I am abundantly passionate about open adoption, and about giving birth mothers the choice to decide how open they want a relationship to be. After all, this is her child that she is entrusting to someone else, at the very least she deserves to decide that how she wants to maintain contact! I have listened to heartbroken birth moms recount stories of what they were promised: a chance to know their child, birthdays together, phone calls and updates, only to be ghosted as soon as the termination paperwork was signed. I have sat with adoptive parents and listened to beautiful stories of involvement from birthparents, of getting to know birth mom and birth dad, of their child getting to have four parents who know and love them and are actively involved in their lives. I have sat with friends who are adoptees who have been able to maintain relationships with their own birthmothers, and have heard them talk about what a gift it is to be able to look into the eyes of someone who looks like them, to have access to their medical history, and to be able to process the trauma of their adoption with the person who made the choice to place them.
95% of expectant moms want to make an open adoption plan, even if they want limited contact. I stepped into adoption process with high hopes and a commitment to fight for openness. I read books, listened to podcasts, spoke with friends about the highs and lows, and I was fully committed. Even our adoption book that was showed to expectant mothers was filled it with our hopes to have an open relationship and promises we fully intended to keep about involvement and contact. When our daughter was born, though, her birthmother chose differently. She is part of the 5% of birth moms who want no contact for a reason that I may never know. She was discharged from the hospital before we were able to be there to meet our shared daughter. I have never met her, I have no phone number, no address, no way of contacting her. Though our adoption is “open” it feels entirely closed.
Truthfully, this has been incredibly difficult for all of us to process. I had dreams of ballet recitals and preschool graduations and birthday parties sitting next to the woman who chose me to parent her child, but that hasn’t been my reality.
So how do I reckon with this reality of ours? And how do I talk to my child about it? It hasn’t been easy, and just like we’ve had to mourn the separation of our kiddo from biological mom, we’ve had to continue to mourn her absence. Even in her absence, though, we speak of her often and highly. We remind our daughter regularly that her eyes are identical to her birthmother’s, that the curls on her head and her adorable button nose come from the woman who carried her for 9 months before choosing us to parent her. We have one photograph of her from when she was in labor, and it is framed in our daughter’s room for her to admire whenever she wants. We kept everything we could find at the hospital that her birth mom had touched and anything that had her name on it, and we keep them safely in a box that she can look through whenever she wants to feel connected to her. We’re honest with our daughter, we tell her that we love her birth mom deeply, and that we don’t know why she’s chosen no contact. I can speculate all I want about why she chose adoption and why she’s chosen a closed adoption, but I don’t have answers that I know to be true.
I have spent more than a few hours sharing tears with my daughter over their separation, over an openness that we wish existed that just doesn’t. We hope that one day this won’t be our story, that one day her birthmother will reach out and we’ll be able to know her.
Adoption is messy, and I won’t pretend to know all the answers. I wonder most days if I’m doing enough, if I’m making the right choices, if I’m trauma informed enough, etc. Adoption starts with trauma and brokenness, and an open adoption wouldn’t change that. Adoption is a dichotomy: sorrow and joy. And I have the massive privilege of helping my daughter carry those two weighty things. Even if we never get the chance to look into the eyes of this woman to whom we owe so much and whom we love so dearly, we will continue to honor her by speaking of her often, by speaking highly of her, and by fiercely loving the daughter she entrusted to us.