All five of our kids have been "open adoptions but their stories are different. Here is one.
For most of her life, our 14-year-old, "Pepper," has had no interest in meeting her birth family. She is a calm sort of person. It looked like she had decided she would know when the time was right. On occasion when I brought it up, I had assured her that I would do what I could to help her if she ever changed her mind.
In truth, I felt this was the best decision for her because her birth mother never responded to my letters and photos. Although it was an open adoption, that does not necessarily mean that the parties meet. Many years ago, I spoke briefly with her birth grandmother who assured me that B-mom was always excited to get the letters and photos, but was not yet ready to see us. In subsequent years, I regularly searched for the family on the internet and in this way learned when one of Pepper's half-brothers died in a car accident.
In December of 2009, I sent her a Christmas card with a handful of photos. In early January, the card came back and the postmaster had handwritten on the envelope, "Sorry. Deceased." She was a woman my age! Shocked, I scoured the internet for an obituary. Sure enough, I found it -- she had died in January of cancer. Oh dear.
I was a terrible thing to have to tell our child. She was in shock for a few weeks and then she grieved. Oh, how she grieved. I think the biggest loss was that of the opportunity to meet her birth-mother. She had reserved this for when she was "ready" and I had supported this choice, neither of us remembering that we never know how many days we have to accomplish such things.
I wrote the funeral home and they promised to forward a note to Bmom's mother. I sent off a sympathy card and 3 days later, the phone rang. It was Pepper's birth-grandmother. I could hear her voice shaking as she identified herself. In a few sentences, she filled in the details of her daughter's illness and death. I heard myself promise to bring Pepper to meet her -- with no idea how I would convince my daughter to do such a thing.
About the same time, I realized that Pepper's surviving half-siblings would all be adults. I looked for the only female child online and found her in My Space. I sent her a brief note that read, essentially, "I was sorry to learn of the death of your mother. I am Pepper's mom. Do you know who I am? If you do and are willing, I'd like to be in touch with you."
Only hours later, she responded. I couldn't believe it. Not only did she know who I was, she had been looking for us. She and I became My Space and then Facebook friends. A few weeks later, Pepper "friended" her too. We finally set a date in April to make the 5 hour drive to Pepper's birth city to meet her Grandmother and birth sister.
The day for the meeting finally arrived. Birth-grandma had just had knee replacement so she was in a rehab facility and the meeting would take place there. Birth-sister and her 10 month old baby would meet us in her grandmother's room.
Even though this meeting took place 9 months ago, I have a few salient memories. First and foremost, I remember B-Grandma's ear to ear smile when we walked in. In pain and temporarily bed-ridden, she was still the consumate hostess.
"Come here, honey," she said to my daughter; "Sit down and let me talk to you."
She told my daughter the circumstances of her birth and the reasons her birth family -- not only her birth mother -- made an adoption plan for her. We were both surprised to learn that Pepper's birth mother and her birth uncle had also been adopted. B-Grandma reiterated over and over that love was the overriding reason for the plan. It was balm for my daughter's aching heart.
The meeting with her birth sister was equally surprising. She and my daughter look quite alike and have the exact same mouth. It was uncanny. As we visited in B-Grandma's room, sister was pretty quiet, but at lunch afterward, she talked a lot about her life growing up. She had been 7 when my daughter was born, and she had not had an easy childhood and adolescence. Those stories were hard for my daughter to learn.
We ended the day with a visit to the foster family that loved her for her first three weeks. In many ways, this redeemed the visit. Seeing the love with which they surrounded each of their foster kids, partaking of their love of cooking, being in their warm home (and warm embrace) made her day. She needed to end the day on a high note and this did it. I am not sure what the future holds, but I think it holds more meetings, more photos, and more depth of knowledge. And as Pepper gets to know herself, we know ourselves better too, somehow.
Grief and loss is inherent in the adoption process. The infertile couple has lost something, the birth family have lost something and, certainly, the adopted person has lost something. As parents who long ago began to love this child unconditionally, we can temporarily forget. But she can never forget and there is always a remnant of that loss with her. It is holy ground to walk alongside someone on such a path.
Is our open adoption story like the fairy-tale we were presented at our first adoption seminar? No, but we had done our adoption research and we were prepared for complications which we have in fact, encountered. More importantly, perhaps, it is our open adoption story and it is still unfolding with each of our kids.
(Note -- I am sorry for the long delay in bringing this story "to press." Our storage device crashed some months ago and it has taken a long time to retrieve the pictures; I finally decided to publish now and add pics later.)