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."