Category Archives: Reunion in adoption

Reunion in Open Adoption 6: What was the What

It seemed, in this dark period, as if we had made a huge miscalculation, committed an unfixable mistake. One that our daughter would suffer for.

Our crime? We had chosen open adoption. And despite thumbs up from all the grown ups in the equation, it was not working out well. At. All. For Tessa.

She was the pudding. She held the only proof that mattered.

Previous posts leading up to this part of the story
Part 1: Considering Joe
Part 2: Telling Tessa
Part 3: The horrible wait
Part 4: The meeting
Part 5: Crash

Despite our best intentions at a gradual and functional reunion with her birth father, Tessa had ended up in angry tears two weeks after spending a day with him. (“I DON’T WANT TO HAVE FOUR PARENTS!!…I NEVER WANT TO SEE THEM AGAIN!”)

First, we had to determine (as best we could): was this a parenting issue or an adoptive parenting issue?

Finding no evidence of The Worst Thing during the time she was with Joe (which I can’t even type, but you can probably guess), we deduced Tessa’s trauma did have to do with adoption.

But what? WHAT??

Enter my sister, Sheri.

I alluded to an intuitive reading she did for me at the time (see Problem #2). She was able to help me see through Tessa’s eyes, feel through Tessa’s heart.

And it wasn’t near as big or as bad as I’d feared.

I had been full of remorse and fear that I’d screwed everything up by embracing open adoption so whole-heartedly. Had I been too enthusiastic about keeping Crystal in our lives? Too driving in bringing Joe into our lives? And my most secret fear: would this have played out differently if I hadn’t become an open adoption advocate and blogger?

Sheri helped me to take myself out of the equation. For Tessa, it wasn’t that the last 7 years had been one huge mistake; it was that the one episode with Joe had been, simply, too much, too soon.

Tessa is a child who needs boundaries — both the figurative and literal kinds. She can sleep only against a wall and with pillows surrounding her. She must, at all times, know just how far she can go with a given person in a given situation. She is constantly rubbing against my boundaries with her, as well as others’. It’s her way of (1) figuring out her world, and (2) feeling secure in it.

And although she professed to be eager to spend the afternoon with Joe, she was unable to predict the feelings of unsupportedness that would ensue. Not because Joe was unsupportive, but because it was all different.* He smoked. He and his friend called each other “Duuude” in a way she doesn’t hear from Roger and me. These two minor things became symbolic, for her, of being in a very different, possibly scary, place. One in which she had no navigation skills, no anchoring, no steering mechanism.

And, at a very deep level, she also may have been considering that this was her Road Not Taken. Profound implications come with that thought.

So, two weeks later, after spending the night with family friends (Roger and I had an overnight date) Tessa’s feelings and fears of unsupportedness surfaced, this time demanding to be dealt with.

And THAT, my friends was the what. Or my best guess of the what.

So simple yet so complex.

I am relieved for Tessa. She has processed this episode, and has resumed telephone contact with Joe. She is asking now to see him again, but not alone. For the foreseeable future, our family will once again be a package deal.

We did not have to throw away the proverbial baby with the open adoption bath water. We will continue living in our open adoption — just a little bit wiser.

* Please understand that in discussing the life Tessa has with us and the life she might have had with Crystal and/or Joe, I am not saying one is better and one is worse. I don’t have the omniscience to make that determination on her behalf. I am simply saying that one path is familiar and one is not. Such a comparison is unknowable and irrelevant anyway — she gets to live only the life that is, not the one that might have been (as do we all).

The End

Reunion in Open Adoption 5: Things Fall Apart

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Joe (Tessa’s birthfather), who had been absent until she was 7, had fully integrated into our lives by the end of 2008. We had spent much of that year easing into a relationship with him. It culminated with visits in his home and visits in our own home. We were feeling pretty good about the process and the outcome.

Previous posts leading up to this part of the story
Part 1: Considering Joe
Part 2: Telling Tessa
Part 3: The horrible wait
Part 4: The meeting

Tessa had always had a relationship with her birthmom, Crystal. In fact, as Tessa became a grade-schooler, visits with Crystal — even solo visits (without Roger or me) — offered an invaluable intangible to Tessa. After just a few hours with Crystal, Tessa would become, somehow, refreshed and restored.

