Out In The Open

A mom learns to navigate a relationship with her child's homeless birth parents

Vanessa McGrady was overjoyed when she finally adopted a child. But her desire for an open adoption got complicated when the birth parents became homeless, and she invited them to stay with her.

Things got complicated when Vanessa McGrady invited her daughter's birth parents to stay with her

Vanessa McGrady and her seven-year-old daughter Grace used to have an amicable relationship with Grace's birth parents, until things went awry. (Keya Marathé-Bajaj)

This story was originally published on Jan. 25, 2019.

When Vanessa McGrady invited her child's homeless birth parents over for dinner one evening, she didn't anticipate that they'd end up living in her home.

"I feel like I did not set very good boundaries. I invited them to come stay, but I'm not sure I made my expectations clear," McGrady told Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay. "I didn't know how long they would stay."

The mother from California adopted her daughter Grace at birth, and always wanted to have an open adoption — where McGrady, Grace, and the birth parents, Bridgett and Bill, would all have an amicable relationship.

It started off that way, as Grace was beginning to get know her birth parents.

"Every few months we would get together, and Grace knew who they were and where she came from. I didn't want them to be strangers for her," McGrady said.

Birth parents, Bridgett and Bill, at a holiday breakfast with Grace at her preschool in December 2013. (Submitted by Vanessa McGrady)

But things got more complicated once Bridgett and Bill lost their jobs and apartment. So following dinner that one night, they ended up staying for the next several weeks.

From there, they moved between a house sitting job, to shelters, occasionally returning to McGrady's house to stay again.

Grace eventually began showing uncharacteristic signs of discomfort and anxiety. McGrady felt that the instability in the home was putting a strain on her daughter.

I think there's a general lack of compassion, and a lack of understanding about what a hard decision it is to place your child for adoption — it's excruciating.- Vanessa McGrady

So one day, McGrady decided not to let Bridgett and Bill back into her home. And since then, the relationship has never been the same.

"It was hard. Till this day, I wonder what I should have done differently, what boundaries should I have drawn? What could I have done to make it right?" McGrady wondered. But she also said she had to remind herself she's Grace's parent, not theirs.

'Every day I'm grateful for them'

McGrady and her daughter Grace are no longer in contact with Grace's birth parents. (Keya Marathé-Bajaj)

Years later, McGrady, along with Grace, who's now seven, are no longer in contact with Bridgett and Bill. But the experience has undoubtedly changed McGrady.

It's inspired her to write a book titled, Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption. Throughout the process, she's learned of the stigma that birth parents have always faced.

"I've met several birth parents. I think there's a general lack of compassion, and a lack of understanding about what a hard decision it is to place your child for adoption — it's excruciating," said McGrady.

She's not sure when she'll talk to Grace's birth parents again, but is open to maintaining a relationship.

"She really got the best parts of Bridgett and Bill. Every day I'm grateful for them, and thankful. I see them in her every single day, and she's a miracle."

McGrady strives to bring awareness to the challenges that adoptive families face. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Opening Up Adoption".