Why I Chose An Open Adoption For My 8-Year-Old Even If It Isn’t Always Easy
by True Daley, ByBlacks.com
PHOTO © chanelpluscat/Twenty20
Oct 13, 2020
As a teen, I remember having conversations in the kitchen with my mother, detailing exactly how I would enter adulthood.
I would be married by 25 and a mom of three by 30. My husband and I would sleep in on Saturday mornings cuddled up with the kids. Of course, each child would be a natural home birth, my snap-back game would be the envy of the other moms and all would be well in the world.
"In a moment of clarity, I realized I didn’t have to be pregnant to be a parent ...."
Looking back, I think my mother chose to listen patiently just to humour me. Once I was finished, she’d gently remind me that life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect it.
In my late twenties, I began unraveling family secrets in search of my true identity. I had always felt like I looked and acted differently than my relatives and routinely asked if I was adopted. My mother would always brush me off and change the subject. But just before she died in 2002, I learned that my dad was in fact my stepfather and she had separated from my biological father before I was born.
When she passed, I struggled with conflicting feelings of resentment and grief. Although my parents had a strong marriage and made a wonderful life for my sister and me, I vowed to be an open book once I became a parent.
Both this mom's children are adopted, and she's learned that adoption isn't like it is in the movies. Read her piece here.
By the time I was 45, single and childless with no romantic prospects in sight, I felt stuck in a monotonous routine and wondered what was next for me. For decades, I had been the cool auntie, babysitter, mentor and caregiver to children of friends and family, but I still longed to have a child of my own.
In a moment of clarity, I realized I didn’t have to be pregnant to be a parent and decided to become a mother through adoption. The promise I made to myself decades earlier was put to the test when I chose to maintain contact with my child’s biological family through an open adoption.
Making space for my child's biological family
While my family members and friends were excited about welcoming my daughter into the brood, they were less enthusiastic about my desire to remain connected to a woman whom they believed was a deadbeat mom. I wasn’t naive, but I hoped for a civil interaction at minimum. I knew this would be the toughest relationship to maintain, but I was thinking of my daughter’s future mental and emotional state when she entered her teens and young adulthood.
"For some reason,
I felt the need to assure [my child's birth mother] that
I wasn’t trying to replace her, but
was instead an additional parent and extended support."
Regardless of how much love an adoptive parent pours into their child, nothing can replace the feelings of uncertainty and alienation a person feels when they are not raised by their biological parents. Given the history of Black and Indigenous children being over-represented in foster care, I felt guilty for taking another child away from their family even though I knew her mother was not capable of raising a child with special needs.
The first meeting with my child’s birth mother was awkward to say the least. We met at the office of the adoption agency in the presence of two staff members. I tried my best not to be judgmental of what she wore, how she spoke or what I felt about her life decisions. Instead, I focused on the positives.
I was thankful she was willing to meet with me. Her beautiful almond-shaped eyes were identical to my daughter’s and all her children share the same gap-toothed smile. I nervously began to tell my life story and we found some similarities with our Jamaican upbringing. For some reason, I felt the need to assure her that I wasn’t trying to replace her, but was instead an additional parent and extended support.
She never took her eyes off me and kept a neutral expression as I rambled on. I can only assume she had conflicting feelings of anger, fear and insecurity. I can’t imagine the strength it must have taken to show up alone. I learned about her childhood, and how she was separated from her own mother when she immigrated to Canada.
About an hour later, we all breathed a sigh of relief when it was time to part ways. Our first encounter went better than any of us could have imagined. I wish I could say the relationship improved from that point on — but it didn’t.
How soon is too soon to tell your child their adoption story? Read why this mom has been telling her children theirs since before they could speak here.
While in foster care, my daughter’s foster mother would arrange regular visits at her birth mother’s home. Since she was a baby, she has celebrated birthdays and holidays with her birth mother, siblings and extended family. There was no way I could expect a smooth transition to her adoptive family if I prevented her from seeing or speaking with her maternal side. However, I have since learned that my good intentions and organizational skills may not be enough for someone who may never accept my role in their child’s life.
Once the finality of the adoption sunk in, birth mom went ghost.
Working with what's available
Despite living approximately 20 minutes away by car, my daughter has not seen her biological mother in about nine months. There have been last minute cancellations, broken promises, arguments and unanswered text messages. The arrangement of monthly visits has been problematic and disruptive to my daughter’s well-being, so I stopped trying to force a connection that is not in her best interest.
"Once the finality of the adoption sunk in, birth mom went ghost."
But in the midst of it all, there have been a few milestones that are nothing short of a miracle. Last summer, birth mom agreed to let one sibling sleep over during a long weekend, and the two sisters spent their first night together giggling and chatting non-stop. I have also stayed in touch with a maternal grand-aunt who invited us to a family barbecue, where my daughter’s uncle gifted her with a water gun so she could defend herself against her cousins.
Although I have been the one to console my eight-year-old as she comes to terms with the reality of her estranged mother, I’ve also coordinated her first meeting with her biological father. I was there to witness him fighting back tears while hugging his only child for the first time. These days, she jumps at the chance to tell anyone within earshot that she has the same caramel complexion and tall, lean frame as her dad.
Becoming a parent through adoption requires managing a never-ending list of unknowns. I’m still unsure of my next steps and I’m constantly re-evaluating healthy boundaries. Meanwhile, my daughter’s psychotherapist is helping her to process her disappointment while fearlessly exploring new relationships.
The interactions she's been able to have with her biological family have increased her self-assuredness and she takes pride in her Caribbean heritage — and that's thanks to the openness of her adoption. I'm thankful I’ve been able to connect the dots of my child’s personality, medical history and identity while filling in the blank pages of her life story.
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