Connecting the dots and discovering openness


Focus on Adoption magazine

At one point we actually referred to it as 90 months of failure. But it was through the pain of years of infertility that we finally opened up to the option of adoption. It always seemed like having to settle for second best-runner up-the silver medal. If only we knew then what we know now, we would have started the adoption process so much earlier.

The inevitable long wait for being considered for adoption seemed daunting. We had to get a home study done, and then we were told we'd have to "market" ourselves. We filled out so much paperwork we felt guilty about all the trees felled because of us. The best part was soliciting reference letters from family and friends - I recommend that exercise whether you actually need it, or not. It could cheer you up on the gloomiest of days.

Six weeks later, there was a message from our adoption social worker. We thought it was to hurry us up with the last few pieces of paperwork to complete our homestudy. It was actually to say that she had thrown our incomplete homestudy into the pile she presented to a pregnant young woman she had been working with, and she had chosen us to be the parents of her child. Suddenly we were "on" after so many years of waiting.

We were nervous at the thought of developing a relationship with a much younger woman with whom we would probably have nothing in common, except her son, who would become our son. Yet in spite of the strangeness, we always felt very strongly that this contact was a birthright of our son. The right to look into your mother or father's face and to see from where you have come. The knowledge that when you have a question that only your birth mother or birth father can answer, that you can phone them or ask them face to face.

Nathan came into our lives just a few weeks later. We were very saddened to hear from our social worker that his birth mother did not feel she wanted any openness. She was quite young, and she wanted to move on with her life. Of course we had to respect her wishes, and we got on with our new lives. In the early months we sent many photos and letters to Nathan's birthmom via our social worker. Her letters back to Nathan and us were eager and appreciative. She even sent us some photos of herself and her family. Yet it was clear that this was as open as she was prepared to go.

Well-meaning people would ask a variety of usually very inappropriate questions. After the umpteenth inquiry as to when we would be trying for one of our own, we answered partly in frustration at their insensitivity, and partly in reality, "We would only consider having another child if Nathan's birthmom were to get pregnant, and the father would have to be an African American (as this is Nathan's heritage). What were the chances of that?

Apparently pretty good! Two years later came a phone call from our social worker who was representing Nathan's birth mother, asking us if we would consider adopting her second child. She was pregnant again; the birth dad was African American. We spluttered some feeble shocked response, about having to consider this. But we knew right away we wanted this child. We sat down that evening, did a very logical exercise of weighing all the pros and cons. The practical cons were indeed weighty, but no one has ever accused us of being practical, so of course we went with our hearts.

Thus Eric came to us, to complete our family. Nathan and Eric's birth mother indicated she wanted to meet with us if she was going to give us another child. We were so excited but very apprehensive. First, we agreed to meet in the social worker's office. We brought flowers, I agonized over what to wear to meet the mother of my child. Alan was driving so aggressively to get to the appointment, my knees where white, let alone my knuckles. We checked each other out, and it became clear very early on that she only wanted to see for herself that Nathan was happy and thriving. It had nothing to do with how we looked, how wealthy or not we appeared.

The next meeting was in Stanley Park. We would only consider open spaces for our meetings for the first while. We told ourselves, just in case she bolted with the baby, Alan would have a fair shot at bringing her down with a football tackle. We laugh about it now, but at the time that was the kind of thought that would run through our minds. It's all about fear and uncertainty. We see the awful stories of adoptions gone badly, on the evening news from the States. "Reunited seven-year-old child to crack addicted mother...adoptive parents appeal."

Over many more meetings we grew into really liking each other in a gradual way, whereas we loved each other instantly because of the love tie of our shared children. She loved us for giving her children the nurturing home that she was unable to provide at that time, and we loved her for giving us the opportunity to give our love to these two wonderful boys.

The next step for us was inviting her to our home. That was a big leap of faith. When our relationship was newer, we felt that made us too vulnerable, but as we got to know her better, we truly believed she only wanted to see with her own eyes that her children were happy and thriving. She would feast on the sight of the boys running around the yard, riding their bikes, sharing their stories with her, and introducing her to their friends. It was always emotional when it came time to leave. There was a sense of her tearing herself away, and I'm sure she cried all the way home.

She told us that before our openness she would go through a lot of pain wondering how the boys were. Were they happy? Did they question their history? Around their birthdays she'd be especially sad. Of course since our more open arrangement she does not have to wonder — she can see for herself. She can also ask them questions, and of course, they can ask her questions. And boy, have they. Most of them pretty general, but some hard hitting, like, "Did you give me up because I'm black?" That's the kind of answer you really need to get face to face. To see their birthmom's eyes fill up while telling them how much she loves them, how hard it was for her to give them up, how she thinks of them every day, how she knew she could not give them the home at that time, that she knew they needed. Getting it second hand from us, even though the message is the same, doesn't satisfy their young, honest hearts.

Our boys' birth mother married a few years ago, and last year she had a beautiful daughter with her husband. Our boys went through quite an emotional upheaval at that time, but they got to work through that not only with us, but with their birthmom too. Her sister had a baby before that, then lost a pregnancy, and is now pregnant again. The boys are aware of all of this. They have met their half-sister, their cousin, and their two aunts and will grow up knowing their extended family. I'm an only child and Alan's family is on the other side of the continent. We are hopeful that their grandparents will want to meet the boys one day. So far it has been too painful for them.

People always ask us, "What if she makes unreasonable demands - do you have to accommodate her?" The answer is simply that we are now the legal guardians of our boys, so we get to set the boundaries around any issue to do with them. Over time these have changed, in recognition of our changing relationship, but we have always known that we determine the ground rules in the best interest of our boys. When both parties involved really only have the best interests of the children in mind, it makes boundaries flexible, comfortable and easy to recognize.

Our openness has generally been accepted and even admired by most of our friends and family. But we lost a close friendship over it too. One friend advised us to "Grab the baby and run," and not to allow the birthmom any rights. We found this notion shockingly cruel to our boys and their birthmom.

Looking back on so many years of having her involved in our lives, we feel so grateful for this opportunity to know a truly lovely woman, and are thankful for her gift of our boys. After she had given us so much, how could we deny her the opportunity of expressing her deep love to the boys naturally in her own special way, just as it was intended? This is no threat to us — this is just more love available to our children.