Sometimes in discussions of open adoption boundaries and such I hear the idea floating around that adoptive families should never do more than they’re comfortable with. So if they aren’t comfortable with visits or only want communication to go through the agency or whatever, then that’s all that should be expected of them. Essentially that we adoptive parents shouldn’t have to do anything that doesn’t feel right for our families.
I have heard of some situations where there are good reasons for stricter boundaries or buffers between first families and the adoptive family, as hard as that may be. Fully open adoption isn’t the right answer for every situation. But more often I get the vibe that some people are trying to avoid dealing with some of the emotions that come along with the fact that their child has another family. And I wonder if they’re setting themselves up for some really difficult conversations with their child down the road when they have to explain their choices.
I know that if I only did what made me completely comfortable, our adoption would look different than it does. I remember one of our earliest times together with Puppy’s first mom after his placement was at his dedication service at our church. My parents and T’s parents were there, as was Puppy’s godfather and K and her family. It was the first time many of them had met K, so I was a little anxious, expecting maybe some awkwardness and hoping no one would say anything hurtful to K. As people started joining our little group waiting in the church lobby, I overheard someone say, “You must be [K].” “Yes,” she replied, happily pointing at Puppy. “He’s mine.”
Her words were an unexpected punch in my gut. I stopped breathing for a moment. I wanted to grab Puppy tight and say, “No, he’s mine!” I was horrified at my internal reaction. Here I thought I was totally committed to open adoption and yet my heart was acting like a baby snatcher from the 1950s.
In the moment, I didn’t respond externally at all. (I was only overhearing a conversation K was having with my mom, and my mom’s response was to immediately gather her into a giant, welcoming hug.) But I spent a lot of time reflecting over my reaction later. I realized it was connected to my grief over the fact that I hadn’t given birth to my son. That particular loss had affected me much more than I had anticipated once Puppy was home. And now, three months later, it had suddenly flashed out at K. I reminded myself that even though being around K brought that grief to the surface, she was not the cause of it. And I thought about the fact that T and I weren’t just like “regular” parents to Puppy. We had other people in our life with just as much claim to the title. Pretending that wasn’t true wouldn’t change anything. He is hers and he is also mine, and that’s okay. (And obviously he’s a human being, so he doesn’t belong to either of us, but you get my point.)
There were other moments like that in those first months, when being around K brought out my sadness that I wasn’t my son’s only mom. I suppose I could have tried to avoid feeling some of that sadness by avoiding being around K. But it wouldn’t do Puppy any good for me to have this lingering grief related to his adoption that I hadn’t dealt with. And it’s also not any good for him if I push away his first parents in an effort to protect my own feelings.
My point is that my heart is going to feel what it’s going to feel. I can’t always control it, and I can’t always predict it. I don’t always know how my heart will react in any given moment. But whatever my emotional reaction, I know I can still do what is right. Right for Puppy, right for K and R, right for all of us.
I guess what I’m saying is that openness sometimes requires me to step outside of my comfort zone. It can feel uncomfortable or unfair or just plain weird every now and then. I suppose you could say that the interaction with Puppy’s first family causes the weird feelings, but to me it seems like it is just drawing out things that are already there under the surface. And it is that same interaction that helps me work through those feelings in the long run. The other day I was sorting through pictures from our recent visit and captioned one of Puppy, K, and me “[Puppy] and his mommies” without giving it a second thought. My heart has come around; I just had to give it enough time and a little prodding. But I don’t think it would have happened if I had tried to protect it by pushing K away.
(No judgment on anyone else here; just reminding myself.)