As I prepared to adopt, I knew there was a “right” answer when it came to openness. Openness was good, and I needed to come across like I believed it. The truth was, openness scared me silly.
What I really hoped was that any child we adopted would have an unfortunate, yet complete, lack of background information, and that openness was something that I could favour without actually experiencing.
After I did more reading and as I thought of it from a child’s point of view, my heart softened. I realized how hard it must be to have an empty box where an entire family history should be. I considered how painful it must be to carry all those unanswered questions around. I became convinced of the importance of openness, I just didn’t want to deal with the people that might be attached to that process.
When we received our proposal, the amount of openness suggested—not that that determined our decision—seemed perfect: birth parents had disappeared, and an older sibling was conveniently located several provinces away, being raised by paternal birth grandparents. This seemed like enough to give our child glimpses into his history, but not enough to threaten our future as a family. But then there was Rachel.
Rachel was an older half-sibling being raised by her birthmom’s parents in an unknown location. This really bothered me. I wanted Rachel and my son to be the ones who decided whether or not they should build a relationship. So, on and off, using the information I had, I tried to find her.
During the next couple of years, two more children joined our family and things got pretty busy. The hunt for lost siblings had to shift to the back burner. At least it did until my son’s eighth birthday.
When my son and I called his paternal birth grandparents to tell them about his wonderful party, we were given some news that left my son and I sobbing in each others arms. My son’s birthmom had passed away.
Until then, I hadn’t realized just how much my attitude towards openness had changed. What I found myself grieving, in addition to the tragic circumstances of his birthmom’s death, was the end of the possibility that she and my son would some day have a relationship.
From then on, I became desperate to collect as many insights, images, and anecdotes about my son’s birthmom as I could, and to find Rachel. I talked to the social worker who handled my son’s birthmom’s burial. I wrote to the doctor that delivered my son and begged for anything he remembered about her. I requested a copy of the coroner’s investigation, and I combed through the information that had been in our original proposal package for clues. I also tried, as I had many, many, times before, to google her.
Finally, I got a hit, which led me to a former classmate of my son’s birthmom. She gave me the maiden name of a friend who had been close to my son’s birthmom.
Then, when I searched for the address of the high school both women had attended, one of those find your old classmates ads popped up on my screen. I probably shouldn’t have, but I had enough information to do a search. Within minutes, I had the married name I needed. Another stop at Google, and I had the full contact information of someone who had known my son’s birthmom really well.
My hands shook as I called her. I could barely get my phone number straight on the message I left. When two weeks passed without a response, I feared I’d sounded so strange that I had destroyed my chance of connecting with this woman. Thankfully, I hadn’t put her off. Minutes after arriving home from a vacation, she called me.
Thanks to her, we’ve moved from having almost no information about my son’s birthmom and half sister, to being connected to an extended community. Rachel and I have spoken on the phone, and I now have dozens of pictures of birthmom.
This process has been exciting and also challenging. The birthmom’s family had not heard from her in many years, and did not know that she had had another baby, or that she was dead. Nothing in my adoption classes prepared me for those conversations.
Last night, on a whim, I googled my son’s birthmom again. The website on which I found the first of these connections no longer appears. I’m so glad I found them when I did! And I’m glad to have had the time to become open to openness. My son’s world will be much richer with these connections, and so will mine.