Tag Archives: adoption reunion

Reunion in Open Adoption 5: Things Fall Apart

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Joe (Tessa’s birthfather), who had been absent until she was 7, had fully integrated into our lives by the end of 2008. We had spent much of that year easing into a relationship with him. It culminated with visits in his home and visits in our own home. We were feeling pretty good about the process and the outcome.

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

birth fathers on father's day

Tessa had always had a relationship with her birth mom, Crystal. In fact, as Tessa became a grade-schooler, visits with Crystal — even solo visits (without Roger or me) — offered an invaluable intangible to Tessa. After just a few hours with Crystal, Tessa would become, somehow, refreshed and restored.

So we encouraged it. Tessa would see Crystal 8-10 times a year — much like you would a good friend or family member who lives 30 minutes away.

Crystal invited our family to her home on New Years Eve day. Tessa, Reed, and her son Tyler spent hours playing and giggling while Crystal and I worked on our projects. Crystal then cut and styled Tessa’s hair, giving her an AnnaSophia Robb look.

So it seemed natural a few days later, to respond affirmatively to Joe when he asked (after months of dropping hints) to spend an afternoon with Tessa. We felt comfortable with him, Tessa felt comfortable with him, we trusted him and his love for Tessa, as well as his ability to keep her safe from harm.

I asked Tessa if she’s like to hang out with Joe for a few hours, and she squealed with delight.

We set it up. We met for the exchange and planned to meet up again several hours later. I talked with Tessa about expectations (we always do this when approaching a social event) and about how I would call to check on her often. We came up with a code word for her to use if she wanted me to come get her.

When I did call (via Joe’s cell phone), each time she said she was having a GREAT TIME!!

After awhile we met to retrieve Tessa our two families had dinner together. I could see that she and Isabelle (Joe’s daughter) had bonded, and that Tessa was glowing. Nothing remarkable happened at dinner.

I asked about her afternoon on the drive home She shared only two specifics: (1) that Joe smoked cigarettes (she said this with a “yuck!” — we knew he smoked and had talked with Tessa about it) and (2) that he had a friend over. They called each other “Dude.”

All seemed well and I patted myself on the back for taking yet another successful step on the path of open adoption.


Two weeks later, at bedtime, Tessa began freaking out. “I DON’T WANT TO HAVE FOUR PARENTS!!” she said over and over. “MOM, TAKE AWAY ALL THESE PICTURES OF CRYSTAL AND JOE!” She climbed up to her shelf and nearly hurled selected photos at me. Before collapsing into an exhausted heap, she ended with “MOM, YOU CALL THEM BOTH TOMORROW AND TELL THEM I NEVER WANT TO SEE THEM AGAIN!”

Sometimes things don’t stick with my mercurial daughter. But in the morning, she asked me again, this time more calmly, to call Crystal and Joe and give them her message.

I figured she meant business, and also she was gauging how much control she had of the situation. While she was at school I called Joe and broke the news, thereby breaking his heart. He put on a brave face and said he was just happy to have had the time he did. I asked if he could think of any trigger from that day. He could not.

Exploring the only thread I had to pick at, I asked about his friend, “Dude.” Joe said Tessa was never out of his sight, and that “Dude’s” visit was very brief. He was at a loss for explaining her upset, and so was I.

When I picked up Tessa from school, her first question was if I had called her birth parents. I told her I reached Joe but not Crystal. Tessa replied, “I changed my mind. I think I can still see Crystal.”

She did not want to talk anymore, so I was left in the dark as to what may have happened to change her view so dramatically.

I believe Tessa does not currently have the cognitive and language skills to figure out and communicate the reasons for her unease. It was excruciating for me to not be able to help her, and to not know what was the what. ExCRUCiating.

We had to sit in that uncomfortable place for awhile.

Next and final episode: What Was the What

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

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

birth fathers on father's day

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?”


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.