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My Son Processes a New Layer of his Adoptedness

Adam Pertman told the story (which I’m paraphrasing, perhaps badly) at last month’s Open Adoption Symposium of a conversation with his teenage son one night.

Keeping the lines of communication open, Adam stepped into his son’s room and asked, “Son, how often do you think about adoption?” Without looking up, the son simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “Not much.”

Adam thought for a moment. Trying again to open a conversation, he rephrased: “What I meant to ask was, how often do you think of your birth mom?”

The teen barely look up and responded, matter-of-factly, “Oh. All the time.”

Adam Pertman teared up as he told us. For his son’s loss.


Reed is now closer to age 9 than to age 8. It’s always seemed that he’s smooth-sailing and resilient, able to roll with life’s punches and not have “issues.”

But I was not wholly surprised that some revelatory conversations came up this weekend. I expect that as my children grow they will, at stages, deepen their understanding of their adoptedness through wondering and questioning. And I will encourage this every chance I get.

Just before bedtime one night, Reed and I read entries from his new Guinness Book of World Records and marveled at crazy human feats. We put the book down to cuddle, just the two of us, in his parents’ bed.

adoption heart

“Do you think often about Michele?” I opened the door.

“Yeah. A lot.”

A moment later: “Mom, why did Michele give me away? And how did you and Daddy become my parents?”

“Well,” I scanned the archives of my memory for advice I’ve read by and for adoptees on how best to proceed. I began to cover the details that led Michele to choose adoption all those years ago.

“Uh hunh,” Reed said, encouraging me. He’d heard his story before.

“She was going to college and wasn’t really prepared to take care of ANY baby right then. She had to scramble to figure out how to do that — take care of a baby while finishing up school. She tried really hard to take care of you, but she just couldn’t figure out how to be a mom right then.”

“Did you know her before that?” my son asked.

“No. We met her after she went to the same agency we did and picked us to be your new parents.”

“When did you meet her?”

“The first time we met it was just Michele and Daddy and me at the agency. It was a time for her to check us out. It was a big decision for her, and she took it very seriously. WHO could she entrust her beloved son to? The agency called us later that evening to say that Michele had decided on us, and that we could come back the next day to meet our son. And bring him home.”

I paused to read his body, still nestled against mine. I knew that he was present with me, with the story.

“The next day we drove back to the agency, but this time Grandma and Grandpa and Tessa were also invited. It was the first time we saw you and boy, were we happy! You were so adorable and loveable. Michele brought her three best friends. We all met in a conference room for an Entrustment Ceremony.”

“What’s that?”

“That’s where Michele entrusted you into our care.”

“Tell me about that.”

“Well…” I knew that this coming part was likely to hurt. I breathed and became conscious of my breath. “Michele was holding you. The lady running the meeting said a prayer for Michele and a prayer for AJ [first father], who wasn’t able to be there. There was a prayer for Daddy and me and, of course, a prayer for the baby — you — who joined everyone in the room together.”

“Then what?”

I breathed again. “Then Michele placed you in my arms.”

My son then let out one whimper. His small body sobbed one time. I held him more tightly (but not too tight) and stroked his shoulder, arm, side, leg. “I know, baby.” I breathed deeply, willing him to, as well.

I abided with him for a moment, simply giving him the space to feel what he was feeling. Then his sister entered the room and asked what we were talking about and would I tell her about her story, too?

Reed and I would continue our conversation the next day… (tune in for part 2).

Image: digitalart /

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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54 Responses

  1. I don’t know what to say. I cried through most of that. So much wisdom, compassion, love, pain, understand and confusion in such a short post. Thank you for sharing that sacred moment with all of us so that we may learn from it and ourselves be more wise, compassionate, loving and understanding.

  2. I do love how Adam shared his personal story for all of us to realize it’s not what we ask, but how we ask it … I love how you talked with your son and heard him with the little bit of spoken word he used … you spoke with him with grace and I hope to find the same grace with my girls as we continue to delve into their stories as they get older. Thank you for sharing as you do best!

  3. Oh wow, tears for Reed here too. You handled it beautifully. I’m so glad he has you to help him through.

    Adam shared the same story here and I think it says so much.

  4. As I was reading your tear-jerking post, I kept thinking there must have been something wrong with me because I don’t remember my birth mother being in my thought process as a little girl. But then again, at only the age of 6, I had experienced even more loss with my adoptive parent’s bitter divorce. Looking back I can see where my two brothers and I each processed “loss” differently.

