Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I've Looked at Adoption From Both Sides Now

Today I’m going to post a couple of shorter items that sort of coalesce around a theme of Adoption. . .

A couple weeks ago was the 17th anniversary of my reunion with my birth-mother. She called on the phone, just as she did 17 years ago, and we had a really warm conversation.

Once I decided to search for her, years ago, the actual search went surprisingly quickly. I had my birth name, from the adoption order my parents got from the court way back when (and which they were happy to give me). I contacted the agency that had handled my adoption, and they gave me a sheet of ‘non-identifying’ information (things like her parents’ and siblings ages at the time I was born, hair/eye color, what county the family had lived in, etc.). That basic information gave me enough to go on, and in two months’ time, I had found her.

I didn’t have the slightest idea if she would even want to hear from me, so I arranged for an intermediary to make the first contact – if she didn’t want to have contact with me, I wanted her to be able to say so without having contact with me in the process. But of course, she did want to have contact with me, and rather than wait for me to call her, she called me first. And the rest, as they say, is history.

About a month later, I flew off to meet her (she lives in a completely different part of the country from us, one that I would likely never visit if she weren't there), and since then, she has come for annual visits to our place.

I want to say something about ‘why’ – what motivated me to search? First, let me be as clear as I can possibly be that it was in no way related to any dissatisfaction with my adoptive family – our family wasn’t perfect, but it was ‘plenty good enough’. My parents did very well with some fairly challenging circumstances, and I feel nothing but love and gratitude toward them.

Mainly, I wanted something that they simply didn’t have to give me – my beginnings. I knew the history of our family, I knew I was adopted, but certain ‘big questions’ – where did I come from; who do I look like? – they simply couldn’t help me with. My knowledge of my life went back to the point at which I was adopted, but before that was a blank page. And on top of that, I was having children of my own – 1F was the first person I ever knew who was genetically related to me, and as I saw different characteristics of hers that had obviously ‘come from’ me, I wondered who I had gotten those things from.

Anyway, it’s been 17 years now. At first, our relationship was very emotional, very intense, but it’s long since settled down to a pretty ‘normal’ family relationship – kind of like an extra set of in-laws. But I’ve been surprised at the sense of solidity that it’s given me – what someone called ‘a sense of being rooted to the earth’. There’s a richness that I didn’t quite anticipate – and which I’m sure most people don’t even think about – in just being able to know where I came from.


Also a couple weeks ago, 1F and Molly and I went for a visit with 1F’s daughter (I’ll call her AG) and her adoptive parents (call them AM and AF). 1F has gone for several visits by herself, but this was the first time that Molly and I had seen her since the day she was born.

It was a nice visit. It was good to get a look at our grand-baby, now 9 months old, crawling and pulling herself up, and assure ourselves that our gene-pool is doing OK. I was actually more fascinated than I had expected to be, just watching her move around and play.

Her parents are great people, and it was good to spend some time getting to know them a little bit. It would be very understandable for them to have some anxiety about AG’s relationship with her birth-family, but if they had it, they didn’t show it to us. And for our part, we are absolutely clear that they are AG’s parents; we know that we don’t have any claim on her, and we’re grateful to them for letting us have such relationship with her as we can.

It’s a new kind of thing for us – I never had a relationship with my birth-family until I was 33 years old, and my adoptive family never had to have anything to do with it, so we’re breaking some new ground here. But we’re committed to making it work, and so far, we’re as happy as we can be with how it’s going.


*edit October 13*

O272 and Emily had questions from the above post, and I want to answer them here, since they're really good questions and require more comprehensive answers than I wanted to leave in comment-space.

O asked: How did [1F] deal with putting her child up for adoption? It had to be a very difficult decision.

In a related vein, Emily asked: Was there a specific reason that [1F] didn't want to raise the baby herself?

