"Our Kids Are All Right"

We thought a semi-open adoption was enough for our situation. But as our lives changed, we began to consider something more.

“What if he’s confused about who his mom and dad are? What if he feels like we gave him up because he wasn’t good enough? What if he hates me for not being ready to be a mom? What if she is afraid we’re going to give her up, too?”

These were just some of the questions Buzz and Sally, Spike’s adoptive parents, and Greg and I, Spike’s birth parents, grappled with as we contemplated changing our semi-open adoption to a fully open adoption. Open adoptions were not uncommon when we started out, but they still weren’t totally mainstream. We’d thought occasional contact through the agency was all we’d want or need, but when Sally learned that Greg and I were contemplating another child, she suggested an open adoption.

“If you have another child, those kids are going to want to know each other,” said Sally. “They’re going to want to be at each other’s birthday parties.”

I had to concede she was probably right, but I was nervous. Parents make thousands of choices. Some are easy, and others are very difficult with no obvious right answers. Each of us four parents grappled with the question of greater openness. We discussed it in e-mails to each other, and met once for dinner to talk about our concerns. In the end, the question became, “What if we don’t open the adoption and the kids hate us for putting our own fears first?”

It took time. Over the next year, we e-mailed more frequently, saw Spike and his parents at the adoption agency, went out for dinner. Then we were ready to take the plunge. Buzz and Sally invited us to their house for dinner and we celebrated Spike’s second birthday together. After that, we visited each other’s homes several times a year.

Soon, our daughter Joy was born. Our son and his parents visited us in the hospital, and three-year-old Spike proudly told everyone, “This is my sister, Joy. I’m a big brother!”

Time passed. The kids saw each other for birthdays and other visits, we kept in touch by phone and e-mail, and we even took a vacation together. Buzz and Sally became “Uncle Buzz” and “Aunt Sally” to Joy. The kids seemed to be OK with the openness, but were they really?

Last August, we went for a weekend visit. The kids, then 10 and six, were playing in Spike’s bedroom. Late-afternoon sun shone through the windows. I sat in a corner, carefully cross-stitching a Christmas ornament. Truthfully, though, this was an excuse to watch my kids unobtrusively, get a window into their world.

Spike and Joy had what seemed like a hundred stuffed animals in the middle of the floor. There was a blanket spread out on the tan carpet.

“I shall defend my Princess Joy against the animals,” Spike said in a low voice and marched the animals across the blanket, away from Joy.

“Oh, thank you, King Spike. You are my hero,” Joy said in a high-pitched voice.

Then she asked, “Spike, I was wondering, would you like to come and live with us? We could play together all the time and I wouldn’t miss you.”

Tears welled up in my eyes as I heard her question. This was the moment of truth. All of those questions we had about openness — I was going to get my answer. My heart thudded, my body tensed. Head down, I remained silent, looking at my needlework, noticing a mistake or two, and waited what seemed like an eternity to hear Spike’s response.

“Joy, thank you for asking. I love you guys and I miss you when we’re not together, but I don’t want to move. I love my mom and dad, and they are my parents. This is my home,” Spike said.

“Well, OK, but if you ever change your mind about living with us, let me know,” Joy said nonchalantly, and they continued their game as if nothing had happened.

All of these years and all of those fears… This was it. There was no confusion about whose parents were whose. Nobody hated me, nobody hated us. Spike and Joy love each other. When we are together, they are brother and sister; after each visit is over, they are happy with the lives they live. All because, years ago, we’d made the right decision.

Names were changed to preserve privacy.


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