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

birth fathers on father's day

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

20 thoughts on “Reunion in Open Adoption 6: What Was the What”

  1. Thanks for sharing your story. You are a brave woman, I don’t think I could do what you are doing.You show through your writings that you are a great mom!

  2. I’m so glad you were able to figure it all out, & that Tessa has contact with him again. Thanks for sharing with us — I think we all learned something here!

  3. Thank you for educating me by sharing your daughter’s experience. Tessa is lucky to have such love and support in her life. My cousin has three grown daughters through open adoption, there was no ongoing relationship even though it was an option. I think open adoption has evolved in the last 25 years.

  4. Thank you for sharing, Lori. I really feel like a have a better understanding, if only a glimpse, of how challenging and rewarding open adoption can be.

  5. I’d like to say “and they lived happily ever after (even with all of life’s challenges, little and big)”, but that just sounds kinda corny. so I will say that this is such an amazing story, lori. thank you so much for sharing it here for everyone to learn from your experience and wisdom.

  6. What I love most about this post (aside from the fact its written by you, of course) is the mindfulness with which you approach your life — and the ability to step back and see the experience through Tessa’s eyes — what a gift for your daughter.XOPam

  7. Very intuitive for you (and your sis) to realize Tessa’s world was just suddenly too big and too strange.I am so glad it wasn’t the worst thing you could imagine. I’m glad things are continuing in a positive way too.I think it is great that Tessa recognized she had to back away and was able to communicate it to you in the best way she knew how. Those are great life skills.Thanks for sharing.

  8. I am so glad y’all figured it out and it was relatively easy to handle. {{{Hugs}}} and thank you for sharing.

  9. Thanks for sharing your story of open adoption. It has really opened my eyes to the possibilities and also the sensitivities that need to be navigated. Yes, you and your husband are brave to sail these uncharted waters!

  10. Life can be overwhelming — the understatement of the century, no? Just having you, your husband, your sister…and so so many others to help your daughter figure it out — that’s what will help provide perspective — that and a little time to make sense of it all…

  11. I’m so glad you have been writing this. I just wrote a very long comment, but it didn’t make sense. 🙂When I have time I’ll email.

  12. Although the issues that I will have to grapple with alongside my future child(ren) will be different in many ways, reading this story has really challenged me to think deeply about how to handle openness as a family. We plan to be completely open with our child about his or her origins, but I hope that we will be able to respond to our child’s need for answers and information with as much compassion and thoughtfulness as you’ve shown, Lori. Thank you so much for sharing your family’s story here.

  13. Wow–another point I had never considered: how open adoption is a peek into the road not taken. And how different that would be seeing it as a child or a teenager or an adult.

  14. I find myself questioning my parenting decisions on a daily basis. One of many is wether our decision to wait until Tyler is older and can decide for himself if he wants contact with his first parents is a good one. Sadly, his first dad died last year so now that meeting will never take place. Would contact with his first mom be good for him? For her? My first instinct is to say no, not a good idea. But I’m just not sure. Then I read your perspectives here and see that there are positives and negatives to contact, just as there are positives and negatives to no contact. It just reinforces the fact that there is no clear path. No “right way” and “wrong way” in parenting. You just adapt to situations and personalities as best you can and do a lot of praying that you don’t screw up too badly. 🙂

  15. Great post, Lori.I feel positively relieved.I would imagine a sense of the implications of “The Road Not Taken” would be terrifying to confront for a 7 year old. That’s pretty big. I suppose she’ll be revisiting it a number of times in her life…though it occurs to me this sort of crisis is not limited to adoptees.How wonderful that Tessa lives in a family who knows her so intimately and cares so deeply about how the world looks through her eyes.

  16. I loved this series that you’ve posted about your experience bringing Joe into your lives. There is so much important information contained in these posts. The framework that you’ve worked out for your family with the open adoptions is really interesting, and I think a very positive thing for your children, in the long run.

  17. WOW. I just read this series and can confidently say that your blog is one of THE best resources of open adoption out there (at least from what I’ve come across).

    Thank you for sharing this amazing story. I hope that Tessa has worked through her feelings as best as she can and is secure in her relationship with Joe,

  18. I am so glad that everything worked out. Contact with birthparents only goes well when everyone is comfortable with it. Good for you guys!

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