Pulling Back in Open Adoption

We're learning lessons about love, patience, and acceptance in our changing relationship with our daughter's birth mother.

Our changing relationship with birth mother.

A few years ago, Laurie and I met a couple who said that they had “adopted” their birth mother when they adopted their child. She had become a member of their family, spending the night on holidays, even baby-sitting the child. In foster-parent training, Laurie and I learned that, when you adopt from foster care, birth families rarely maintain an open relationship. When preparing to adopt our second child, as a newborn, our agency taught us about the benefits of contact to everyone involved.

A Rosy Beginning

When we met Marie*, we loved her immediately. She relaxed us with her sense of humor, and thrilled us when she told us that the baby in her tummy was ours. “I want you to be in the delivery room with her when she’s born,” she said to us. “I want her Mom and Dad to name her.” Our relationship blossomed over the first year. After we brought Vivi home, we met with Marie every few months. In between visits, we exchanged phone calls, e-mails, and texts. We even spoke in training sessions together, to couples interested in adoption. Our agency told us that hearing our story alongside Marie’s gave new families a good perspective on open adoption. Then, some time after Vivi’s second birthday, that relationship changed.

Turning Point

As Marie became comfortable with us during our visits, she began to make more personal remarks, including some that contradicted what she had told us earlier about her pregnancy. Eventually, Laurie called our agency to explain the situation, and we had to involve our lawyer to confirm that the adoption was unassailable. While our worst fears of something disrupting our family settled down, our hurt at Marie’s actions took a while to process. We never considered ending the relationship—Marie is our daughter’s birth mother, and, because of that, she is our family, too—but we decided we needed to pull back a little. The summer passed, and we remained out of contact with Marie.

Toughing It Out

One night Laurie was on the computer when she received an instant message from Marie. It read, “I’m so sorry for everything that happened.” Laurie responded that we were hurt by the events that had transpired, and that we had needed some time to work through it. Marie’s response was quick, “Well, I hope you all have a good life. Take care.” We sensed that Marie was reacting this way to keep herself at a distance, should we decide to break off contact, so we quickly explained that, while we were disappointed, she was not going to get rid of us that easily. She was family. Marie said she couldn’t believe that we still wanted to maintain a relationship. Her family had been telling her that one day we would stop all correspondence, and she thought this was it. The next time we met, we told Marie that family members have fights and disagreements, but that doesn’t mean they never speak to each other again.

These days, we visit less frequently, but continue to send photos almost monthly. Through this experience, Laurie and I learned that an open adoption is an evolving relationship, requiring patience, love, acceptance, boundaries, and communication.

When I think about the couple who “adopted” their birth mother, I wonder whether we missed an opportunity. They said they thought they would receive one addition to the family but, to their delight, they got a second. I don’t see Marie that way. Laurie and I hoped for a child, and we got one, with Vivi. The bonus is that we have one more person in our life who cares deeply about her.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.


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