The text came in one evening as I was on my way to a concert: “We found a great deal on Hotwire for a flight. We’ll be able to stay for eight days. Let us know if it will work so we can book it.” Gulp! Eight days! Would we all be talking by the end of it, I wondered? “Go for it!” I texted back, heart in my mouth.
We opened my daughter’s closed adoption in 2012 when she was thirteen. A search, with the help of a friend who is a private detective, quickly revealed that her birth mother had relocated to Colorado from Utah, where she lived when she gave birth to my daughter. We carefully crafted a letter to see if she would be open to contact with us and with her birth child.
We did not have to wait long. An e-mail arrived three weeks later in response. The subject heading was “Thank You.” Out poured the grief of her loss and the gratitude at being found. We had much to heal and much to understand. In those early months the e-mails flew back and forth between us and between her and my daughter. We began a moving journey of family building that has brought us together twice in this last year.
We made the first trip to Colorado for July Fourth. There was nothing more surreal than that first moment of meeting in the hotel lobby. I’m not sure anyone was fully in their body as we snapped that first picture to record this extraordinary moment of reconnection. We had scaled the walls of fear, hurt, and grief to get there for the child that we both love.
The visit went well, although not without bumps. My daughter spent time with her newfound family, getting to know her birth mom and husband as well as two half siblings. We did some things all together and gave them some time alone as well. A text I sent my daughter to check in was met with “stop checking up on me.” Hard!
We went home, I myself relieved to reconstitute as the family we were used to being, not this new, extended one in which I feared being replaced. Life went on. We continued to e-mail and ultimately a plan to spend New Year’s together emerged. The aforementioned text arrived as the planning progressed. They did indeed come for eight days. And while my daughter got weary of having younger siblings, we had a wonderful, bonding time together.
If you ask some experts, they will say we did this all wrong- too much, too soon. But they will also say that each family is different and each has to find its own way and figure out what will work. Boundaries are important in all families. They are extremely important between birth and adoptive families so that everyone remains clear and respectful and the child does not get confused or split apart.
I think what was most important in laying the foundation for the time we spent with my daughter’s birth family (and what allowed it to work well when we met), was all the communicating we did beforehand. All the e-mails we exchanged to air our feelings, clarify our expectations, and express our respect for everybody’s wishes and needs during our time together paid off!
I found myself in the most remarkable position towards the end of their visit. As my daughter felt comfortable enough to leave us all to go out with a friend and push away from both mothers (fifteen year old that she is), her birth mom said to me, “I’ve been thinking I should talk to her about how mean she is to you. She doesn’t know how good she’s got it!” I was floored. Who would have thought such a moment would ever occur?
So if you are planning time with birth family over the holidays think about what everyone can manage and what your limits are. Manage expectations by discussing them. Sometimes hard questions help to avoid hard situations and honesty is better than pretending you can handle something you can’t. If I had to do it again, I might wonder out loud if eight days would be too much for everyone. As it turned out, it was a bit long at the end, but we all managed it using the hard-won trust we have built with each other over these last two years.
The beauty of having an open adoption is that you get to have more family. It takes work and when that works out, it’s a beautiful thing for everybody!