"Why Don't We Ever Visit My Birth Parents?"

Three different domestic adoptions — three different levels of openness.

Openness can vary in domestic adoptions.

Sitting three feet away from us in our adoption agency’s family room, the birth mother of our oldest son, Oscar, uttered one of the frankest statements I ever heard: “I am making an adoption plan because I know how to take care of babies when they’re inside me, but I don’t know what to do once they are here.” This would be her seventh birth, and the first for which she made a plan.

A week before that meeting, our social worker told us that this birth mother was hoping for periodic updates and photographs. She wasn’t asking for scheduled visits or even phone calls. She simply wanted to read between the lines of our letters and see in our pictures that our son was happy and healthy — that she had made a good decision. My husband and I agreed that openness was a gift we wanted to give to her, to ourselves, and to our son. So, when the birth mother asked us directly if we would agree to some level of openness, we responded with an eager yes.

The paperwork was drawn up and we signed our agreement: We would send photographs and updates four times a year to a post office box. The birth mother could also use the P.O. box if she wanted to mail anything to Oscar.

A first chapter

As one who relishes writing — especially about my children — I embraced the assignment of my first update. I wrote about Oscar’s milestones, his likes, dislikes, and idiosyncrasies. I chose photographs that showcased his wide grin, sparkling eyes, and perfectly centered cowlick. Several weeks after sending the package, we checked the P.O. box, thinking — hoping — there would be a response. There wasn’t. And our package remained there. She hadn’t picked it up.

Three months later, I mailed the next — with the same result. At year’s end, after two more tries, we picked up all four of our update packages, closed the post office box and that chapter.

Five years have since passed, and, though we have inquired many times, we have heard nothing from, and very little about, Oscar’s birth mother. He has asked many questions about her, so we are grateful for the one meeting we had. We can at least tell him what she looked like, how she sounded, what she said.

Three unique stories

For our younger sons, who do not share a biological connection with their older brother or each other, openness with their birth families has a different look altogether. We never met our middle son’s birth parents and have very little information about them. What we do have, however, is a relationship with his biological sister, who lives less than an hour from our home. We visit at least twice a year, and frequently exchange photographs and notes. Edgar and his sister will grow up knowing each other.

Our youngest son, August, is seven months old, and we have met with his birth mother twice — once before his birth and once after. A third meeting was scheduled, but she was not able to attend. The relationship is still a work in progress. We are open to visits, should that prove to be her ultimate wish; in the meantime, we exchange e-mails and photographs and give her space while she decides the course she’d like our relationship to take. Although we hope for regular visits — and they remain a very real possibility — we hold on tightly to the memories of the two meetings and save every e-mail and picture we receive in case openness plays out differently.

Sometimes the questions our children ask are easy to answer: “Can I have ice cream for dinner?” Sometimes they are not: “How come we visit my brother’s birth sister but I’ve never met mine?” My five years of parenthood have taught me that the right words find their way from our hearts to our children’s ears as they need to.


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