Category Archives: Reunion in adoption

Reunion in an Open Adoption, Part 2: Telling Tessa

Recap of Part 1: After a long email courtship, Roger and I met Tessa’s birth father 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, your birthfather.”

birth fathers on father's day

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 with Birth Father 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 birth father, Joe.

birth fathers on father's day

(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.

I am Schrodinger’s Box

I am currently holding two completely different realities in one space.

We have entered a new arena in our open adoption. Tessa’s birthfather has come into the picture, with our blessing. Things are going very well, and I will write about the reunion more as it becomes appropriate.

But back to the box.

I remember many years ago a thirtysomething episode that featured a double-date dinner as seen by each of the four people in attendance. The first 15 minutes was from Hope’s point of view, the next segment was from Elliot’s, the third from Nancy’s and finally we see from Michael’s eyes. We see the same events interpreted by four people, with each version being very, very different.

I was left wondering which of the four versions was the accurate one. I kept trying to splice together clips to get the One True View.

Which is both silly and impossible. Perception is reality. And since perception is uniquely personal, it follows that reality is uniquely personal.

So now, as I piece together the events that led to Tessa’s existence and to us being her parents, that thirtysomething episode has new meaning to me. Now I have the wisdom not to ask which account is the “real” one. And I just might have the breadth and depth to hold both versions as valid.

I don’t think either Crystal or Joe truly believe I am doing so. But I am.

I must show Tessa that it can be done.


This post is part of the open adoption roundtable in 2013. In the years since this post was first published, the various truths in our story have come closer together.