    I was a child who expressed enormous unhealthy gratitude, while trying to suck up what I was really feeling deep down inside. I used to leave notes on my adoptive mother’s pillow thanking her for adopting me. What I took away from your experiences Lori is that regardless if it’s open adoption or not, make it safe for your child to talk about what’s on their minds, even they are struggling to verbalize their feelings. I would imagine if a psychologist were to have read in between the lines in my notes back then, I needed some help processing loss.

    I admire you my friend; thank for sharing!

    1. I doubt anyone will see this as it was posted in 2011, the original poster, of this comment, I mean. I was a major suck-up I always left notes thanking my adoptive mother for putting up with me. Sad, when I think about it. I wasn’t able to be real or authentic, just grateful and afraid.

      1. I hope you will see my reply Lenore. My good friend, Lori, who wrote the original blog post shared with me that you had left a comment. Thank you for sharing your feelings; it helps to not feel so alone. Apparently, you and I were both “major suck-ups!” You are the first adoptee I’ve heard ever say that they also left notes thanking their adoptive mother. I wonder why we did that. I don’t believe I knew what real and authentic was in my family. Take care!

  5. This brought tears to my eyes. I’m not sure why it overwhelmed me so greatly, but I think it was the beauty of how he was allowed to felt the magnitude of emotion that occurred at that moment.

    Your open adoption and your openess approach with your children also brings me to tears.

    I am thankful for women (and couples) like you.

  6. That must have been a really hard moment for you, to hold Reed’s pain in one hand, and your own in another, and not to cover his up with your own. What an amazing moment as Reed’s mom, to sit with him in that.

  7. Lori,

    Once again, you do such a lovely job of sharing the growing pains of your family. We’re a few years behind you, but I’ll be holding you in my thoughts as I enter those conversations. And thanks to you and to Adam for reminding us that there’s so much depth to be found in being creative & open-hearted in our questions.


  8. wow Lori, that is emotional for me to read..I can’t imagine how it is to tell Reed that story. when he sobbed I felt those emotions with both of you, but in the midst of itall of these emotional places you do what you do with grace. You show me how adoption works, how it affects a family and a heart that loves two moms, that struggles to understand without direspecting the arms that took it in and gave it wings to grow and the knowledge of how much he was wanted. as always. I stand in awe and complete respect of you. the thing is like any child they want to know where they came from. I ask my mom every year to tell me the story of my birthdate and I will continue to do that until neither one of us can remember. wow, this just touched me. thank you for that.

  9. I confess, I had to read quickly so this didn’t sting too much. I’ll need to sit down and focus on this again another day, when I’m not feeling so fragile. But Quiet Dreams expressed what I would like to say so beautifully. Can I just ditto her? I am constantly amazed at your wisdom and grace, Lori, and hope that I have at least a smidge of it when children come into our lives, however that may be.

  10. Wow — I read this and found my mouth dropping open. I think you did brilliantly — letting his emotions lead the conversation. And while you must have had an emotional reaction too, keeping it in check in the moment so you could be there for him. Now I’m waiting for part 2.

  11. Oh Lori, that is such a delicate story. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I’m sure hoping that Reed finds some peace and understanding as he is able to process this information. So far, it sounds beautiful. Difficult for him I’m sure, but hopefully he will be able to focus on the immense love for him from all parties. As always, thank you for modelling these kinds of intimate conversations with our children.

  12. You handled that so well! My kids are younger than yours, so we haven’t had these kids of conversations yet. Part of me is dreading when they start to ask why they don’t live with their parents anymore. That will be a hard conversation to have.

  13. I’m a grown adoptee myself and this entry shows that what I’ve always said is true. Tell your children the story from they are very little then I’ll never become weird to them in the degree it might otherwise.

    Of course you’ll have questions and of course you should answer them as much as you can. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to subject a child to the birthmother as well at this stage. That should be a concious choice, when grown up in my view. Otherwise I feel you add to the confusiion.

  14. My comment keeps getting eated up. Anyway.

    I loved this post.

    And I read this ““Mom,” he continued, “do you think I could try living with her for a week or a month or something?” and wondered: are there open adoptions that work more like shared custody/visitation?

    I realize that it’s not the way things are in your family, but do some other families have open adoptions that are similar to the situation of a child with divorced (and possibly remarried) parents?

    1. I’ve responded to the rest of you privately, but I wanted do acknowledge Niobe’s question here.

      I don’t know of any shared custody adoption arrangements, but if people wanted to work that out, they would be free to do so. Legally, though, I suppose the law favors having just one set of legal parents. Hmmmm….needs research.

      Some adoption reform activists I’ve read advocate for legal guardianship but not full adoption, until the time the birth parents can take over parenting.

      Interesting question!

