Thursday, February 24, 2011

Closed Adoptions in the Age of Openness

Many of our children grow up maintaining contact with birth relatives. Birth family members might visit, or we may share our lives via emails or letters. It might be as simple as a birthday card or holiday greetings, or an exchange of photographs throughout the years.

But what about those of us with closed adoptions? In this age of openness, how do we offer a connection to our children who have none?

When my siblings were adopted in the 80's and 90's, each came with a tragically singular reminder of their birth families. My brothers, adopted in 1988, arrived with a pair of beaded moccasins. Their birth mother didn't know she was carrying twins, and had only one pair to pass on to her sons.

My youngest brother had a single knit bootie. Mint green in colour, with his birth name attached, scrawled in unfamiliar writing on a scrap of masking tape. Did his birth mother trace the letters to his name? Or was it a hospital nurse, hastily attaching an identity to the single bootie before it was lost like its match?

My sister came with a little box of purple and gold bracelets. They were tiny, and only fit her until she was two or three years old. There was no note, no card, just the purple bracelets swaddled in cotton in a tiny box. Her birth parents knew they were having a daughter.

My son has no such memento. His birth mother gave him the most beautiful gift - his life, but there were nothing tangible left in his hospital crib. I have nothing to hold safe for my son as he grows.

I don't say this with bitterness or blame; we celebrate the little we know of Noah's birth mother. I say this because I
am searching for a way to fill the void our son will feel when he asks about the woman who gave him life. When those questions come, I can only speculate instead of answer.

When my son asks - and he WILL ask "Mommy, did my birth mother leave me anything?" I will have to gauge my answer very carefully. Today, my response would go like this:

Yes, my son. Your birth mother gave you many gifts.
First, she gave you older brothers. So that you would have someone to grow and love, someone who looks like you that can be part of your life even though she cannot.  Next, she gave you a safe place to grow - right under her heart, before you were born.
Then, she gave you life. And with that gift came the bittersweet decision to ask Mommy and Daddy to be your parents.
Today, she gives you love. We don't see or talk to your birth mom right now, but the moment I held you I could feel love emanating from your little body. That love came from somewhere.

Your birth mother gave you other gifts. She passed on her hazel eyes, her gorgeous cheekbones, her knobby knees and toes. I wonder if she has your crazy sense of humour, your giggle, or the quiver you and your brother share. Does her whole body shake with excitement the way her sons do?

I hope one day you can meet again. And see where that love and those giggles and that smile all came from.
We don't have baby booties or photographs or openness with birth mom. But she created him, this life unlike any other. I give thanks for him with every breath that I take. I hope you're out there somewhere safe. And if you happen upon this, know that our hearts are open while you walk your own path on this journey.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Noah's First Adoption Panel

On Friday, I did something a little crazy. I took my wild son with me to speak on an adoption panel. We had the opportunity to share our experience with participants at MCFD's Vancouver/Coastal Adoption Education Program.

I did my best to bribe him. "If you're a good listener and behave nicely, I'll take you to the park afterwards." (See the picture above? He got his reward. The bribe worked... sort of.)

When we left that morning, my husband called out, "Have fun, you two! You'll either inspire everyone to adopt or convince them all to run screaming for the door."

Noah is a spirited fellow. Usually, he is rather angelic and sweet - the perfect poster child for adoption. Occasionally, however, he's a hissing, teeth gnashing, feral little creature. And it's impossible to tell when sweet, cherubic Noah will disappear and let his fiendish sub-personality take over.

Things went well at first. There was a little room next to the meeting space where another child was busily playing his DS. I packed Noah's portable movie player, and some toys, his favourite blanket, and a light snack. He settled in well.

Things continued to run smoothly until he met one of the social workers -a very dear man who's helped countless kids and families throughout his career. Noah took one look at him and declared "YOU ARE NOT A NICE MAN! SHOO! SHOO!"

I'm sorry, Stuart. I really am. I did not prompt him to declare that you're "not nice". I don't know where he got it from. I don't know why he said it. I'm just glad you don't take things personally.

The panel continued basically unimpeded, save for Noah's frequent visits. Every few minutes, Noah felt it essential to storm into the meeting room and help himself to chips. He sat on my lap for five or ten seconds, then headed for the door.

Once he exhausted the chip supply, he ate all the pineapple and every scrap of melon from the fruit tray. (If you're reading this, MCFD, please send the food bill c/o the Adoptive Families Association of BC....)

I think we had a good impact on the parents. Noah was a fairly well behaved little man; he put on a good show of honest three year old enthusiasm, and didn't have any serious meltdowns.

On the way out the door I whispered in his ear. Noah stopped, smiled, waved, and declared "Happy Adopting!" to the families in the room. See? There are benefits to the parroting abilities of your pre-schooler. If only I could remember that the next time I stub my toe....