On April 14, we will celebrate one year of my son’s life. One amazing year filled with so many firsts: foods, crawls, steps, smiles, etc. Reflecting back over this past year makes me incredibly emotional, not only because my baby is becoming a toddler (I’ve tried to tell him to stop growing, but he just won’t do it!), but because, in addition to all of these firsts, my husband Nick and I added two new family members into our lives – my son’s birth (or first) parents.
Open adoption has been nothing short of amazing, but it’s not always been easy. This first year getting to know our son, we were also getting to know his birth parents. In an open adoption you find you’re jumping in with both feet without really knowing the other people. Of course, you know some intimate details about them and their thoughts on raising kids, but you might not know their favorite color, whether they are morning or night people, or their favorite foods. Here’s a written picture of our first year of open adoption.
When first meeting Katy and Lenny (our son’s birthparents), conversation came easily. It helps that Lenny can carry on a conversation with a brick wall . . . AND make it interesting! We were all nervous. (The social worker told us she was the only person at that table who wasn’t nervous.) But we quickly discovered a mutual love of the Cleveland Indians, laughed quite a bit at silly jokes (Lenny and Nick’s humor mostly), and discussed how similar we all are as couples. Katy and Lenny have told us since they feel like Nick and I are an older version of themselves. But, it’s a lot easier to talk about and make plans for a theoretical baby rather than a real live baby we can all touch and see.
After Vincent was born, emotions were very high. I can’t speak for everyone, but I imagine we were all questioning a lot. Is this right? Can we do this? What’s best for this beautiful baby boy? I remember a tear-filled moment in the hospital between Katy, Lenny, and I where Katy grabbed my hands and told me that Vincent was OUR baby. That she was at peace with her decision, and we were the ones who were going to parent this child. I told both of them that I know there will be times when we disappoint them or they disappoint us, but if we continue this relationship with Vincent at the center, then that was the best we could do.
When we brought Vincent home, I was questioning everything about open adoption. I wasn’t sure I wanted, or could, do what I’d verbally committed to—texts, picture updates, and visits. It was all very new and very strange. I loved these two relative strangers for allowing Nick and me to raise their child, but I was also terrified of them because what if they realized we weren’t perfect? What if they regretted their decision? What if we were a constant reminder of everything they could have had, and they resented us? Or wanted Vincent back? Or wanted a relationship with him we weren’t comfortable with? Playing the “what if” game never gets you anywhere, except perhaps into a higher state of anxiety.
I prayed so hard, and I knew I had to do what was best for my family while still honoring my moral obligation to open adoption. The first few months were awkward. Each time a visit was coming up I would be a nervous wreck. I wanted to be the perfect mom. I wanted everything to be magical, and I most definitely wanted Katy and Lenny to know I had this whole parenting thing down pat. “Of course I know what that cry means! I’d love nothing more than to change this poopy diaper. Yes, Vincent is only 6 weeks old but he’s already reciting Shakespeare sonnets and can do complicated math equations.” You get the picture . . .
With each visit my anxiety lowered because they were always so positive. We all had a mutual respect for each other, Katy and Lenny understanding and recognizing that Nick and I are Vincent’s parents, and Nick and I realizing that, in some way, Vincent was always going to be their little boy also. We started off meeting in public places—restaurants, parks, etc.—but quickly we realized that for this to be a real relationship, we were going to have to let go of our worries and really open ourselves up. We invited them over to our house in early December for a Christmas celebration.
At Christmas we talked about the difficulty of buying each other gifts. Like I said earlier, we knew so many personal details, but we’d only known each other for around eight months. We also talked a lot about how we were feeling regarding the adoption—sharing stories about the hospital stay, and even discussing the awkward nature of our first couple of meetings. I feel like Christmas was a turning point. After that visit, we really started becoming more comfortable with each other. During their next several visits, Katy and Lenny stayed well past the time when Vincent went to bed. We played games, talked, laughed, and just spent time hanging out as friends. One time the main reason they came over was to play with two puppies we were fostering. Seeing Vincent was just a bonus that day!
As we’re getting ready to celebrate our son’s first birthday, I think what I’ve learned about the first year of open adoption is that it’s less about getting to know our son, and more about getting to know each other. The better a relationship we have, the better we can help Vincent grow up in a family with an open adoption. I can honestly say I love Lenny and Katy. I love them as my son’s birth parents, but I also love them as friends. Open adoption is hard, but it is 100% worth it.