Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Open adoption and the man who makes mine bearable

When Brit was about 6 months old, I was really strugging with why her parents had pulled so far back from me. I was trying to communicate with them and they stopped responding. (I was not crazy in my emails to them.  I only sent one about every 3 weeks or so and they were always lighthearted and simple.  Never requesting anything.  Just trying to reach out.)  So finally in desperation, I sent them an email asking what I had done to cause them to no longer interact with me like they had prior to her birth.

The next day I received a phone call.  It is the one and only phone call I have ever received from Brit's father, but I never want to forget it.

His voice was so very tender toward me.  I was a complete disaster and he knew it.  He handled what could have been a crazy emotional phone call with grace. I will never forget how even though the message he was delivering to me was difficult, and knowingly painful for me to hear, he approached me with love, honesty, tenderness and respect.

He gently explained to me that once they got Brit home, they began to realize how badly they wanted her to be "theirs".  And while they never thought they would feel like this, they were struggling with feeling like they were raising Lisa's baby.  He was very gentle with how he said that.  He said "I know you are probably thinking, duh, that is my baby, what did you think you would be doing?" 

He went on to explain how they had thought adoption would be easier for them than it had been.  They had become very protective of Brit.  Especially Brit's mom.  He mentioned that they had come the realization that Brit may be the only child that they ever had and that was very tough for her mom to accept.

We had an extensive conversation about this and how pictures of me and the boys were hard for the mom because all she could see was how much Brit looked like us.  She had stopped responding to my emails and instead had asked Brit's dad to take over because she no longer had the emotional reserves to do it.

Brit's dad and I talked for about 15 minutes and there are plenty of things I am sure were very important that I should share here, but I honestly don't want to dwell so much on the painful parts of that conversation.  And I think my mind has helped me forget the exact words because so much of what was said was so traumatic to me at the time.

But I do remember clearly what Brit's dad said to me toward the end of our phone conversation. I had reminded him that when I was pregnant, Brit's mom had promised me we would always be friends and we would continue to stay connected because we had established such a great relationship. I never had a single doubt that would be true.  We really had gotten to be friends.  Then our relationship immediately ceased when the baby was buckled in their car seat at the hospital.

I explained to him how I was struggling with feeling misled - even if it wasn't intentional (which I didn't think then, and I am sure of today).  I told him how hard it was to be close to someone and then never hear back from that person again after she took the baby home.

He was very empathetic.  He assured me that it was never intentional.  I recall part of his response to me was, "I prayed over and over that God would make my wife and me parents.  And I didn't know how it was going to happen. But I would NEVER have been willing become a parent at the expense of our integrity. We would have never misled anyone just so we could become parents. We love you and have never meant to hurt you.  We are so thankful for what you have provided for us."

We continued to talk about how they had never expected to feel like they did.  And I shared that I never expected to feel how I did either.  Both of us had very unrealistic views about how simple adoption would be.  They thought they would bring home a perfect baby and they would go about their lives as if they had just given birth to her.  And I thought that I would be able to carry on with my life as if everything was OK and I was fine with someone else parenting a child I had given birth to.

The reality of what adoption did to all of us was much more harsh than that.  It changed all of us.  Some things were for the good, and some brought out feelings that none of us would have ever thought we would ever possess.

When we had our first visit this weekend, I saw that same man whispering to Brit.  While he is a monster of a man in size, his voice is gentle and comforting.  His love for that little girl is more than apparent.  He is a wonderful father to her and a doting husband to his wife.  He possesses what few men can seem to grasp and he is able to be sensitive to the needs of all of the "girls" in his life.  He comforts his wife as she adjusts to being an adoptive mother.  He comforted me as I sobbed to him on the phone when my heart was hurting so badly.  And he comforts his daughter, like a true father should.

Apparently all of the books that he has read about coaching girls (he is a HS girls basketball coach), have paid great dividends for all of the rest of us too.

So my closing thoughts. 

Adoption is emotionally complicated.  No matter how prepared you think you are for what is about to happen, things rarely go according to plan.  People are messy.  Even those of us who think we have it together. :)

Be tender and honest with one another.  In all circumstances.  Speak gently, especially when the message is painful.  But always be honest, and wrap it in genuine love.

