Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
By Rachel Garlinghouse
Do I take a gift? Do we provide a snack for all the kids? What time is best? What should I wear? What should the child wear? We must avoid nap time. And mealtime. What will the weather be at the park? What if the baby is fussy and won’t let birth mom hold her? Was this a terrible idea? I’m so nervous.
There are so many questions and concerns that cross our minds in the earliest days of open adoption. We, as the adoptive parents, want to put our “best foot forward.” We want to be perceived as qualified and capable, in addition to loving, confident, and thankful. We spend many months prior to and after the adoption trying to prove to everyone around us that we are good enough to be our child’s parents.
And of course, those opinions that matter most to us belong to our children’s birth parents. After all, they were the ones who chose us to raise the child.
The open adoption relationship is incredibly unique. There are no two alike. There’s no guidebook. No rules. No map. The relationship feels fragile and yet, so deeply rooted (and growing).
In essence, it’s like no other relationship.
Twelve years ago, we said yes to open adoption. Originally, we had swiftly marked “semi open” on our adoption paperwork. It felt safe, like a compromise. We would provide updates via the adoption agency to our child’s birth parents, but we wouldn’t be faced with uncomfortable visits, phone calls, or texting. We’d live our life, and they would live theirs.
Looking back, I know we made that choice for two reasons. The first, if I’m honest, was selfishness. We wanted our child to be OUR child. We didn’t want to “share.” The second reason was ignorance. We simply didn’t have a good understanding of why open adoption was important and how we could make it work.
But our commitment to a semi open adoption was abruptly changed the day we were on our way to court to gain custody of our first child. The social worker called to say our daughter’s birth mother did want to meet us after all, and she’d be waiting for us at the court house.
It felt a lot like Hide and Go Seek when children chant, “Ready or not! Here I come!”
Of course, we couldn’t and wouldn’t say no to meeting our daughter’s birth mother. And upon meeting her and putting our arms around her, we knew the idea of a semi-open adoption was just that: an idea.
A decade later, we have four kids and four open adoptions. The road has been anything but easy. In fact, openness in an adoption is a lot like adoption itself: complicated, bittersweet, ever-changing.
We keep our children’s adoption and relationship details private out of respect for all involved. But I will say that experience truly is the best teacher, and open adoption requires a lot more from our family than I ever expected, including flexibility, patience, grace, forgiveness, empathy, trust, and commitment.
The thing is, any worthy relationship is going to require work. A lot of work. And as a parent-by-adoption, it’s my privilege and honor to put forth that effort in order for my children to have a healthy relationship with the people who birthed them and love them.
I’ve also had to work through my own feelings of being okay with “sharing” my children. They aren’t just my children, either. They are OUR children: belonging to both the birth families and to us. And that is okay. I have made peace with being my kids’ second mom. Not second place, but second in terms of when the children came to us.
My children have the blessing of communication, history, and future with their biological parents, affirmed and encouraged by us. I won’t say it’s been an easy journey, because it has not. But I will say, it’s absolutely worth it.
Rachel Garlinghouse is the author of six books, including The Hopeful Mom’s Guide to Adoption: The Wit and Wisdom You Need for the Journey. Rachel is a mother of four, Christian, cheese-fry and dance-party fan, Black Lives Matter advocate, type 1 diabetic, and breast cancer survivor. Learn more about her family’s adventures and connect at her blog White Sugar Brown Sugar.
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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter