My J was five and I was saying goodbye again. Policy at that time with our agency had only allowed for five years of very limited correspondence, facilitated by the agency, without identifying information disclosed to either party.
I can’t remember how soon after communication discontinued that I had the first nightmare. The circumstances would change, but always, I would somehow cross paths with the adoptive family and discover that they didn’t want me. I was a nuisance or not trusted and they wanted to be rid of me. It contradicted everything that real life had told me. All of their interactions with me had been so genuinely gracious and so very kind and had expressed loving gratitude and admiration. But in the absence of these communications, my subconscious entertained my worst fear, a few times a year, for several years.
Lets skip ahead. J was 15 and a friend of mine told me she could find his family. I told her “good luck,” as if I hadn’t been trying all of these years. But she was a genius and through her job had access to databases that I didn’t (shhh). It seems like it took over 2 hours, but miraculously, we found them. I cry-laughed. This was the answer to years of prayers and it WAS a miracle. So why then, when I got in my car to go home, did I feel a heavy, menacing sadness fall over me? I was so confused at how I could possibly be feeling anything but rejoicing. I didn’t understand it, but I felt as though I was sad for him. I told myself that I was just projecting, as adolescence was such a hell for me, and assured myself that he was fine.
I determined that I would write his parents. I would make myself available for to whatever degree and in whatever capacity they thought best. I would tell them that as much as my heart missed them and longed to reconnect, what I wanted MOST was STILL what was best for J and that I trusted them still to know what that was.
And a year and a half later, I finally did. I thought almost daily about which words I should use and imagined every possible outcome. All along, I was stalkin’. I think I checked his FB more often than I checked my own email. I began the letter a hundred times. Every week and month I kicked myself that I still hadn’t contacted them. I was afraid—afraid I wouldn’t say it right, afraid that they would misunderstand me and feel threatened, afraid (against reason) that my nightmare would become real. In hindsight, I can’t think of what I regret more than taking counsel from my fears and not having had the faith to follow the inspiration that had come to me from every direction, that I needed to reach out.
The inner nudging became more urgent and I felt he needed me NOW and I finally sent the letter do his dad’s Facebook. I had assured them that I would accept and be at peace with whatever they decided, but requested that either way, they please respond to and let me know they’d received it and what they’d decided.
Time passed. And then enough time passed that I knew they weren’t just “thinking about it.” They weren’t writing back. I was really amazed and grateful to find myself at peace, albeit incredibly disappointed. I’d said I would trust them to do what was best and now I had to put my money where my mouth is. I had done what was in my power and it was all I could do. But then a friend asked if is there was a checkmark below the message on Facebook. I hadn’t been aware that any Facebook message that’s been received would have this checkmark. There was no checkmark . . . he hadn’t seen it! I hadn’t been rejected! I then learned about the “other” box, where messages from strangers go.
I had hesitated to send something to their house. I wanted to be as little intrusive as possible, but that was now the only option. I printed out 17 years of pictures in case they were as curious as I was and sent the letter old-school. Three weeks passed. And then, an email! I’d fantasized a hundred times over the years about that email miraculously being in my inbox and now it was! I had written a lot. Too much (like I do).
The response was short and sweet and it was written by J’s father. His mom had always written me before. He thanked me for writing and for the pictures, gave me a very vague and brief update on their family, and then concluded with, “P.S. Why don’t you just contact J directly? I think he’d like that.” I had waited an agonizing year and a half out of foolish fear and it had just been that simple. I hate it. I can’t help feeling I missed some opportunity.
Yet . . . again, I waited. Not a year and a half this time, though. Just three more weeks. I composed my introduction again and again and thought constantly about what to say. How do you start that conversation?! I was so close to sending a Facebook message saying, “Hey, you used to be in my uterus. How ya been since then?” But I was forbidden by some confidants.
I get home from an eight-day expedition in the wilderness determined to just do it already! I arrive home at 1 am and decide to see what I’ve missed on Facebook in the last week instead of going to bed. I see I have a friend invite. I click it . . . It’s him. I’M FREAKING OUT! I quickly start composing an eloquently-worded, elaborate, heartfelt hello, but before I can get through my first paragraph, a chat window pops up. “Hello,” he says.
I say, “Dude, we have the same nose.” And just like that we chat until the sun comes up like we’d known each other forever. So very irresponsible of me, but I just couldn’t end the conversation! I’d waited so long and I didn’t know what would happen from here!
I ask him “J . . . what’s up with your mom? Why didn’t she write?” He tells me that she had a stroke when he was six or seven and had lost much of her personality and mental function. I am in utter devastation but he obviously did not want to dwell on the details, so with a broken heart and tears in my eyes, we move on. I begin to learn that my boy isn’t happy, he’s very lost really. I would come to know the extent of his unhappiness and confusion over the next weeks and months.
We finally say “goodnight” and I fall asleep for a couple of hours.
