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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.


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

birth fathers on father's day

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?”


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.”


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.


Next episode: Tessa’s turmoil

18 Responses

  1. Every time you post about adoption issues, I gain a new perspective.I’m with Mel on the footnote. Of course, I’m a footnote kind of girl.

  2. I like your little starred point at the end of your post. I know with my little sister I think my mom had a difficult time dealing with her meeting her birth parents and was constantly asking her to basically choose between birth parents and adopted, for instance asking who she loved more daddy or … Thanks for all this, it’s helpful to see read all of this.

  3. I can imagine the turmoil Tessa has been dealing with with this reunion. I know my own reunion with my birth father caused turmoil and I was 26.You rock as a mom. Honestly, I think we could all learn a lot from your parenting skills.

  4. How you handle this stuff shocks me lady. Just shocks me. I really don’t think my brain works the way yours does to think of things like the footnote. Hey, I know! Why don’t you write a book? You seem to know so much? You have great insight? You could help so many who are afraid of how freaky open adoption sounds, because you’ve actually been there done that and aren’t just a talking head? Course that would be a lot of work and you’re a busy busy lady…

  5. I’ve got goosebumps and I’m crying. My boss can’t understand why I’m so emotional over paperwork. So busted.Lori, you and Rob are so amazing. DO NOT WAIT LONG TO POST.. YOUR CLIFFHANGERS ARE KILLIN’ ME!

  6. oh lori, this one gave me a lump in my throat, reading about those delicate moments before tessa bloomed open to greet joe. I love this story, and the telling. thank you for sharing your open hearted wisdom and compassion here. and lolly is right about the footnote.

  7. Lori,I am so touched by your story, your open-hearted telling, your honesty — the true mindfulness you really do have in approaching the lives of your children. I’m filled with awe and happiness for Reed and Tessa to have such a mom.They are very lucky,Love,Pam

  8. That footnote is what makes you such an incredible mother.And, of course, as a reader, it fills me with a bit of dread to see that all will change after the first of the year. That said, I always think it’s better to get the full picture–the good parts and the bad.

  9. What an amazing story! What beautiful loving parents Tessa has. Unfortunately open adoption (is that the right term?) is not allowed here in Portugal. Everything is done in a much more secretive way. Would you mind if I emailed you asking for more info on adoption in the US to share with the members of my association (Portuguese Fertiliy Association).thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story.Luv,RA

  10. Tessa, Reed, Rob, Crystal, Joe, they’re all lucky to have you in their lives. You are an amazing woman and I am completely in awe.

  11. Such a tricky situation. We imagined ourselves in this same place one day, but unfortunately our son’s bio-dad died rather suddenly. A shock since he was so young. Some good did come out of it since we were able to connect with his Mother (who had been kept in the dark about the pregnancy and subsequent adoption.) She has been a marvel – full of stories from her son’s childhood and pleased as punch that she has another bio-grandchild to spoil. The news made the loss of her son rather bitter-sweet. Can’t wait to see your next entry! I study faces too…but mostly because my own bio-parents were a complete mystery to me until just a couple years ago (I would look for similarities in every older woman and man I saw…always wondering.)

  12. Wow. I would love to sit down with you and explore so much more.Do you feel threatened at all (even though you don’t show it)? Do you wish YOU shared Tessa’s traits? Did Joe not want to let Tessa be placed for adoption? How does Tessa take in the complexities of it? Sure – it can seem so simple, but it isn’t really is it?I hung on every word. You are an inspiration to me in raising LB. I still haven’t figured how much Belinda should be in our lives. How much does it mean to have a genetic connection with someone you never knew – not even in the womb? I can’t wait to hear more. Someday, I would like to read Tessa’s blog (assuming some day she will follow your lead). I hope you are all doing well today.

  13. WOW. I had tears reading that one Lori! You navigate such complexities with sureness and grace, and it seems the people around you do too – or at least they respond in that way.A beautiful story. Thank you for sharing this one. And I like the mini-series style. I always rush to the punchline – it makes me a bad story teller and worse at jokes!

  14. Lori…your strength through this whole process is amazing to me. You are doing a wonderful thing.

  15. I can see how you would want your children to know their bio-parents so they don’t grow up with that longing of wanting to know and that getting in the way later. It’s sounds so simple, but as you have alluded to, it’s never that simple. I’m interested to hear how it all unfolded!

  16. Lori, you continually amaze me. This is a beautiful post, a beautiful series. I am waiting on pins and needles for the next post. Agh!

  17. Reading Kami’s questions make me want to know the same. They have come up in our own adoption discussions.

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