From what I know of her decision process, her decision was both easy and wrenchingly difficult. Easy in the sense that, looking at her own life and circumstances, she simply didn't have the wherewithal to raise a baby, and she was clear on that virtually from the moment she knew she was pregnant. She didn't have a job, let alone one that would provide support for herself and a baby, and she hated the idea of making herself and the baby 'wards of the state' on welfare. She wanted to go back to college, but she needed time and money to do that, both of which would militate against her raising a baby. Her psychological state was (and really, still is) more fragile than a single mother's would need to be. But most fundamentally, she wanted her baby to have a family, and that would never be the case if she raised the baby herself.

The baby's father . . . how shall I say it . . . was a shithead and a loser of the first order. He essentially dropped her as soon as he found out she was pregnant, and after that, his entire role was to try to obstruct the adoption, so as to maintain some form of lasting 'control' in her life (it was not terribly unlike a dog pissing on a tree to 'mark' it as 'his turf'). He showed up at the adoption hearings with his new girlfriend in tow, herself now several months pregnant. Wonderful fellow, this guy. . .

In the context of giving a child up for adoption, nine months gestation can seem terribly cruel. She made her decision for all the right reasons, and really, pretty early on. But all the little signposts that are usually markers of impending joy - the first time she felt the baby kick, the first ultrasound picture, etc - were, for her, markers of impending sadness. She could have the greatest confidence in the decision she had made, and the firmest resolve to see it through, but the day-to-day reality of being pregnant ran smack against what her rational mind was telling her. On a very basic level, which for all intents and purposes she had no control over, she was bonding with her baby, whether she would end up raising her or not. And that was the wrenchingly hard part.

Childbirth was poignant, as you might expect. There was great joy at the arrival of a healthy baby girl, at finally being able to see and hold this little person who came from her. The adoptive parents were present for the birth (AM cut the cord), and their joy was very gratifying. If this was a difficult time for 1F, the pain was mitigated by the knowledge that something wonderfully good - a family was getting a daughter, and her baby was getting a family - was coming of it.

Emily asked about 1F's, and Molly's and my, relationships with the adoptive parents, and how they were 'chosen'.

1F chose the adoptive parents, although, for the adoption to be finalized, they had to be evaluated and approved by the agency which handled the adoption, and ultimately, by the court. She wanted her baby to be raised in a Christian community like the one she had been raised in, but she didn't really want her baby to be the same town as she lived in. So we made some inquiries among several other communities in the US, related to ours, and found a young couple in a community near ours (but not too near) who were childless after seven years of marriage. They were loose acquaintances of ours; although I couldn't say that we really knew them, we knew who they were.

The 'open' adoption arrangement that 1F has with AG's parents is purely informal - there are no legally binding 'agreements' in force. If the parents decided tomorrow that the arrangement wasn't working out and they wanted no further contact with 1F or with us, they would be within their rights, and we would have no legal recourse. That's just the rules of the game, and we all knew it going in.

But, as I said, they are good and gracious people, and, at least so far, they are happy to include us in the life of their daughter. And, as I said previously, we are completely clear that, in every meaningful way, they are her parents, and we are grateful to be included.

As an interesting aside, within a month of AG coming to live with them, AM was pregnant, and that baby is now due any day. . .

Emily was also impressed that Molly and I, as the 'birth-grandparents' are included in the 'open' arrangement. I actually hadn't thought of it as all that unusual, but I suppose it might be. I can say that, of all that has come into my own life as a result of being reunited with my birth-mother, the relationships we've formed with my extended 'birth-family' have been the most surprising. My own grandmother was sick and scant months from death when I appeared on the scene, but her reception of me was incredibly heart-warming; it hadn't occurred to me that other members of my 'birth-family' would have been all that strongly affected.

There is a kind of 'kinship' that is almost 'built-into' us genetically. I've been amazed, as I've met my own biological aunts and uncles and cousins for the first time, at the way that we're 'like each other' in some innate, undefinable way. With my adoptive family, there were differences that would crop up from time to time, and we mainly dealt with them with good humor. But with my 'birth-family' it was almost the opposite - we would discover unanticipated ways in which we were like each other, or just understood each other in some intuitive way.

So, ladies, I hope that this gives a helpful answer to your questions, or at least helps you understand the situation a little better. . .

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