So we encouraged it. Tessa would see Crystal 8-10 times a year — much like you would a good friend or family member who lives 30 minutes away.

Crystal invited our family to her home on New Years Eve day. Tessa, Reed, and her son Tyler spent hours playing and giggling while Crystal and I worked on our projects. Crystal then cut and styled Tessa’s hair, giving her an AnnaSophia Robb look.

So it seemed natural a few days later, to respond affirmatively to Joe when he asked (after months of dropping hints) to spend an afternoon with Tessa. We felt comfortable with him, Tessa felt comfortable with him, we trusted him and his love for Tessa, as well as his ability to keep her safe from harm.

I asked Tessa if she’s like to hang out with Joe for a few hours, and she squealed with delight.

We set it up. We met for the exchange and planned to meet up again several hours later. I talked with Tessa about expectations (we always do this when approaching a social event) and about how I would call to check on her often. We came up with a code word for her to use if she wanted me to come get her.

When I did call (via Joe’s cell phone), each time she said she was having a GREAT TIME!!

After awhile we met to retrieve Tessa our two families had dinner together. I could see that she and Isabelle (Joe’s daughter) had bonded, and that Tessa was glowing. Nothing remarkable happened at dinner.

I asked about her afternoon on the drive home She shared only two specifics: (1) that Joe smoked cigarettes (she said this with a “yuck!” — we knew he smoked and had talked with Tessa about it) and (2) that he had a friend over. They called each other “Dude.”

All seemed well and I patted myself on the back for taking yet another successful step on the path of open adoption.

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Two weeks later, at bedtime, Tessa began freaking out. “I DON’T WANT TO HAVE FOUR PARENTS!!” she said over and over. “MOM, TAKE AWAY ALL THESE PICTURES OF CRYSTAL AND JOE!” She climbed up to her shelf and nearly hurled selected photos at me. Before collapsing into an exhausted heap, she ended with “MOM, YOU CALL THEM BOTH TOMORROW AND TELL THEM I NEVER WANT TO SEE THEM AGAIN!”

Sometimes things don’t stick with my mercurial daughter. But in the morning, she asked me again, this time more calmly, to call Crystal and Joe and give them her message.

I figured she meant business, and also she was gauging how much control she had of the situation. While she was at school I called Joe and broke the news, thereby breaking his heart. He put on a brave face and said he was just happy to have had the time he did. I asked if he could think of any trigger from that day. He could not.

Exploring the only thread I had to pick at, I asked about his friend, “Dude.” Joe said Tessa was never out of his sight, and that “Dude’s” visit was very brief. He was at a loss for explaining her upset, and so was I.

When I picked up Tessa from school, her first question was if I had called her birth parents. I told her I reached Joe but not Crystal. Tessa replied, “I changed my mind. I think I can still see Crystal.”

She did not want to talk anymore, so I was left in the dark as to what may have happened to change her view so dramatically.

I believe Tessa does not currently have the cognitive and language skills to figure out and communicate the reasons for her unease. It was excruciating for me to not be able to help her, and to not know what was the what. ExCRUCiating.

We had to sit in that uncomfortable place for awhile.

Next and final episode: What was the what

Reunion in open adoption 4: face-to-face

Awhile back I wrote about how I have become a face-gazer. I don’t know if this is unique to adoptive mamas, but since embarking on this family-building odyssey 8 years ago, I’ve become aware that I study faces.

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It’s the end of the summer of 2008. Tessa is about to gaze on the face of the person with half her genes. And Joe is about to see, for the first time, what a permutation of his genes plus Crystal’s looks like. I am wondering how each of them feels.

Previous posts leading up to this part of the story
Part 1: Considering Joe
Part 2: Telling Tessa
Part 3: The horrible wait

The venue was important. Our home? Too much, too soon. Joe’s home? Same. Playground? Too wide-open for focused conversation. Restaurant? OK. Joe chose a Dai.ry Queen between our homes.

Ice cream is always a good idea.

Roger and I had prepped both our kids as best as we could.

“Mom?” Tessa asks on the way there, “Are you sure Joe is safe?”

“Yes, Honey. Dad and I have met him and we are confident that meeting him is safe.”

