What It’s Like Opening A Closed Adoption

It's a bit like opening Pandora's box.

Karen White March 20, 2017
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Opening up a closed adoption can feel like you are opening Pandora’s Box. You are flooded with feelings of apprehension, fear, excitement, nervousness and of course a little self-consciousness. Questions like: Will we like the birth parent? Will they like us? Will they think we are doing a good job? What if they are in an unhealthy spot in their lives? And, of course, the elephant in the room question, what if my child wants to be with them instead of me? Or even worse, what if that Lifetime move really happens and they try and steal the child back?’

The first few days and moments of learning that a birth parent wants contact in a previously closed adoption can be terrifying to adoptive parents. Even those who want and seek out an open adoption can have some reservations. The initial reaction to learning a birth parent wants contact often vacillates between feelings of excitement knowing your child may be able to have some information and possibly a relationship that will be healthy for them, to your own insecurities of if your child will like them more than you. Or what if they want to take the child back.

When we first received contact from our son’s birth aunt when our son was a couple years old, we felt all of the above feelings. Her letter was sent without the birth dad’s knowledge, but gave us some insight into our son’s family tree, medical information, and more. It also let us know that our son was loved and missed by his extended birth family.  Because the letter was sent without birth dad’s consent, we did not know if he would ever want contact.

We replied to the letter and hoped to learn more about his birth family. And we heard nothing. No response at all. We were confused and disappointed that they had reached out and then pulled back. We hurt for our son and the possible missed opportunity to know his family. In time we found out that the lack of response was due to medical reasons, not a lack of desire for communication. It was exciting and surprising to hear back after a year of thinking the door of opportunity had been shut.

Because we were contacted by our son’s aunt, it was a while before we heard from our son’s birth dad. And in all actuality it was his wife that we heard from first. My guess is he probably had many of the same insecurities and fears we felt. Our first conversations with him were over Facebook. We had a lot of questions as to why he wasn’t present before, why he was ready now, and what he wanted from the relationship. We had some very tough and emotional conversations. And we both admitted assumptions and concerns we had. These conversations were vital to starting a relationship. It was scary to let someone we didn’t know into our lives. But we knew our son deserved it.

After communicating online and over the phone for several months we decided it was time to meet face to face. If we thought we were nervous at the initial contact, we were overwhelmed by our feelings the days preceding the meeting.  While we knew in our hearts that this was the right thing to do, illogical thoughts and insecurities crept their way in. We chose a location somewhat in the middle so that we were on neutral ground. We met for lunch, which in hindsight I don’t remember eating, and then went to a children’s museum because it gave us something to do to take the pressure off of just talking.

In all honesty, the meeting went smoother than we could have imagined. We brought an album of pictures of our son, who was four at the time of our meeting, from when he was a baby till then for them to have. Looking at the pictures was a great ice breaker and conversation starter. And the conversation flowed as naturally as possible given the unusual circumstances.

After lunch while at the Children’s Museum we had a chance to really let our son interact with his birth dad. They built a paper rocket together which he had until just recently. (It couldn’t survive a nine year old’s roughness!) Seeing them interact was nothing short of amazing. And seeing his birth dad interact with our other two children was heartwarming. After a few hours spent at the museum, and a lot of chasing after toddlers, and a trip to get ice cream, it was time to head our separate ways.

It didn’t feel like we were leaving a stranger. Which was an odd feeling because before that day we had never met. Over the years since then we have had several visits back and forth, and met extended family. They have been to our home and stayed with us. We even welcomed another one of our son’s half-brothers two years ago and a half-sister is due to arrive possibly this month. And while our son is too young to have a phone and social media accounts, (although he vehemently disagrees!) he will often receive calls from his birth dad to give him a hard time about his poor choice in sports teams or to see how school is going.

So the fear, the anxiety, the sleepless nights worrying were for nothing. Our son is better off knowing his family, and so are we. We are forever indebted to the two strong women who pushed our son’s birth dad to have contact despite his initial wishes. And to him for agreeing to do what was uncomfortable for him. So in the end, I think we all can agree that we have one heck of a great kid, and he has a huge family that loves him.

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Karen White

Karen White is the self-proclaimed leading authority on being "that mom." You know the one. The PTO Vice President, room mom, baseball team mom, AND leader of well-behaved kids (OK, the well-behaved part may be stretching it . . . like really stretching . . .) When she isn’t threatening to tackle one of her boys on the ball field if they don’t run faster, or convincing her 4-year-old daughter that everything doesn’t HAVE to sparkle, she is also a wife and stay-at-home mom of three. One of the three happens to have been adopted, but good luck figuring out which one it is, since they all have pasty white skin, blond hair, and blue eyes.


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