Plan for the worst case scenario when you are preparing an adoption plan.  As a birthmother, you may not think that you will need lots of contact or interaction.  But you might be surprised. 

As an adoptive parent, you might think that you are perfectly content with the creation of your family through adoption.  But infertility grief seems to have long tentacles.  And even the joy of adoption can make those pesky tentacles grow.  Couple that with the strong "mama bear" instinct and suddenly sharing stories, pictures and visits with the birth parents becomes harder than you expected.  Especially when the birthmother is so engulfed with her own grief.

And these are just general statements which I know do not apply to everyone.  However, I was sure it didn't apply to me either.  I had seen two separate counselors, explained my decision to a hundred different people (probably literally), and I was still overcome by an extreme need for more contact after her birth.  Which was only inflamed by getting less than we thought we would have.

If you are reading this and you are a mother considering an open adoption, PLEASE do not let this scare you about open adoption!  Open adoption can be beautiful.  I am watching from a distance as families I have come to know and love are navigating wonderful adoption relationships.  Mine is just very new and we are still figuring out our dance.  So I have fresh grief and I am dealing with the actions that grief has also brought to Brit's family.  (Which hopefully is slowly going by the wayside.)

Wow.  This didn't go where I thought it was, but I suppose that is the therapeutic part of blogging.

I hope others share their thoughts along these lines.  I like hearing from others so much more than hearing from me.


Jill said...

wow...what an amazing attitude you have. Thank you for so vulnerably sharing your journey as a birth mother in an open adoption. Your story has challenged me to consider if I have fully dealt with the grief of my infertility and how that may come into play when our child is placed in our home. Thank you...I look forward to following your story..

Joy for the Seasons said...

Thank you for being willing to share such a big piece of yourself, even as you still are trying to process it and figure it all out. Your post has made me even more open to open adoption than I already was. While we have not experienced infertility, I imagine it will still take some time to get used to a new relationship and what it will look like for our family. Really encouraged, believe it or not, by what you shared.

m&msmommy said...

Even though I've never dealt with adoption personally, I find myself following several adoptions blog and was directed to your blog by Jill (another adoption blog I follow). The entire adoption processes (especially open adoptions) amazes me! As I was reading your words about your first visit with Brit my heart was SO happy for you that you finally got to meet her, but sad at the same time because I can't even begin to imagine the struggle you have. Your story is SO touching and I look forward to following it! :) Brit is BEAUTIFUL!

TheEvjes said...

I appreciate you sharing your raw emotions and feelings as a birthmother. We have a beuatiful adopted daughter close to the age of Brit and have wanted an open adoption with our birthmother and she is not ready. We send our agency monthly updates and pictures to which they send to her. We did get to speak to her in the past couple of weeks to hear of all the healing taking place in her life over the past year. Heard the words every adoptive parents yearns to hear "I made the right decision to place her with you." Thank you for sharing your heart..there is so many expectations on both sides of the adoption journey! Praying the Lord gives you and the adoptive family peace and He guides you both as you find the best for Britt!

Kait said...

This brought me tears. I have thought about adoption, if the fertility treatment does not work. Your blogs has given me a different perspective on it. Thank you for sharing all that you do.

A Life Being Lived said...

This is an amazing, amazing post. I love Brit's dad and that he had the grace and courage to have that conversation with you, even though he knew it was tough for both of you. I am sooo proud that you did not simply cease contact and drift apart- you did the HARD thing and asked why. It is so important from all sides to remember that adoption has complex emotions on all sides, not just birthparents but the adoptive parents too. Trying to understand each other (as gently as possible) will only develop the best thing possible- a wonderful relationship for Brit later on!

Kennedy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kennedy said...