“Daddy?” asks Reed. “What’s the boy’s name again?”

“Joe’s wife’s son is named Nicholas, and he’s just about your age. Did you bring some Bio.nicles for you two to play with ?”

“Of course! Will he like Bio.nicles?”

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We four are meeting Joe, his wife Angela, her son Nicholas, and baby Isabelle.

As we pull in to the parking lot, Tessa says her tummy hurts. We talk about “butterflies” as extra energy that tells us when we’re excited or worried about something.

We are just a few minutes late. Tessa is reluctant to get out of the car. I coax her by telling her I’ll carry her.

I can see through the storefront windows that Joe and his family are already there, the restaurant otherwise empty at this early dinner hour. Roger and Reed walk in and I follow, Tessa glued to my hip with her head buried in my neck.

Roger and Joe greet each other with handshakes and go about introducing the kids to each other. Reed and Nicholas immediately start talking weapons. Angela attends to 1-year old Isabelle, searching for a dropped pacifier.

We all sit down, and Tessa rearranges herself to remain burrowed in my nooks and crannies. I think of how excruciating this might be for Joe, to not be able to see her, even now when they are finally within 6 feet of each other.

We all know she’ll come around, though, and we allow her to bloom at her own pace.

In the meantime, Joe chats with Reed, asking him about school, swords, his room, favorite things. The dads then take food orders and bring back dinner for everyone. Tessa is sneaking peeks at Joe when she thinks he’s not looking.

And then, as suddenly as she closed up, the Tessa Show begins. There is no middle ground with her.

In a flash, she is hugging Joe and she spends the rest of dinner on his lap. She finagles his keys (to a brand new Mustang) and his iPhone. He is only too happy to oblige.

They share the same cheekbones, I note. Also a look of determination. They trade tooth stories — cavities in the same places and the same broken tooth, capped and fragile.

At times during dinner, Tessa is attentive to Bella, picking up repeatedly dropped toys, talking to her, offering her some finger foods that Anne brought.

After ice cream, Tessa asks if Joe will take her for a ride in his car. He looks over to ask us, “No ride, but maybe you can sit in the car?” Roger indicates yes and warns Tessa not to touch anything without permission. Joe turns back to Tessa and says, “Let’s go take a look.”

The car is right out front. We see them talk and laugh. I think it’s important for her to have this time alone with him. And I do trust him and his love for her. Obviously.

Roger hangs out with the boys, giving Anne and me time to talk. We talk about babies and miscarriages, our experiences with each. She tells me that Joe’s been very nervous and excited, and he’s also surprised and grateful for the chance to be in Tessa’s life. I say we hope this will also be good for Tessa, in helping her feel whole and loved.

Soon Joe and Tessa come back in, and it’s time to head home. Joe says he’d like to see us again, if that’s OK with us. He invites us to his house.

Roger and I want to touch base with each other first and see how Tessa fares after today, so our answer is non-committal. We ask Joe to give us a call and we can see how things look in the coming weeks.

Tessa needs to be pried off Joe, a reversal of our arrival. She throws a fit, and we are aware that she’s got a lot going on. Once we’re in our car and driving away, she calms down and becomes cheerful again.

“Mom! I like Joe! And Isabelle, too!”

“Yes, Tessa. They are very likeable. I like them too,* and I love you.”

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Over the next few months, we visit Joe at his home, his family comes to our home, and we have a few more dinners out together.

In the Fall we attend Nicholas’ 5th birthday party and meet Joe’s mom, Carla. She is almost as excited to meet Tessa as Joe was. For awhile during Crystal’s pregnancy, the plan was for Carla to help raise the baby while Crystal and Joe dealt with their respective issues. Like Joe, she experienced a loss. And like Joe, she is appropriate with her words and actions when meeting Tessa.

We feel we (all of us) have done very well with this reunion. We feel lucky that all involved are sensitive to what is good for Tessa. We encounter no bumps in the road.

Until right after the new year.

* I intuitively know that loving my child’s birth parents is a wonderful gift to be able to give them (I realize this it not easy in some cases). Doing so aids in helping Tessa and Reed to fully love themselves. In addition, my aim is to have my children never feel as if they need to choose or to divide their loyalties between their birth parents and us.

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Next episode: Tessa’s turmoil