  15. It ia so me to know what to say to my adopted children, as they came through the foster care system. They were not lovingly surrendered, but taken from parents who were drug addicted, mentally ill, neglegent, and abusive (one, some or all of the above, depending on which of my 4 children you are talking about). Do I tell them the terrible truth? How do you tell a child her mother was starving her in order to get social security money? My oldest, whose mother was terribly mentally ill, and was herself ain the foster system for family abuse issues was told that her mom was too young to parent until she was 17, and than I came clean with the sad story of the sweet, but terribly ill teenager. Her’s is the ‘best’ story. None of my kids have ‘known’ fathers. I so wish I could say “Your mom loved you so much she gave you to me because she knew I’d love you to pieces and give you the life she couldn’t”…

    1. Hi, Allison. Your question is a tough one. I can tell how much you love your kids and want them to always feel loved.

      I would recommend listening to adult adoptees — a wide range of them. From Andy at to Jeni at to the forum at — you may not agree with or like what you read, but if you listen open enough and often enough you may find answers.

      To answer yours specifically, though, I would say to always err on the side of truth, age-appropriately. Your kids need to know that every. single.word you say is true. When you do tell the hard stuff, envelop them in love and be open to deep wisdom. Also, see the strength and resilience of your children. They need to see that reflected back to them.

      I would love it if any other readers have ideas on this.

  16. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that moment. From this side of the table – where we have kidlet’s friends who are adopted with varying degrees of openness from their parents, this whole process is often a mystery. But it just seems like you are giving him the room to have the emotions out in the open… and that’s so hard when you’re a kid no matter what the subject. Teary and echoing everyone else. This is beautiful and you are the best kind of mom… one who listens and supports with her heart..

  17. Oh Lori – you handle these things so beautifully. It must be heart-wrenching…A moment of great joy for you and your husband is also a terrible, horrible moment (yet filled with hope) for others. And Reed has yet to really experience that moment until now. Mixed emotions all over the place. I’m sure you’ve been getting ready for this for a long time. I’m also sure it hurt to hear him ask if he could live with Michelle too. This is why I say it takes a special person to have an open adoption.

  18. Oh, dear friend, you must be aching with pain that your baby boy is torn and hurting. Your writing about this made me cry and cry, I can only imagine how hard it is for you and for him. I loved that you shared this most intimate of moments with us. Thank you for your trust.

  19. You handle everything with such grace.

    It must have been hard for Michele, and I hope that this conversation ended with Reed and you knowing each other innately better.

    Many many hugs.

  20. I wonder if part of Reed’s question about spending a week with Michele is that his sister has had sleepovers at each of her birth parents’ homes, but he never has. That Tessa knows Crystal so very well but Reed barely knows Michele.

    Adoptees are in such a strange place, to be so desperately loved and wanted — more than most children — but also to have been rejected in some profound way. And, in Reed’s case, to have been loved and rejected by the same person.

    Tessa and Reed are so lucky to have you as their guide through the worlds of emotions and relationships.

  21. Oh, Ms.Lori–I keep hoping as I read your blog that I will be able to channel a little bit of you as my daughter grows older and we have these conversations. She’s only 8 months old, but there are days I cry for her and the grief I know that she will eventually feel. I wish I could magically make it so she wouldn’t have to feel it! I’m sure that’s something most other adoptive parents can understand…There are things I know will give her pain down the road, even if that pain will probably give way to understanding later on, and I find myself hoping that I will know the “right” words when the time comes. Thank you so much for sharing and letting us all know we’re not alone!

  22. I was holding my breath for this entire post. As we start to talk about adoption, I realize how much I would want to be open without being open (does that make sense?) My mom was adopted, and my grandma told her that they had no info on her birth mom. My mom wasn’t curious at all, except for the medical info, as she has lupus. When my grandma died, my mom found her actual birth certificate in the safety deposit box…and it was like a kick to the stomach…so much goes into adoption and I’m overwhelmed. But it is so beautiful, and I love how you navigate through this journey. Thank you for sharing with us!

  23. “Then what?”

    I breathed again. “Then Michele placed you in my arms.”

    WOW. Typing through my tears…

    I read this, your incredibly moving post, earlier this week on my phone and have been meaning to return to read it again and comment.

    You handle these moments and situations so well and I am so very proud of you. Tessa and Reed are blessed to have you as their mother.

    My sister is preparing to adopt another baby soon and already we have been discussing the “differences” between her daughter’s birth mother and the birth mother of her daughter-to-be. We can foresee already that the two open adoption experiences will likely be very different for everyone involved, since the two birth mothers’ backgrounds and current situations are so different. We have especially been talking about what it will be like for the two sisters to think about their own birth mothers in comparison to the other one’s, not that they would be encouraged to compare… But you get the idea.

