October 07, 2008

A Visit with Ms B

The other weekend we spent the day with Firefly's first mom, Ms B. We drove down to her new apartment to pick her up and headed over to the home of some friends of hers.

It was a laid-back afternoon. There were brownies and bowls of tasty chili. T talked football with Ms B's friends. Puppy played with the trucks in their backyard. Firefly waved her arms around and pounded on some toys. Ms B and I caught up on her goings-on. The conversation flowed and I smiled as I watched Ms B and Firefly playing on the floor.

Sometimes open adoption is easy.

After awhile it was time to put Firefly down for her nap. Some of the group adjourned to watch the game while the rest went out into the sunny yard. I went inside to grab my hoodie and saw Ms B slip out of the room where Firefly was sleeping.

She looked rattled, so I asked her how she was doing. I don't know if it was because we were finally alone together, or because she had been watching Firefly sleep, or something else altogether. But she opened up about her current feelings about not being able to parent her daughter. She told me how envious she is when she sees Firefly looking around the room for me. She shared her newest fears about their relationship. She cried. I cried.

Sometimes open adoption is heart-breaking.

It made me wonder about the ways people define "success" in open adoptions. Is a successful visit angst-free, with everyone happily confident in their roles? Is it one in which things are at times ugly in the name of honesty? Way back, before I knew what open adoption was really about, I imagined visits as incredibly uncomfortable, with people choking back tears and silently resenting each other. Everyone ignoring the giant elephant in the room: hey, I've got your kid.

We had breezy, cheerful visits during the first year of Puppy's adoption. I took them as evidence that openness could heal adoption's hurts while secretly wondering why my own feelings weren't matching up with the rosy front. I wanted to believe that K and R's confidence in their decision to place Puppy meant the hard parts were behind us. I had swung from overly-negative assumptions about visits to overly-positive ones which left little room for harder truths. It wasn't until more than a year later that K started sharing with us how difficult those early months really were. R has only just begun talking about it to T now, nearly three years afterward.

So which is better? To put on a brave face and keep our struggles safely contained? To put it all out there at the risk of hurting or upsetting others? I believe open adoptions are healthiest when the adults deal with their own emotional business instead of dragging it into the triad relationships. But surely that doesn't mean we're never supposed to be honest with each other. My conversation with Ms B didn't feel uncomfortable or wrong. I knew she was not trying to dump her problems on me or make me feel guilty. And we're not her only, nor even primary, sources of emotional support.

Living out open adoption has forced me to accept yet again that reality is messy. To understand we can be confident about our decisions but still be angry and sad. We can regret choices but still support the other parents. We can feel whatever our hearts are going to feel but still choose to act with grace and compassion. We can ride out our struggles while focusing on what's best for our child.

I know some people are reading this and thinking, "This is why I would never do an open adoption. Too uncomfortable, too hard." But not seeing someone's struggle doesn't mean it's not happening. I think that bearing witness to the painful as well as the good is part of the role we play as adoptive parents. Firefly will hopefully be able to ask Ms B her own questions some day, but I know she'll also be asking them of me. For whatever it's worth, I'll be able to tell her, "I see how much she loves you and I saw how hard it was to let you go."


Anonymous said...

As hard as it is, I think it's great that you've cultivated the kind of relationship in which Ms B feels comfortable enough to share all of that with you. There was a time when I would have been one of those "some people" who would read this and think that it's too hard and too messy, but I firmly believe that open adoption is the best way to go (when you can, of course).

Right now, we're struggling with managing the realities of a long, open match. It kills me to see cigarettes in her purse and to know that I don't get to have "my" way and have things be the way they would if I were the one carrying this child. (Not to mention the fact that, although we've been selected as the parents, there's no certainty there.) Still, any struggles we face are worth being able to go to the ultrasound visits and to be involved right from the start. I'm definitely learning a lot.

Lori said...

I agree with Kendra. I'm utterly impressed that Ms B shares with you and that you are sensitive enough to notice the signs that she's hurting. Sometimes I'm just so oblivious!

The other day Ian's birthmom asked who would come to a 1 year old birthday party and I responded "family." In a conversation weeks later, I mentioned something about her being in town for his birthday party. She responded with an off handed comment about how I said that it was for family. When I said "family," I was including her. She is family. But apparently that wasn't clear. Oops!

Dawn said...

I agree that part of being a parent -- via adoption or otherwise -- is bearing witness to our children's lives and struggles. In open adoption, it means bearing witness to the adoption. In many ways, I'm the most disinterested party in their relationship -- it is least about me what happens between them. I feel like bearing witness is perhaps the easiest role of all. And I'm grateful to have the privilege of it.

