As I strolled through department store aisles brimming with yuletide cheer, my attention wandered from the brightly-packaged merchandise. I knew this wasn’t where I’d find presents for my birth son, Colin, and his adoptive parents. For us, gift-giving is a way to reflect, reconnect, and reconfirm the special relationship we have with one another. The gifts we exchange are personal, usually simple, and often eloquent in affirming that we are family and always will be.
Eight years ago, as we began our brand-new, open-adoption relationship, Michael, Renée, and I agreed that we would honor one another on special occasions with gifts that were heartfelt, without being extravagant. On Mother’s Day of that year, when I was three months pregnant with Colin, Renée gave me a silver heart necklace identical to the one she wore herself. With tears in her eyes, she said she would have them both engraved with Colin’s name and birthdate after he was born. The gift meant that this child would always belong to both of us, and I was deeply moved.
Over the years I have received many meaningful gifts from Colin and his parents, which I keep in a box that’s tucked away in a corner of my bedroom closet. Occasionally, I open the box and go through it, ritually touching, smelling, and absorbing its sacred contents. My fingers trace Colin’s artwork and I smell the pressed flower he picked for me one Sunday afternoon. I place my palm over his tiny hand print in the book, Watership Down, which Renée read to him when he was an infant. And I touch the cool, smooth curves of the stone frog that Colin chose for me, amazed again that he picked the very same frog I had chosen to give my husband. These gifts are a precious connection to my son, a connection I thought I’d lost the day I went home from the hospital alone.
A Bit of Myself
The gifts I choose for Colin are meant to symbolize my love and commitment, to strengthen our bond, and to express my presence in his life. They are things I alone can give him—stories of my pregnancy, connections to his biological family, and my answers, when he’s ready, about the choice I made. I offer him the heritage of our Hungarian ancestors, just as his birth father, Pat, can share his African-American roots with him.
Soon after Colin was born, Pat and I made a scrapbook for him about ourselves, to give him some insight into who we are. We wrote of our childhoods, shared poems and stories we’d written, and included photos of Pat’s paintings.
For Colin’s fifth birthday, I wrote a poem about how I had saved 11 tadpoles while pregnant with him. And two years ago, for Christmas, I sent him bird and squirrel feeders like those in my backyard. On the accompanying card, I wrote that I had chosen these gifts so that whenever he misses me, he can look out his window and know we are seeing the same thing, on the same day. My gift said, “I will never leave you. I simply could not raise you.”
Colin’s parents and I share many values, and I’m pleased that they’re raising him to appreciate my gifts for the love with which they’re chosen. Last Christmas, Renée suggested that I share with Colin my passion for hermit crabs. It was a thrill to watch him excitedly select tiny crustaceans from the pet store tank. And though these creatures were my present to him, I knew that the greater gift—to both of us—was from Michael and Renée, who encouraged me to share a part of myself with our son.