Category Archives: Reunion in adoption

Reunion in an open adoption 3: a different kind of wait

“The Wait” tends to mean something in adoption, something that hopeful adopting parents endure.

But because of my lack of foresight, Tessa was the one who had to endure this 2-month wait. And it was not easy for her — and, consequently, for us.

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

Tessa found out about Joe’s desire to meet her in mid-May. Our family and Joe’s family had busy and conflicting schedules most of the summer, until the end of July.

I wish I had taken better care of the photos of Joe, not let on yet that meeting him was coming. I’ve been a mom awhile — I should know this! Never tell the kids something is going to happen — until it is practically happening.

Once the cat was out of the bag, though, I tried to make it a positive thing. She could get to know him over the phone first, the way we got to know him via email. We could ease into this relationship and she’d be able to process gradually and slowly.

That was my hope. It was not, however, the reality.

Tessa and Joe began a telephone relationship. Joe had 7 years of pent-up eagerness churning in him, and he called 2-3 times a week. He always chatted with Roger or me first and asked if it was OK to talk with Tessa. I am very thankful that he was intent on making sure Tessa’s needs were of prime importance. Also that he often asked to speak with Reed, respecting and accepting easily that we are a package deal.

Tessa was giddy with each phone call. She felt very special. I think, perhaps that she had in her mind that Joe was a person who would “fix” whatever was wrong with her life — HE would surely give her a set of real keys (she loves real keys, indicators of power); HE would take her swimming every day because he has a pool RIGHT NEAR HIS HOUSE; HE would let her stay up as late as she wants; in other words, HE would buy her the proverbial pony.

(Please understand that Joe did not plant or water these thoughts. Tessa has plenty of magical thinking all on her own — it’s part of her charm.)

So she had this pull toward him. This idea that Joe was da bomb.

My job, as I saw it, was to keep her grounded with all this fantasy that was going on. Let me tell you that she was very mad at me a lot during this time period. We continued to have chores, bedtimes, rules and limits.

One day I became aware of a push. And I can’t believe I didn’t see it before. I was intent on providing her the freedom to develop a relationship with Joe — so intent, perhaps, that I missed a deeper layer.

One afternoon we had an out-of-proportion argument over chores. She went from zero to steam-coming-out-the-ears in a flash. Her eyes a-blazing, she hissed, “And if I don’t, are you going to send me to Joe?”

Whaaaaa?

Sudden flash of insight: she wasn’t JUST worried that we would keep her from meeting Joe. She was ALSO worried that we might abdicate our place as her parents. This thought, I believe, filled her with terror. Like an earthquake was about to hit.

“Oh, Sweetie.” I came toward her and she collapsed into my arms, her flame doused by her tears. “Do you think Daddy and I would ever let you go? We will ALWAYS be your parents, no matter what. We love you NO MATTER WHAT. Now you just have someone else in your life who also loves you and who wants good things for you.”

I continued, “Your life won’t change a lot when you meet Joe. This is your home. Reed is your brother. Daddy and I will always tuck you in at night and wake you up in the morning.”

“Teddy [Bear] and my babies will always be mine?”

“Yes,” I said. And smiled, “And you’ll still have to eat your veggies and empty the trash and finish your homework and kiss your mother!” as I smooched toward her and tickled her.

Her body relaxed with the release of weeks of tension buildup.

I am still chastened by the fact that I didn’t see the push/pull develop and try to mitigate it. I am lucky Tessa is so resilient and strong.

Too bad there are no do-overs. I’ll need one more before this reunion thingy is over.

Image: MagicalMotivationforMuggles.com

Next in this series: Face-to-face.

Reunion in an open adoption part 2: Telling Tessa

Recap of Part 1: After a long email courtship, Roger and I met Tessa’s birthfather for the first time and decided to take the next step. Tessa would also meet him — in a few months after some planned events had passed. As we parted at the agency, Joe handed me some photos of him, his baby daughter, and his mom.

***

One afternoon in late spring, Tessa had a root canal, as part of the ongoing saga of a this mishap (we Libertarians are doomed in so many ways, I tell you). To help take her mind off the fact that she couldn’t eat all morning until after the 1 pm surgery, I had the bright idea to have pedicures together.

She handled the hunger and the tension fairly well. After all, who could be cranky when having one’s calves massaged and when sporting hot pink toenails?

As we talked and waited for our toes to dry, Tessa noticed on the floor my flopped open purse. With the pictures in it. Of Joe.