    Anyway, this is another one of those posts that I love where the blog entry is just awesome and the discussion in the comment section is equally interesting and thought provoking. I look forward to reading and commenting on Part II. xoxo

  24. Oh, Lori… I can picture this. As you know, I’ve had very similar experiences and conversations with my kiddos. Hugs to both (all) of you. Thank you for sharing.
    I do remember when Adam was sharing this story with all of us. A hush came over the room; boy, did it resonate with me.

  25. Wow. I so wish my son had a story like this. I wish I could say someone lovingly placed him in our arms. Instead he was ripped from bioparents, ripped from extended family, then taken from foster parents, too. It’s not pretty.

    God bless you for being so open with your child and helping him through the pain. I know our day for that will come.

  26. Wow! With tears running down my face, I can’t stop thinking about how eloquent and beautiful this post is. From this post alone, I can only imagine how wonderfully adjusted your children must be and how they will continue to be so as they grow up.

  27. Here from Creme and crying. What an amazing journey your family has been on! I hope that 2012 brings your family continued healing, peace, and love.

  28. Here from the Creme. This post is amazing. Thank you for sharing it with us. My sister has two daughers through adoption and this post had me in tears.

  29. Found you via Creme de la Creme. Made the mistake of reading this while I was at work and I sat at my desk reading, tears running down my face. Good thing I have a cold and could blame my “watery eyes” on sinuses. This is awesome – I love the amount of love and respect you have in your relationship and that you aren’t afraid to tackle the hard things.

  30. I applaud you that you keep open conversations available for your children. I’ve often felt it was so sad when a parent felt threatened by questions of adoption by their children. You are very wise and your children are very fortunate to have you and your husband as parents.

  31. Just came over from Creme de la Creme
    This post was something I needed to read at this very exact moment….I’m in tears but feel like I have learned so much just by your few words! Thank you!
    Simply beautiful!

  32. Wow, I like how you allow your kids to feel whatever they are feeling. There is pain in adoption for the adoptee and so many adoptive parents do not understand that. They want the child to just be happy because they have a new family now.
    My other thought? If adoption is about the child, then why not consider letting your child stay with his bioligical mom for awhile? He has lost so much of her already, why not give him some of that time? If she is open to it, then why not? I am a biological mother and I think about my kids all of the time. I am older now and would love it if they could come stay with me for a week or two during the summer or if I could have had a joint parenting plan put into place. Unfortunately the adoption agency worker was not looking out for my best interest long term or short term and I am dealing with a disaster of an adoption with my youngest son. I have older children I placed as infants and enjoy a friendship with the adoptive mom and dad. I visit when I can( they live several states away), call, write email. My kids want to come visit me( ages 10 and 13), but their adoptive parents say they have to wait until they are 18. That’s the part of adoption I hate. I try to imagine what I would do if I was an adoptive parent in your situation or other adoptive parents. I would be willing to do whatever it took for those kids. And I could never think of them as only mine, or be jealous, posessive or insecure. I would encourage the biological family relationship.
    On a seperate note, the adoptive parents of my youngest son used to let me see him every week or two for the first 6 months of his life. I would babysit, join the family for Christmas Eve and thought we were building a beautiful friendship, despite the fact I was completely manipulated and pressured to place my son for adoption. I thought I could at least bear the pain as long as things were going well. Shortly after the adoption finalized, the couple wrote me and said that going forward, they did not want me to call and ask to get together. They would call me. The visits became less and less frequent and now they have forbid any kind of contact

    1. Hi, Andrea. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

      I suppose the biggest reason we haven’t “let” our children stay for an extended period of time with their birth parents is that there hasn’t been an invitation to do so. We also haven’t let our children stay for an extended period of time with other extended family members. They all have their own things going on, but if any of them were to extend an offer, we would consider it. We would weigh the benefits of spending extended time with an important family member with the possible costs of being uprooted and possibly feeling “sent away.” The decision would depend on so many things.

      I am so sorry for the way the adoption with your youngest has turned out. I can tell it’s very hard on you and I suspect it’s also hard on your son.

  33. Thank you for sharing such a delicate, personal moment as your post models important practices: truth telling, openness, honesty and allowing/validating your son’s pain/loss without minimizing or trying to make it better. You are a light for all of us.

  34. Bittersweet reading.
    I’m happy for authenticity allowing intimacy between you and your child. Although, visualizing this scenario, the ritual itself would have been enough to shake me out of my numbness and take my baby home. More tears.

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