Well before my daughters reached the age of reason (which I mark as the Easter Sunday they refused to wear those adorable matching dresses), their adoptions were a regular part of the daily conversation in our kitchen, right up there with nail polish and ponies and the tooth fairy. Lucky for us, in our community they were surrounded by children from all sorts of complex, un-matching, created families. Many of their friends were also adopted. They attended adopted family picnics at their elementary school. Now in their twenties, they are in the vanguard of the new generation of adoptees who have grown up with openness—in which adoption is definitely NOT a family secret.
Both girls came into my life as infants, both in closed adoptions. I was told in both cases that the birth parents chose not to be identified, chose not to have contact. At about the same time as they arrived, I left practice as a civil rights litigator and turned my law practice to adoption, giving me some of the skills it took to identify and locate the birth families, just in case. It took years, but I did locate the identifying information. Upon entering their 20s, both girls felt ready to make their first contact and decided that personal letters would be the best sort of overture for them.
If raising children is really the process of guiding them and then, painfully, discovering how to let them go into the world as independent adults, imagine the challenge (especially for a control freak, Type A parent) it is to surrender the decision-making around this delicate and potentially hurtful event. But other than gently suggesting through the years that they might want to take the next step, I had to put this new phase of their lives in their hands, trusting that they would have the skills and knowledge to negotiate the relationships. Throughout their childhood, I was on my toes, always tuned in for opportunities to discuss adoption, whether or not I was ready or had any good answers for them. In some ways, it is even harder now, as I step into the background having armed them with the information they need to shape their future contact with their birth families.
Fortunately, both girls heard back from their birth mothers and were reassured in a uniquely poignant way that they always were and are loved by those brave and generous women. The girls now have to find the right path forward, incorporating these new relationships into their lives.
After many years as both an adoption lawyer and an adoptive mother, I know better than most that adoptions can be treacherous. But our family’s experience is that the gloom and doom and tragedy that so draws readers and viewers to adoption nightmare stories is fast becoming dated. In this new era, we believe adoption can and should be treated with as much humor as reverence. We even share a blog with our funny adoption stories.
Adoptive parents, adoptees, and birth parents may succeed or fail at incorporating the experience of adoption according to their own personal strengths, weaknesses, luck, and effort. But let us welcome with a smile this new, critical mass of adoptees who are enjoying the benefits of the era of openness.