Meg Weber Jeske said...

This bearing witness business is hard, and it is an amazing gift for everyone involved. I agree that it speaks to incredible trust between Ms. B and you for her to be willing to share this with you. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Mama Bear said...

thanks for sharing your story I think you made a great point that the pain and grief is still there even if we do not see it for the birth/first parents. It can be so hard I remember those first months after we brought home our daughter and I would talk to her birthmom and I could just feel the pain she was going through - it cut me deep, it was incredible hard but I would not change a thing and with my son (closed) adoption- I wonder about her everyday!

a Tonggu Momma said...

As someone who will have to tell my daughter some variation of "I don't know, but I believe..." when she asks if her first parents loved her, I am so happy for you that you can tell your child that fact with absolute certainty. Sometimes I grieve the unknowns, but I know we were supposed to adopt from China. Otherwise, we wouldn't have our little Tongginator.

cynthia said...

i'm just sitting here nodding my head. that's all-

Mama said...

Hannah's birthmother shares very little about how much sadness she still feels, but we have had several candid conversations about how things did not go as she had planned at the hospital. While it made me sad to know that parts of the experience that brought me much joy brought her the greatest sadness, I am glad to know how she felt because at some point I'm sure Hannah will want to know and she does deserve to know.
Fellow Adoptive Mom

luna said...

heather, this is such a beautiful and honest post. your observations and reflections just seem so right on.

I also agree, how wonderful that K can be so candid with you about these really difficult feelings. you're right that she needs other primary support, but the honesty you share can only strengthen the relationship for puppy's benefit.

JJandFive said...

Such a great post, Heather. You word these things so well.

Anonymous said...

"But not seeing someone's struggle doesn't mean it's not happening. I think that bearing witness to the painful as well as the good is part of the role we play as adoptive parents."

Nail on head. Thanks for saying it.

Lori Lavender Luz said...

That is a great question, Heather. I suppose each triad will each define "success" in open adoption in their own way -- hopefully in conjunction with each other.

For us, it means that we each give the others permission to feel and express our feelings appropriately, even if those feelings aren't pretty. When the adults in the triad do this, we show our children how to do this for themselves -- a valuable life skill.

It means having boundaries set out of love rather than out of fear and/or insecurity. I think the more the parents (either a- or b-) resolve their own adoption issues, the less the child will have to deal with.

I think that one of the biggest gifts I can give my children is an acceptance and appreciation for the life they have, just the way it is.

I think successful open adoptions are handicapped by unethical agencies and professionals. Adoptive parents should know what ethics means to the first families and to the children, and patronize only ethical agencies/professionals.

And I think just knowing it can be done, in spite of the "spookiness" of the idea, is helpful to a-parents starting out. It requires them trying to see through the eyes of the others in the triad, and then conducting themselves compassionately.

Those are some of the ways I define success.

There are more but this has already turned into more of a post than a comment.

Anonymous said...

We have an Open Adoption also Our Son is now 12 and We had Him from Birth We have some of the same things happen...Our BirthMother was older but knew no one with a healthy Marriage. She still finds it hard to believe that My Husband still opens doors and leads the 3 ladies thru groups of People or walks by the road....Also She loves that She knows where Our Son is always sleeping because She and Her Daughter have been in 22 places in 12 years...She is like a Sister to Me and She is honest with Us and Us with Her....it is tough sometimes but so is My Own Family....Live always have ups and downs and I love being able to call Her about medicines and other issues....Other s are nervous but We pray before and there has only been 2 times where it was not good and that was because of Her Male friends or others around that SHe was living with and they did not understand.....My Parents still have a hard time because of news reports....God is GOOD

Anonymous said...

Sorry Gals new to Your postings but I had to share something that My Son asked Us at 10 years of age. He said " Mom can I call ____ "His BirthMom" Mom You are My Mom but I would like to call Her that also? Is that okey with You?" I told Him that God gave Me a heart to share the name Mother or Mom and yes He could and the smile on His face..He just told Me last month that He so loves Me for that...an other story at 5 years old on Our way home from a visit He said to US "thank You for Adopting Me Mom I am so glad I know where I am going to sleep each night My sister doesn't know but I know I will be safe?" wow at 5 He figures that out....He also said " I am glad My Pillow and bed is safe each night!" They figure it out themselves and We just teach as Parents...smile It warmed My heart and from then on at least once a week He prays for His Sister and Mom and I do to along with My Husband His Adoptive Dad....We so love Him and have a big enough heart and love to share the name of "MOM" and to give Him a save home....that's all We can ask...smile of parenting..

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