Deep breath. I braced myself for what was coming and how I would handle it. We’ve always though that straight-on is the way to handle things with the kids. I was aiming for the Goldilocks approach: not too much, not too little.

“Mommy, can I see those pictures?” I hand them over.

“Who is he? And is this cute little baby me?”

“No, Sweetheart. This man is Joe.” I wait for the name to connect to the concept in her mind.

“Joe…?”

“Joe, your birthfather.”

Now, it’s one thing to explain a birthmother to a child. It’s concrete — the child sees a pregnant woman, you explain that there’s a baby in there, and that soon the baby will be born (get as descriptive as you’d like). You explain that every baby grows in a mother’s body. It also helps when she knows who this woman is and spends time with her.

I don’t know what Tessa is thinking, but I suspect that the concept of a birthfather is much harder to grasp. He didn’t get a big belly. He didn’t carry me around. He didn’t call mom when I was about to be born. So just what is this guy’s connection to me?

Yes, we’d had The Talk. That’s a whole ‘nother blog post. Suffice it to say that Tessa knows that a baby is created when the sperm of the man meets the egg of a woman. The baby grows in the woman’s body until it’s ready to be born. The baby will share some traits of both the man and the woman.

We kept it simple. We followed the KISS* principle.

Tessa continued. “Oh. Where did these pictures come from?”

“Daddy and I met Joe yesterday. We wanted to make sure that it was safe to have him in our lives. He told us about his daughter. She’s almost 1, and this is a picture of her.”

“She’s so cute! She is my birthsister! So…what did you talk about?”

“He was very curious about you. He has always loved you and wondered about you. We told him about your dramatic talents, about your tooth, how good you are at the monkey bars, how you help cook dinner, the way you love to clean and vacuum (but not pick up), how much you like kitties and babies…”

“I want to meet him, too, Mom.”

“That’s great, because he also wants to meet you. But with all our trips coming up, and Joe’s schedule, we’re going to have to wait until later in the summer.”

Turns out I handled the conversation well, but not the situation. This was a very hard thing for Tessa to sit with all summer, as you’ll see in the next episode: The Horrible Wait.

* Keep it simple, stupid.

Reunion in an open adoption

It sounds like an oxymoron. After all, one reason we chose open adoption was to avoid the difficulties in reunion.

We’ve always had an open adoption with Tessa’s birthmom, Crystal. But until recently, we couldn’t say the same about her birthfather, Joe.

(I’m going to call this set of posts a reunion series, even though that’s not quite an accurate term. It implies that there was a prior union between Joe and Tessa, or Joe and us, and there wasn’t. But I’m sure the meaning is understood.)

We are just now looking back on this reunion, which had its seeds planted nearly a year ago. Some of it has been successful, and some of it has been, euphemistically, a learning experience.

Since before Tessa’s birth, Crystal had always told us that Joe was too volatile, too unpredictable to be in her life, much less ours. But seven years can mellow a situation. Crystal and Joe continued to have intermittent contact with each other, and eventually each went on to another relationship.

Last winter, Crystal told us she would no longer be the gatekeeper. If we wanted to judge Joe for ourselves, she would step aside.

We set up a non-identifying email account and gave it to Crystal to give to Joe. For three months, we got to know Joe by email. It seemed safe enough to meet — just us adults. We arranged for our adoption agency to facilitate the first meeting between Joe and his wife, Roger and me, at the agency.

For seven years I’d wondered what this man looked like. What pieces of him would I find familiar? How would he feel about us? Would he see us as the enemy? Would I find it easy to like him, as I did Crystal?

I was not nervous, not excited, but ner-cited as I walked into the room. He and his wife were already there. He stood to shake our hands and I was surprised at his height — over 6 feet tall and built like a football player (which he was at one time).

His manner was very straightforward. He started the meeting by saying that he didn’t expect anything from us and that he was grateful that we’d come and that he just hoped to fill the void in his heart that had been there for so long.

He explained that the birth of his daughter the year before had brought up a lot of pain he’d stuffed down. I was actually relieved to hear this because now Tessa can know that he has always loved her. We handed over some photos of her and he gave us some of him and his baby daughter to show Tessa.

Pretty soon we were chatting about a lot of things — sport team allegiances, common locales, interests, and how we each got from there to here.

The facilitator never needed to say a word.

Ninety minutes later we agreed that the next step would be for him to meet Tessa. But it would have to wait until a break in all the summer action — about two months in the future.

Next up in this series: Mis-step and first contact.