It was like interviewing for my dream job, only way more important than that! I’ve never been more nervous in my entire life as the day my wife Amy and I met the birthparents of our daughter Madeline, or as we affectionately call her, Maddie. Just picture that instead of interviewing for your dream job, you’re interviewing for the actual physical dynamic of your family. That’s what it felt like. The very foundation of my family was on the line. What if they don’t like us? What if they think we’re not rich enough, successful enough, tall enough? Maybe they’re Yankees fans! Considering that my wife and I earn only a moderate income, are steadily employed but not high-powered executives by any means, delightfully diminutive, and die-hard Red Sox fans, all these things seemed to be legitimate concerns at the time.
Then they arrived. Maddie’s birthmother, birthfather, and four-year old big sister showed up looking just as nervous as we felt. Her birthmother, about five months pregnant with Maddie at the time, was still understandably struggling with the decision to choose adoption and visibly upset. As the adoptive dad-to-be, I needed to battle entire generations of genetic stoicism, overcome the very nature of my being, and get the conversation going. It was a tall order to fill.
There are plenty of anecdotes, archives, and analogies to be found concerning the relationship between adoptive moms and birthmothers, but not as much information about adoptive dads and birthfathers. It can be hard as an adoptive dad to know when you need to step in. This was clearly one of those times. With Maddie’s birthmother summoning all of her superhuman strength to get through what must have been the most difficult meeting of her life, and Amy trying to comfort her the best way she can, while also respecting her need to not make arbitrary chit-chat, it was up to the dads to get things going. As a fairly typical man of today, sometimes this can seem akin to fitting the proverbial square peg in the round hole.
I don’t remember how it happened, but I do recall Maddie’s birthfather and I miraculously began talking freely and easily. Maddie’s sister was quiet as a mouse, but seemed to warm up to me. This made it even easier for me to stop obsessing over trying to say the right thing, acting successful enough, and trying not to show anybody the Red Sox tube socks I had on.
From that moment on, the meeting went smoothly enough considering the circumstances. We were at a Chinese restaurant, and although I did little more than stir the same four or five grains of MSG lathered rice on my plate, Maddie’s sister ate impressively. To my amazement, I think she even ate crab legs and that arch-nemesis of children everywhere, broccoli. “She eats broccoli?” I quipped. Maddie’s birthfather just sort of smiled and responded, “She’s always been a pretty good eater.” From that moment on, he and I conversed almost naturally throughout the dinner.
After Maddie’s birth, I would have ongoing conversations with Maddie’s birthfather. It just seemed easier for us to keep the lines of communication open than force Maddie’s birthmother take on that responsibility in addition to everything else she had to deal with.
Maddie ended up being born almost 12 full weeks prematurely on Christmas Eve 2009 at just 2.2 pounds. Maddie’s birthfather and I had a few conversations during Maddie’s six-week stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Maine; including one especially memorable heart-to-heart by Maddie’s bedside the last time he saw her. Maddie pulled through her premature challenges as strong as anyone could imagine for such a tiny creature. She is now a happy, healthy, very active five-year old girl that Amy and I love unconditionally forever.
The question now is this: Although we technically have an open adoption, I haven’t spoken to Maddie’s birthfather since Maddie was just a few months old. As she continues to develop into this active, smart, and inquisitive little girl with a wonderfully goofy sense of humor, she is starting to ask questions about her adoption. I welcome advice or insight from anyone out there reading this on how Amy and I should approach this. Because the communication has always been left up to Maddie’s birthfather and myself, I think I am the one who may need to step forward. We don’t really have any contact information for them. I’m sure I could reach out on Facebook. Is now the right time for reconnecting? Am I better off waiting a little longer? Should I not attempt to reconnect unless Maddie expresses a desire to do so? These thoughts and more leave me pondering many possibilities, and I sure could use some helpful, thoughtful and supportive opinions. Thanks!