same hurts. I didn’t want his deep questions to go unanswered.
We agreed to a more open relationship with Colin’s birthparents for several reasons. We had to acknowledge there were people in his life besides us who loved him, cared for him and wanted what was best for him. How could we shut out people who cared about him? We started slowly with visits at a park or a restaurant. Phone calls, text messages, pictures. The further along we get, the more we understand how beneficial this is for him and for his understanding.
This is a daily journey in open adoption. At the center is this sweet little boy who has very little knowledge of the intricacies of his story. One day, he will know it completely. When that day comes, my deepest desire is that he has all the pieces of his story; that he is aware of all the people who love him, care about him and want what is best for him.
To read other posts in the Adoption Journey, click HERE
DISCLAIMER: Open adoption has been a great experience for our family because we and the birthparents agree that the most important person in this story is our son. Open adoption is not for everyone. Your situation may be very different. Please consult with a Licensed Social Worker, professional counselor, adoption attorney or other adoption professional before proceeding with open adoption. The story I share here is completely my personal experience and not intended in any way to be seen as professional advice on adoption.