By Frank Lowe
Originally published on Advocate.com March 27 2014 6:00 AM ET
When my spouse and I began the adoption process, we were enlightened on the concept of “open adoption.” What this means is that from the get-go, the birth mother is involved in some way with the child. It does not mean that she has anything to do with the parenting plan. It does not mean she has an active role in the child’s life. But what it does mean is that the child doesn’t grow up in a shroud of mystery about his or her biological background.
We were told that this is the best possible scenario for the child and that the details of the openness would be something to work out with the birth mother, preferably before the child was born. We got the phone call saying we were chosen to be parents, and then eight days passed and he was born, so we didn’t have time to discuss that. We just sorta winged it, and so far things have worked out quite nicely.
At first, there was a lot of contact, via text messages and phone calls. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure how to manage the new relationship, so I thought I should keep her abreast of everything going on. Mainly I wanted to make sure she was OK emotionally, as I can only imagine the experience was as unpleasant for her as it was pleasant for us.
She is very soft-spoken by nature, and I talk my ass off, so I found myself doing 95 percent of the talking. Every time something new happened, I felt the need to tell her. Only after a few weeks did I realize that it actually might be painful for her, so I decided to back off a little. I definitely didn’t hear from her as often, so I knew I did the right thing. She came over to visit once or twice, and it was always very awkward. I could feel her torment. She was merely a 21-year-old girl who had to make an extremely difficult decision because she felt she could not be a parent. It didn’t mean she was happy about that decision.
By the time Christmas came around, our son was 6 months old and we were several visits in. Each time the visit would be a few hours long and end with his taking a nap, at which point I would leave his room and let her say goodbye and cry softly to herself.
I wanted Christmas to be as upbeat and positive as possible, so I decided to make it a new tradition. She and her mother came over about a week before the holiday, and we had purchased a few gifts for each of them. For the birth mother, we bought a Tiffany & Co. charm bracelet with the idea of giving her a new charm each year. The night was actually really fun and there were more smiles than tears. I knew that our version of “Christmas” would stick.
Over the next couple of years, the text messages and phone calls and visits tapered off. She was starting to become an adult, getting a decent job and moving in with a long-term boyfriend. I would send pictures of our son every once in a while, to which I would receive no reply. Christmases remained the one constant, and they have always been enjoyable. I’m starting to run out of charm ideas, but that is probably OK because the actual charm seems to be wearing off. I feel as though she feels she has to fulfill an obligation now.
Our son is now 4½ and it seems that Christmas is the only time we and his birth mother see each other. The level of awkwardness is still high, and occasionally I can sense her sadness. We openly call her “Mommy,” and our son seems to have a real understanding of who she is. He knows he was adopted and that his mommy gave him to his two daddies because she could not take care of him. It doesn’t seem to faze him.
My belief is that he is growing up with this knowledge, so it will be easier to deal with any problems that should arise down the road. I still send pictures and still get no reply. When she texts me, it is always a “just checking in” kind of text, which prompts me to propose a visit, which never happens. I still don’t know what exactly we are doing, but I do know that this is the best for our son. Our son’s best interest has been paramount from the very beginning, and I feel that the open adoption has been good for him, as hard as it may be for the rest of us.
FRANK LOWE is The Advocate’s parenting writer. Follow Frank on Twitter @GayAtHomeDad and on Instagram at gayathomedad.