One of the best things to come from the Adoption Blogger Interview Project is that each year I run across new-to-me bloggers who help me see adoption from a new perspective, who make me ponder yet another facet of it.
I was happy, then, to “meet” Laura Dennis last month, despite the fact that she lives in Serbia. Laura is a mom to two small children, a trained dancer, an adoptee-in-reunion, and an author. She grew up in Maryland, went to graduate school in Southern California and expatriated to Belgrade, where she wrote her memoir, Adopted Reality.
I read it — in just three sittings. I gave it a bunch of stars. I’ll have a future Q&A post with Laura about her book, so pick it up yourself if you want to follow along at that time.
For today, though, Laura and I are swapping blog posts. She offers here a post about the lessons of reunion that can be applied to open adoption relationships.
For Openness as well as Reunions, Be Flexible But Tenacious
Reconnecting with my first mother was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Knowing her filled a hole in my sense-of-self that I hadn’t quite realized was there.
I have so much to say about my reunion, I could write a book about it. Oh wait, that’s right, I already did. Adopted Reality, A Memoir, is about my adoption and reunion, and brief bout with insanity. However, it doesn’t address the topic of maintaining a long-term first family relationship.
The Adoptee-First Family Reunion
As the Baby Scoop Era enters the Open Adoption Era, those participating in each can benefit from learning from the others’ experiences.
Each first family reunion is unique. It’s a family relationship like any other that needs work, time and nurturing to grow and develop.
I met my first mom when I was 23, and during the first few months, she and I constantly felt we were playing catch up. Truly we were … we had 23 years-worth of separate lives to rediscover!
I missed the shared experiences of my first family — vacations, holidays, inside jokes. Not only that, but I’d had my own, in my adopted family.
Merging these families is something akin to what happens when a couple gets married. Who do you visit for Christmas? Who do you spend vacations with? The questions extend beyond logistics. … What happens when the shiny reunion glow begins to wear off? How is a “real” relationship built after the honeymoon period?
Creating a Lasting Relationship
I’m not exactly sure when this began to happen, but over time, my first mom became just another family member. I stopped trying to play catch up.
Just like my adoptive family, my first mom and my biological extended family are now just … my family.
When that happens, we should all be happy. It means those who felt such a deep loss over so many years are letting go of their hurt.
Figuring out what that connection is won’t be all fluffy kittens and prancing through the park. It may involve disagreements and misunderstandings. But that’s okay. In a family, we don’t reject one another. We may be hurt, but we get over it, we forgive, we let go.
Because that’s what family does.
Why should anyone care about adoptee reunions?
Here’s the thing about closed adoptions. First mothers and adult adoptees are coming out and saying, Maybe that wasn’t the best way to do things.
Maybe cutting off all contact between the birth mom and the baby isn’t for the best. Maybe the adoptive parents are open-minded enough to see the birth mom not as a source of emotional competition, but someone who also loves the baby.
Open adoptions are so new; we don’t have a “crop” of adult open-adoptees who can talk about their experiences … yet. One of the problems, though, is that many open adoptions are closing after a few years. Fewer letters and phone calls, eventually no more face-to-face meetings.
Worse, there is generally nothing in place that legally or contractually binds the families to remain in contact for the sake of the child. There are adoptive parents who mislead the agency, stating they wanted an open adoption … just to get the baby, intending to cut-off communication once the ink dries. There are also first moms drifting off with their contact, finding it too hard to watch someone else raise their child.
What can these open adoptions learn from closed adoptees in reunion? My advice would be:
- Try to keep in mind: kids grow up. I, too, have this problem. My (biological) kids won’t always be two and four. No doubt, they will hold me accountable for the mothering I do now. Adopted children become adopted adults. Adoptedness doesn’t just “go away.”
- Take your child’s interests and desires into account as he or she grows.
- Be flexible. We’re all human, imperfect, with good days and bad days.
- But be tenacious. Don’t give up. Please don’t let an open adoption become a closed one.
When the relationship settles into that normal, day-to-day phase? When the original mom to your child is “just” another family member, and vice versa? That’s a good thing.
Just keep at it.
East Coast US native Laura Dennis lives with her husband and two crazy kids in Belgrade Serbia, where she blogs about expat (adopted) mommy life. Her memoir, Adopted Reality, is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook.
Photo credit: tungphoto via freedigitalphotos.net