Found your blog and found it interesting. I am a parent of a closed adoption. Your emotional blog is exactly the reason we elected a closed adoption. It is to difficult for the birth mother to maintain her place and most often believes that she is owed special privileges following her decision to give her child up based on reasons that she later regrets. She then begins to project blame, guilt and grieving on the mother who is loving, raising and embracing each moment of life with the gorgeous little girl. I do not mean to appear disrespect but it appears to me from reading all of your blogs that you have expectations that are unrealistic and very unfair to this little angel. You had roughly 8 months during your pregnancy and 12 hours post birth to parent her but apparently chose not to parent her due no commitment of marriage from your boyfriend, older kids you have already raised and your age. Why are you so insensitive and uncaring of her mother? Is it because she is the one experiencing what you are not and that increases your emotions of guilt and grieving? I have to admit that the parents are amazing for maintaining an opening communication with you at all as that is a very difficult thing to do. Try putting yourself in their shoes and having a birth mother who made her choice for whatever reason expecting to keep so much involvement. That is not healthy, mentally or physically. Embrace your life now and be grateful that God has blessed you with this couple. Grieve and process your guilt as it is yours and yours alone to bare, not the parents loving this little angel. Being overly hyper-sensitive of her mother's protective instincts are going to eventually close the doors of opportunity to maintain contact if you are not careful and mindful. They do not HAVE to maintain contact and I am amazed they have continued to do so this long. Kudos to them for being so patient with your self-centered expectations. You should be grateful and at their mercy...

Anonymous said...

I identify with this SO much.

I have really been struggling with this so much lately. It is more of an inner struggle because I feel like I am interrupting their lives by sending them an e-mail and so choose not too and then end up feeling bummed when I never hear from them. I know that this isn't them shutting me out of their lives. I know that. It is more of an adjustment or learning place for me because I have no idea(as I am sure many other bmom's feel)how this relationship is supposed to work and the last thing I want is to invade them and their space. I don't want them to feel like a burden.

Ignore the rude comments of ignorance :)

Susie said...

This post should be read by everybody considering adoption. By all women facing an unexpected pregnancy who are considering adoption, and the hopeful adoptive parents. Adoption is not simple ~ in any way.

Speaking as a natural mom, adoption is not a solution to a problem. Adoption may help to make a bad situation better, sometimes. However at the same time it causes an entire new set of problems to deal with. The grief and loss are unbelievable ~ until it's too late and you are living it.

Thanks for your comment on my blog ~ through it I found your blog, and it is achingly beautiful. An honest testament to how difficult it is to live without your child.

CarterBug said...

I am a new reader and just read through your post. I can somewhat relate to what you write about. We are in the same situation, but on the other side. I am an adoptive mother. We have an open adoption, but our son's birth mother quit corresponding with us when he 3 months old. I've had a hard time with it because I truly love her and felt like she was a part of our family. I had dreams of her being an active part of his life. I want him to know her and the amazing person that she is. However, she has 4 other children and I know she's very busy with them. I also know we all handle things differently. It doesn't change the fact that I know she deeply loves him.

I recently went to an adoption conference where they talked a lot about open adoption and the benefits of it. There were quite a few of us in attendance that struggled through that part of the presentation because we had desperately hoped to have a very open relationship with our birth families and unfortunately haven't gotten it. I really am so sorry your experience isn't what you had envisioned:(

DeeDee said...

I read this from another blog..(Jill, she is my daughter) we are trusting God to guide them in this path of open adoption, and admittingly very hard to do b/c as a mother myself I want to protect my children. Thank you for being open about the conflicts you are facing and how God is working in the lives of those and this sweet blessing you gave. Hugs n Joy

Kristen said...

As an adoptive mom, like @CarterBug, I can somewhat relate here...We have an open adoption, but with each passing week the birth mother shows less interest and responds less...it's heartbreaking to me as I feel as part of my protective instinct for my daughter that her birthmom is also an important part of her life...I hope things get better...will keep you in my prayers!

Reba said...

hi lisa,
i found your blog through a comment you left on someone else's post, and i am so glad i did. your blog is so fascinating and heartbreaking and uplifting. thank you for sharing your beautiful continuing story. i'm not particularly familiar with adoption, and as strange as it sounds, i had never thought about the birthmother's side of adoption before.

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog through the adoption interviews that are going around. I have to tell you how amazing you are for sharing your story. We are "waiting" hopeful adoptive to be parents and your story brings such a real aspect of open adoption for me...

I don't know if I even have the right words to tell you how I felt reading this post but...thank you for writing it :)

Colleen said...

Thank you for this blog. As an adoptive parent in waiting, I read this three times I so affected by it.