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A Wide-angle View of Family

When my daughter placed her baby in an open adoption, the focus shifted to include two families, with many snapshot moments along the way.

by Casey Mulligan Walsh

All around us in the restaurant there were picture-perfect people. I knew I had no idea what their lives were really like, but through this lens they all seemed so normal. My husband, Kevin, my daughter, Kate, and I looked no different from the rest, but I struggled to appear calm while inside I was anything but. I couldn't seem to stop the persistent voice in my head: We may look like them, but they don’t know who we really are. I wonder what they'd think if they knew why we're here.

Here it comes, I thought, another one of those snapshot moments. You'll remember this day always.

Click.

Ever since I was little, I've paused at the oddest times to silently pledge, I'll freeze this moment and keep it with me forever. It's no wonder I grew up obsessed with photography, intent on capturing what refused to hold still. As a young mother, I'd gaze out the kitchen window, watching my boys bounce down the sidewalk, their baby sister beside me. Take a mental picture...before you know it, they'll be gone, and you'd give anything to see this again.

A Picture-Perfect Meeting

I told the hostess, "Three, but we're expecting two more." Kevin and I ordered a beverage--beer for him, wine for me. No sense in starting out with the pretense that we're anyone other than ourselves. Kate asked for iced tea. We waited.

Soon a couple hurried in and joined us at our table. I liked them right away. Later, I learned we all did. After the introductions, there was, incredibly, no awkward silence. The men talked--nonstop! The women did, too, our heads tipped together, conspiring. This feels right, I reassured myself. Meant to be. It was a snapshot, a keeper--a mother (that's me), her pregnant daughter, and the woman who would become the mother of the child she carries.

Click.

Adoption. The word itself conjures a world of emotions. I'd always had great empathy for the anguished decision to relinquish a baby. I'd rejoiced with new parents, grateful finally to have a child to love. But now my own daughter was that birthmother, and this couple wanted to be the parents of her child, my granddaughter. They said they'd like to give her my daughter's name, Kate. I looked for these signs everywhere, seeking confirmation that they were indeed the ones, that we’d chosen well. I glanced at my Kate and saw her smiling, no sign of nerves, connections already developing.

At the adoption agency, they'd asked if we had any preferences. "Some birthmothers want the adoptive family to be of a certain religion or ethnicity. Sometimes we even get requests for fans of a particular sport, or people who love music."

Kate shook her head. "No, none of that really matters to me."

I thought for a moment and weighed my words carefully.

"There is one thing. They need to be people who will like my daughter, who will care about her, too."

I bristle at the adoption language so thoughtlessly tossed about. "She gave her up for adoption" especially rankles. Kate gave up nothing. As it happened, she lovingly placed her precious baby girl in the arms of parents who would do so much more than simply provide the things she was unable to give. She chose a family who would not only love her child, but one with a wide-angle view, eager to embrace us all.

Our New Normal

There in the restaurant, I waited for the wave of loss to crest and come crashing down on my daughter, and on us. Not yet, I thought. Later it will come. Be ready. But in the hospital, when we all bonded--with the baby we'd already grown to love, and with each other--a new perspective came into focus, filling us with hope and a surprising sense of peace. We made plans to gather, and did--soon, and again, and then again, until our gatherings became a part of a new rhythm of our family's life. Our new normal.

Always, there are the chaotic group shots. We pass the babies around, rearrange the older kids, and corral the dog. Various parents chide various children. In the middle of it all stands Kate, surrounded by bonds of blood and of love. At the last moment, the photographer dashes out from behind the tripod, takes her place amid her family, catches her breath, and smiles.

Click.

Casey Mulligan Walsh is a speech-language pathologist and writer who lives with her husband in West Sand Lake, New York. When she's not writing memoir, she enjoys capturing memories through photography and celebrating with family of all sorts.

PHOTO: Casey and Kevin (fourth and third from right), their daughter Kate (holding a baby), granddaughter Kate (blond child, center front), adoptive parents Tammy and John (couple in the center), and other birth family members.

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