Including birth families in family pictures. Sounds simple, right? When we were in the adoption process, I imagined embracing our child’s roots and welcoming them into our lives. I imagined relishing pictures of our children with their entire family, adoptive and birth. I imagined displaying them in our home and using them for our Christmas cards. Happy pictures of his birth and adoptive families together at holidays and special events, where we were all laughing and smiling. And thin. I am always thin in my imagination!
We took lots of family photos when our son was a baby. Pictures of his birth mom and him, his birth mom and him and me, him with his birth and adoptive siblings and birth and adoptive grandparents and on and on. I could share a million. In fact, I have boxes of them in my basement because when we adopted him, Facebook and Instagram didn’t exist. We actually had to print our pictures. Crazy, I know!
We had our first visit 2 weeks after our son was born. I have pictures of his birth mom giving him one of his first real baths (his umbilical stump took forever to come off, but that’s another story) and of both of our extended families enjoying time spent together. Pictures of her with him right before he blew out his first birthday candle.
I love these pictures, but a professional photographer I am not. So they weren’t the type of pictures you would blow up to 8×10 and frame. Plus, somehow I never looked thin . . .
It wasn’t until our son was about three that his birth mom and I took all of our combined kids for professional pictures during one of her visits to see us. With five kids between us, ranging in age from six months to five years, the process kind of resembled herding cats. We got great shots of all of our kids and spent WAY more than the $9.99 package we initially went in for. People who don’t know and come into my home assume they are all related because they do favor one another (yes, this picture still sits framed on a shelf in my family room.) And while his birth mom and I weren’t planning on being in any pictures, and we were sweating from wrangling 5 kids and outfit changes, we did manage to get a shot that I will treasure forever.
So we had this whole “open adoption family photo” thing in the bag, right? I mean, I still didn’t look thin, but I am SURE the camera adds at LEAST 10 pounds, and we were rockin’ out lots of pics from visits, and everyone was happy.
Then we were asked to take a trip down to see them so our son could be in their family pictures.
I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why, but I was uncomfortable with the idea. I have always acknowledged that he isn’t “mine.” That he has another family. Another family who loves him very, very much. And they wanted him in their family pictures.
So we went. And while it did feel awkward to stand off to the side with our other two children for some of the pictures, I am thankful we did. Because now our son has a photo with his biological family.
Since this photo was taken (several years ago, I won’t share the date since there’s no need to make me still not thin AND old), I have talked to countless adoptive moms who have been asked to have their child take birth family photos. And most have reported having a similar reaction. It can feel unnerving. It can feel scary. It can make you feel like less of a mom, which let’s face it, many of us have struggled with that at some point while adopting our kids. That entitlement thing is tough!
But that’s when you need to BE your child’s mom. Acknowledge those unsure feeling. Know that they are normal. And then just do it. Unless it is truly an unsafe situation, take them for the pictures. It doesn’t REALLY hurt you to let your child to have pictures with their birth family. Being in an open adoption means stepping outside of your comfort zone at times. It means doing what is best for the child. Not yourself, not the birth family, but the kid. The one you ALL love.