I have an open adoption with my son’s birth parents. Basically, that means I send them pictures and updates of him regularly and visit with them a few times a year. My son is still too young to know who they are, but as he grows up, the hope is he will know the most important fact about them: They love him.
Often, when people hear we have an open adoption, they wonder how such a thing can work. Isn’t that confusing for him? Isn’t that hard on you? Isn’t that heartbreaking for the birth mother?
The answer to all of those question is yes. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s heartbreaking. Yes, it’s confusing because, let’s face it, adoption is never, ever going to be simple.
And then, many people ask this question: “Isn’t it a burden? Do you feel you owe it to the birth mother or something?”
I’m always a little surprised by this question because an open adoption is not something we were forced into. Assuming the birth mother mandated an open adoption against our will doesn’t give her or us much credit about our intent to do what’s best for the child.
We chose open adoption even before my son’s birth parents chose us. My husband and I hoped for some degree of openness in an adoption. Of course, every situation is different, but we were fortunate enough that our son’s birth parents are wonderful people who will be a good influence on his life. To us, it just made more sense to include them in his life. It felt natural.
It’s also one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a mother. Before each visit, I still get a pit in my stomach. I worry if she’ll think I’m going a good job. If she’ll regret choosing me. And on a purely selfish level, it’s hard to face the truth that my son is not mine biologically. Of course I know this, but day in and day out, he is mine and mine alone. And on the days of our visits, I come face to face with the weird, complicated reality of his life.
But that reality is also beautiful.
The reality is I deeply believe that fostering a healthy, open adoption with my son’s birth parents will give him three important things:
• Answers. My son is going to have questions. He will want to know where he came from. He will want to know why his birth mother chose adoption. While he could take my word for it, how much better is it for him to hear his birth mother tell him how much she loved him and how she wanted a better life for him than she felt she could give? Again, open adoption won’t work in every case, but in this situation, I love that he will be able to find out about his Mexican ancestry, about where his dimples came from and how his birth parents rocked him when he was born.
• Choices. My son hasn’t had many choices in his little life. He didn’t get a say when we were all in the NICU, hashing out the details of the adoption agreement. We decided for him. A judge declared him our son. We all did what we thought was best for him, but he didn’t get to choose. But one day, he will. Because we have left the door open for a relationship with his parents, he can decide if he wants them in his life later or not. If I don’t open the door now, though, he will have already missed years of building a relationship with them.
• Love. My son’s birth parents and extended family adore him. They have loved and supported him from the moment he was born. I would never want to deny him their love.
Ultimately, adoption is about love. In the short time when his birth mother was his legal guardian, she showed more love than some people do in a lifetime. She broke her own heart for his sake.
And when he passed from her arms to mine, my heart grew stronger and bigger. I felt the love for her and for him, the boy I knew was coming to our family long before he ever did. I get to be his mother, and this mother’s heart can take a few bumps and bruises along the way because that’s what a mother — biological, adoptive, step and anything in between — does for the children she calls hers.
And in that way, this open adoption could never be a burden, only a blessing.