I can't believe it's been over two years since I wrote about our 'Open Adoption' for Gays With Kids. In that article I covered the series of long discussions that my husband Douglas and I had that led to our decision to pursue an open adoption. There are several reasons that this was the right choice for our family.
We wanted to be transparent
Many factors came into why we chose an open adoption. If you are considering adoption you must understand that adoption is a long process and not a single, clean event. We went into it with the expectation that the process had the potential to be difficult for both the birthmother and for us. I can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like for her to make the decision to place her child for adoption. And then after all the emotions and challenges of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth, entrusting the care of that precious little baby to two men whom she just recently met.
We felt that having an open adoption was one way that we could help ease the pain of letting go. We had occasional visits during the first year. She had the opportunity to see our daughter's growth, and we had the opportunity to show her that we were providing a safe, loving home.
After the first year, the visits slowed as we didn't want to cause confusion as our daughter grew. As time went by, we knew the moment would come when we needed to talk about our daughter's origins with her. For two dads it is pretty obvious that their child was either adopted or was born through surrogacy. Needless to say, mothers are pretty ubiquitous in pop culture, bedtime stories, and the world in general. As such, we were afraid that not having a mother figure in her life could be pretty confusing, so we knew from the beginning that we wanted to be truthful and transparent with her.
Our girls both go to nursery school weekly. They are able to see 'mommies' come to pick their children up everyday. We figured that would eventually prompt questions. A couple of weeks ago it did. After bedtime stories, we said our prayers as usual. After prayers, she usually asks us to tell her about Disney World (she loves to hear about Disney World).
However, this particular night she didn't ask about Disney, rather, she asked Daddy (Douglas) to talk about his mother.
We both looked at each other as this was pretty random. At her request he started to tell her a story about his mother. After the story she said, "I don't have a mother." Immediately we both cut in and said, "baby, everyone has a mother." Surprised, she asked us to tell her about her birthmother. I don't know what shocked us more--the question or the fact that she used the word "birthmother" when she asked. We have several adoption-themed books mixed into our bedtime story collection. It's pretty amazing how much the adoption stories helped to introduce a complicated subject (after all, she's only 3 1/2) but also helped break the ice to open up dialogue.
"Well, baby girl, when you were born your birthmother searched all over for a daddy and a papa that would love you with all of their hearts and would take very good care of you. After searching everywhere, our telephone rang. Do you know who it was?"
She answered, "Was it my birthmother?"
"Yes it was! And she asked us if WE could be your daddy and papa!" In reality it was much more complicated than that, but she seemed to be assured by hearing this. She inhaled quickly and smiled from ear to ear. I had a knot in my throat fighting back tears. She really understood! We both were amazed.
The heaviest question of all
For the next few nights she continued to ask for stories about my mother and Douglas' mothers in lieu of hearing about Disney. Douglas has two mothers that are both very involved in our lives. So, with 3 mothers between us we don't run out of stories to tell her! A few more days went by and we figured we had finished that conversation until she asked the heaviest question of all, "Who is my birthmother?" We looked at each other and quickly changed the subject.
We felt that we needed to have a talk with her birthmother before we went any further. We all needed to be on the same page. Our daughter has unwittingly met her birthmother many, many times. We knew Alli Mae would know who her birthmother was if we said her name, but we wanted to clear this with her birthmother before proceeding. After talking it over with her we were all on the same page. We were all ready to face it head on.
The next night I was sure that she would ask again--our girl is very persistent. Sure enough, as soon as we finished her prayers she asked, "who is my birthmother?" Our daughter has a rainbow nightlight in her room that was given to her by her birthmother. It shines in her room every night and she loves it so much. I was very eager to tell her that it came from someone very special. As the light changed from color to color I pointed to it and asked, "Do you remember who gave you your rainbow nightlight?" She shook her head no. "Well baby girl, your birthmother did." We then told Alli Mae her birthmother's name. As soon as we told her, she knew exactly who we were talking about.
We wanted this to feel natural
We figured the next step was to have her birth mother over for dinner. Alli Mae is very inquisitive and we knew she would have some questions. She isn't very shy, so after a few minutes of acclimating to the situation I knew if she was curious about something, she would ask.
We wanted this to feel natural. We wanted it to be an organic and meaningful meeting. We didn't want anything to feel forced. Usually when you have to force something, then it feels awkward and afterwards you second guess yourself asking if it was the right decision in the first place. We thought having her birthmother over for dinner would feel as natural as you could get. When her birthmother first arrived, Alli Mae kept her distance at first. Douglas and I were cooking in the kitchen visiting with Alli Mae's birthmother while Alli Mae stayed in the living room. About 30 minutes into the visit I went to check on Alli Mae to see if she was okay. When I did she looked at me and just like a 12 year old girl she told me to ask her birthmother to come into the living room. (This time, she said her name instead of saying "birthmother"). The question was so direct and to the point... I was completely shocked! She's 3! At her request I walked back into the kitchen and told her birthmother that her presence was being requested in the living room.
As soon as she walked into the room Alli Mae looked at her and asked, "Are you my birthmother?" Her birthmom looked at her and smiled, "Yes, I am."
"You are?" Alli Mae asked. "Do you want to go play with my toys, birthmother?" And just like that, the ice was broken. The secret was out. There was no awkwardness. It all felt very natural- like it was supposed to happen- just like that.
Don't underestimate their amazing capacity to comprehend
It felt like a bag of bricks lifted off of us. That was a very heavy situation that was handled with such grace by everyone involved. I am left speechless at how our daughter was able to comprehend such a serious topic. It leaves me feeling so hopeful about how we can face any other subjects as she grows older.
Children are amazing little humans. Don't for one second underestimate their amazing capacity to comprehend seemingly complicated concepts. It comes from such a uniquely innocent place. It makes me tear up just thinking about it. If only we as adults could comprehend and interpret tough subjects like that.