Thursday, October 1, 2009

Open Adoption

I’m a big fan of open adoption, but I will be the first to admit it ain’t easy. We have a semi-open adoption with Lil Sweetie’s birthmom, which means we send her letters and photos and gifts through the adoption agency but do not know her last name or contact information. Or that’s the way it is supposed to work, anyway. The hospital left the bracelet on Lil Sweetie when I brought her home from the hospital and so I know that she was once “Baby Girl X”. The adoption agency said that happens a lot.

I feel a little guilty about that, but you can’t unring a bell. I just try to be extra-special careful not to reveal the name of Lil Sweetie’s birthmom to anyone. Only a few very close friends even know her first name, and I think only me, Mr. Sweetie, and my mother know the last name.

We have had one meeting with Lil Sweetie’s birthmom, Ashley (not her real name). She requested it when Lil Sweetie was about 6 months old. The meeting was at the adoption agency and a social worker was there to help us along but it went fine. We ate pizza and cookies and Lil Sweetie played on the floor with her toys and looked adorable, and I took a jillion photos of her with her birthmom, and that was it. I was afraid that Ashley might cry and it would be difficult, but her reaction seemed to be more of disbelief, like she couldn’t believe that this creature had actually come out of her body. There are two things that I remember vividly from that meeting. The first I am ashamed to admit, but I was secretly pleased that Lil Sweetie seemed to prefer me over Ashley. How ridiculous is that? As if it were a competition! Ashley will always be Lil Sweetie’s birthmom and I will always be the mother who raised her. Both roles are important. I know that intellectually, but emotionally, I guess I had a fear that some instinctual bond would draw Lil Sweetie to her birthmom and leave me out in the cold. Silly!

The other thing I remember vividly is that Ashley said that Lil Sweetie looks just like Ashley’s mom. I am so curious about this woman! I would so love to see a photo of her. I would so love to know what her deal is, as she has refused to acknowledge that Ashley has a daughter she placed for adoption. But that is a whole ‘nother story, one that I am not privy to.

When Lil Sweetie was about 4 years old, Ashley requested another meeting. We agreed, and it was all set up. Mr. Sweetie and I took off work because the meeting was going to be held during business hours at the adoption agency, and we arranged to pick up Lil Sweetie early from pre-K. Because Lil Sweetie was old enough to understand more of what was going on, we let her know that we were going to see her birthmom and let her be somewhat involved with the planning. I thought it might be a little awkward, so I let Lil Sweetie pick out party supplies and cupcakes, thinking that would give us something to do. We also packed up Lil Sweetie’s scrapbook thinking Lil Sweetie could show it to Ashley and it would give them things to talk about.

Well, at the last minute, Ashley called the adoption agency and cancelled. I have to admit I was livid. On one hand, I can imagine that meeting your 4-year-old birth child would be extremely difficult and would bring up a lot of emotions. But my job is to look out for Lil Sweetie, and I was terrified that this would scar her in some way.

But Lil Sweetie handled it like a trooper. We went ahead and picked her up early and told her we wanted her to be the first to know that Ashley had had something come up at work and could not make the meeting after all. Lil Sweetie’s biggest concern (that she vocalized, anyway) was whether she was still going to get a cupcake. I think at the age she was, she didn’t understand enough to feel rejected by Ashley’s cancellation. I think she just picked up her cues from us, and we acted like we were little disappointed but ok with the cancellation and so she was too.

I do want to mention how great our adoption agency was. I spoke to the Director about my concerns over the cancellation, and in my anger, I have to admit that I mentioned that all our correspondence with Ashley was one-way, that she had never sent a card or note or anything to Lil Sweetie ever. The Director assured me that she would not allow another meeting to be scheduled without first meeting with Ashley and making certain that she felt she could go through with it. She also told Ashley that it wasn’t fair to Lil Sweetie for the openness to go only one way. One of the many things that I love about our adoption agency is that I feel they are extremely fair in advocating for both the birthmoms and the adopted children. I also think it is amazing that years after Lil Sweetie’s adoption, they are still here for us, facilitating our open adoption and offering advice when we call with adoption-related questions.

Even in light of the cancelled meeting, I still am a big fan of open adoption. I think it is healthier for Lil Sweetie that she knows her birthmom’s name and has photos of her. So far, Lil Sweetie has not wanted to write Ashley on her own, but she often tells me things to say to her or questions to ask when she knows I am writing her. She helps me pick out gifts for Ashley and often gives me a picture she has drawn or some schoolwork she wants to include in our package to Ashley. I just think it is good for Lil Sweetie that her birthmom is not some scary concept to her but rather a real person with a name and a face.

I won’t lie and say it is easy. It is odd. In some ways, I have such love for Ashley. She did a beautiful thing when she gave her child a life and a family. I know it was terribly difficult for her, and yet she did it anyway. I love her fiercely for that. I feel almost maternal towards her. On the other hand, she is very much a stranger to me. I know her favorite color and what kind of pizza she likes and I have a vague idea of what she does for a living, but that’s it. This makes gift purchases extremely challenging! I get frustrated for her when she makes bad choices in life. (We hear vague references to what is going on in her life through the adoption agency.) I want her to make good choices and have a good life, both because she did an extremely difficult and beautiful thing and I think she deserves it, and also because I want her to be someone that my child can be proud of. So it is very odd having such intense feelings for a person who is basically a stranger to you.

So, our open adoption is far from perfect. Still, the only regret we have is that our adoption is not MORE open. Most adoptive families we know feel the same way. If that doesn’t speak well for open adoption, I don’t know what would.


ANestWithAView said...

Your openess and honesty must help your own family and many others. You are a shiny light dear one.

Zen Mama said...

I love, love, love that photo of Lil Sweetie. It's wonderful to read how you carefully include Ashley in spite of how enormously difficult it must be. I applaud you (as always)!!

JemJam said...

"Proud" is relative. If Ashley makes decisions that you think are bad, Lil Sweetie may not feel the same. Really, she should only be proud that Ashley made the best decision a person could make, realizing that there is better opportunity (also relative) for a child.

It seems that an open adoption would be complicated and emotionally exhausting, could you enlighten me as to why this is attractive?

Sweetie Pie said...

JemJam, thanks for pointing out that "proud is relative." I never thought about it like that before but you are so right.