Opening Adoption

Even though Joy grew up without me physically, I always knew I was her mother, she was my child.

She “wasn’t looking for a mother” during our first conversation. I pushed that awareness away in an effort to be what she asked me to be. The pushing and pulling at trying to make sense of what happened when a she was taken, to be brought up with more privileges and so called security still tugs at me.

In our closed adoption, in the early 70s, all our worldly rights were severed.  The only right I had was to pray for her. First I had to  bypass the guilt and shame at letting her go.

I looked at adopters as a class above and flirted very briefly with the idea of becoming one, as a way to pay back my debt to society… a fleeting thought. In reality I avoided learning about adoption because it aggravated the wound.

When Joy told me about open adoption, it seemed an impossible idea; to actually know where your baby was and not try to steal her back?  Now I see how it could work if I wasn’t allowed to see her until she was a year old. Then I would have believed she had a life with those special people; security that I wouldn’t have wanted to disrupt.  I could have cooperated with that — I think.

Our reunion was instigated by my grandson’s birth.  It’s still growing and maturing. We quickly passed the stage of not wanting me to be her mother.  We’ve struggled with what being her mother means ~ a lot.

What does it mean to have two mothers? One that “gave you away?”  whose development was arrested at the time of your birth? that tried to laugh off the paralyzing fear of you “disappearing again”?

Another mother that acquired and cared for you? that you have a history and routines with? that you know how to count on and what to expect? that has the stamp of approval?

The past 3+ years reading blogs and forums has opened my eyes. There are so many varieties and degrees of openness in adoption, depending on the willingness and ability of the parents.  Closing open adoptions is frighteningly easy.

Reunion is similar to opening a closed adoption with a huge variety of openness. The parents may or may not cooperate with each other at all. We can continue to be mysterious strangers.

How odd is that for our (adult) children?

As much as we were kind of “matched” back in the day, Joy manages her 3 sets of parents completely separately. Our social circles don’t overlap. Our personal concerns  for heroverlap but unfortunately may also compete with each other.

It’s weird.  Parallel families that don’t speak to each other.

The holidays accentuate all that.  Joy described our holiday visit as a disaster. For me there was a mild disturbance accompanied by a pleasant interaction with Tomtom and her dear SH’s mellow nonchalance.  When I asked last night how she saw it as disaster, she said it was second to our absolute worst visit back in ’93, 16 1/2 years ago.

Reflecting on that visit, I remember the same pulling away from me. I was terribly shaken that she refused to let me touch her and rejected my affection at that time. My mother had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The two emotional relationships became intertwined for a season of grief.

This time it affected me quite differently. I kept reaching out instead of taking the rejection personally. I still don’t know where to go with what seems to me, like Joy experiencing an overwhelming confusion of desire and fear. What I’ve learned in the meantime, the 16 1/2 year interval, is that I don’t have any choice but to go on.  I may crash against the rocks. I may drown. One day I’ll die. Until then, I’m going to make the best of it that I can. I am grateful for the time I spent with her and her family. Her perfectly made up lips are stuck in my mind.  Tomtom’s sweet and restless affection for her and his appreciation of doodling imprinted in those moments. And her SH’s gentle and unswerving support felt like a gift to me too.


4 responses to “Opening Adoption

  1. There is nothing easy about reunion. I can imagine how hard it is for Joy to juggle 3 families. My son is having a hard time juggling 2 families and it isn’t working out too well.

    I know I am lucky because we are very close but amom will not “allow” me to be a part of his family’s lives. He has likened how he has to treat his relationship with me to having an affair.

    Guess how that makes me feel? My husband thinks I am being treated shabbily. This has turned my happiness in our reunion to a feeling of sadness. A sadness that I hide from my son.

    • I always wonder just how much is hidden when we try to hide things. How much do we overlook? And how pressured for your son to say he feels like he is treating your relationship as an affair? So many reverberations…

  2. How poignantly beautifully you have expressed the intertwining of pain and joy for all in reunion. Thank you for this.

    How very sad that parents do this to children – put them in loyalty binds. Whether through divorce or adoption – both actions of the parents – children are harmed so much more by the loyalty tugs-of-war than by the separation itself.

    King Solomon needs to reappear in all these cases and beg parents to stop tearing their kids apart. Give them “permission” to love all of their families equally and all of the families do their best to get along as extended family for the sake for the child they have in common. What gift that would be to the child they all love!

    Instead we use our insecurities to argue over what we are called and who “gets them” for the holidays etc! It’s adult child abuse!

  3. Thanks for the link to Emmylou’s performance. It took me down memory lane…

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