I wake up crying. Not like I was dreaming I was crying—my real face had real tears on it. I had woken from a dream of J as a little boy so confused and afraid and in such turmoil. I composed myself and went upstairs to tell my sister about the events of the night. I don’t think three words came out before I was bawling, but not like normal bawling. I remember crying like this, to this same sister actually, a couple weeks after placement. My heart hurt so so so so badly, I couldn’t take it. My three-year-old nephew hides behind his mom’s legs and goes, “Mom, is that Tam?”
I compose myself enough to say, “It’s okay, baby. I’m just sad.” I feel like I didn’t stop crying for weeks. I had hastily put it on blast (like I do) on my Facebook that “I HAVE AN OPEN ADOPTION” toward the beginning of our conversation. Everybody wanted to know everything and normally I would have loved to tell them. But I was so thrown and so utterly confused that I couldn’t talk about it. It was too sad. And I hadn’t even begun to process.
This was a scenario, out of the hundreds, that I had never imagined. Reunification was going to be resolution, payoff. I’d had peace all along and I’d felt so much gratitude, but it had also been so hard and so painful. I thought after reunion, the bitter-to-sweet ratio would finally become exponentially more sweet.
I have felt so many dejavu emotions. Reunification has brought back a lot of what I experienced at placement. Please understand that I am so grateful to know them! This has been the hardest thing in 18 years, but just like placement, I wouldn’t change it. I was dating a guy who said, “That relationship isn’t healthy, it upsets you so much,” but if we only kept the relationships that didn’t upset us, we’d miss the best ones.
My J, after disclosing to me some of the details of his self-loathing, began to beat himself up over it. “How selfish of me to burden you! I shouldn’t tell you that stuff!”
I told him, “It has hurt to love you since you got here, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. No matter what happens, no matter what you do, and no matter how much it hurts, it will always be worth it to love you.” Am I glad he’s hurting? Of course not. I have cried more in this last year than in the several preceding it. I think about and pray for them constantly. I wish it were in my power to fix everything! But I accept the package.
I didn’t know when I placed him that there would be unpredictable, unpreventable tragedy in his formative years, and that he wouldn’t know how precious and lovable he is. But God knew, and He still had me send J home. If I have ever been lead to anything, I was lead to J’s parents. It was the clearest confirmation and most powerful divine intervention of my life. He is theirs for better or for worse. I have expressed that confidence to him and his father. There are no guarantees with families, adoptive or biological. There are no guarantees with life! But he is where he is supposed to be. My traumatic childhood was right for me, I’ve grown from it, built on it, and I wouldn’t change anything. His troubles are right for him and this moment is only a snapshot. Adolescence is still only the beginning and, for many of us, the worst part. He was my intervention, his will come too.
Supporting the Family
I would do just about anything to have him somehow know the dynamic, engaging, generous, creative mother that he can’t remember. But when she couldn’t give him a body, I did. When I couldn’t give him a father and maturity, preparation, and experience, she did. Now, she can’t counsel, comfort and encourage him and tell him the powerful soul he is, so again, it’s my turn. It’s an honor to be partnered with that woman I love so dearly. She loved him for us both and now I do. I strongly feel that my being in his life is right. I think it does him good to know from me that he was perfect and precious when he came and that he was only ever loved. And to see that I’m still here, I really mean it, and he’s really worth it, and I’m really invested. I always thought open adoption was best, but I looked at it as a bonus. I see it differently now. I feel strongly that adopted children need access to their birth moms.
I leave the ball in his court for the most part. I dated a guy a few years ago who’d felt so burdened, obligated, and put upon when his birth mom came into his life. She’d wanted him to heal her, to fill the hole in her heart, and to pick up where they’d left off. I never wanted J to feel that way. I know his soul, but I was a stranger to him a year ago. Adoption has been the defining event of my life, but in his life, it’s a non-event. I knew it wouldn’t be for him what it was to me. I have to remind myself that, just as it was when he came, it still isn’t about me. Placement wasn’t and reunification isn’t. My loss, my disappointments, my fears and insecurities are mine and not his to deal with. I’ve observed that the more and better we’ve dealt with those things before reunification, the better prepared we are for the relationship.
I’m glad that I approached his parents first and left it in their hands. I have all along the way, checking in with his dad to ask how I can best support their family and what role he would like me to fill. He doesn’t say much, but I feel he knows that I don’t intend to be “mom” or displace them in anyway. He trusts me and that means a lot.
A year later, I am still processing, but I still love adoption. I still choose my choice, I still love that family, and I am going to see them for the first time in 18 years for his birthday this month! Wish us luck!
Are you considering adoption and want to give your child the best life possible? Let us help you find an adoptive family that you love. Visit PregnancyHotline.org or call 1-800-GLADNEY.
Did you like this story? It’s actually a part of our FREE eBook, Reunited, which contains the stories of nineteen remarkable people and their own experiences of search and reunion. You’ll learn about the process and gain some advice from real people who have been there, done that. Get it here.