"Letters from the Heart"

Writing letters to our daughter's birth parents brought parenting to life for us.

Writing letter to our daughter's birth parents in open adoption

On the cover of our adoption portfolio, my husband, Jim, and I pasted a card showing two human figures twirling together above the caption, “Two hearts dancing, waiting to be joined by another…”

Nine months later our wait was over, and we drove to Texas for Abby’s birth. Jim and I were pleased that Abby’s birth parents both wanted to stay in contact with us through letters, and we were determined to make the writing of our letters a meaningful process.

Forging a Connection

Jim and I were used to short e-mails and long phone calls, so at first, writing the monthly snail-mail letter was a challenge for us. Reflecting on the news of the past month required energy that was difficult to muster after work, daily chores, and tending to a newborn’s needs.

To save time, Jim and I alternated writing the letter each month. This is a perfect solution for several reasons. Because each of us writes the letter only once every other month, we look forward to our turn as scribe.

We’ve also come to realize that our different tones and perspectives on Abby’s development make for more interesting letters. Here’s a snippet from our first letter, which Jim wrote:

Abby slept last night from 1 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. — not bad! Speaking of which, I had a theological insight during one of my late-night-into-early-morning “parties” with Abby. I concluded that God gave parents infants to challenge them, but that God also gave parents caffeine to help them meet the challenge. Praise God!

In the second letter, I focused on how Abby looks and acts:

Abby waves her arms and wiggles her body; she is fascinated by patterns and moves her head at the sound of a rattle. She is the noisiest little baby. She gulps, slurps, and smacks her way though eating, and, when she sleeps, she whizzes, snorts, hiccups, and squeaks. Jim and I joke that she needs an oil can.

We decided that the letters could be a way of connecting Abby to all those who love her. Each month we send separate copies of one letter to her birth mother and birth father, then mail customized versions to extended-family members (both by adoption and by birth). They all love the updates. As Abby’s grandmother told us, “I think it’s important that we all share in Abby’s life. The letters help develop a sense of family.”

A Book of Memories

Our letters capture moments and details for us, as well as for extended family and birth parents. We save a copy of each letter in a three-ring binder, along with the correspondence from Abby’s birth family.

Beyond the log of our communication, the letters also contain the details and dates of her milestones. We love this way of recording Abby’s “firsts” (bath, laugh, smile, sleeping through the night, and so on) better than using a traditional baby book.

Friends have asked how we think of what to talk about in each letter. Some months are more interesting than others. We try for at least one page a month, hoping to have several pages the next. Abby’s birth father told me that everything about her interests him. “I’m just happy,” he said, “that you care enough to let me be a part of Abby’s life.”

Giving It Life

Using dialogue and sense memory help scenes come alive. Instead of writing that we went to the park, we might describe how Abby sniffed at the freshly cut grass or reached for the orange tiger lily.

We describe the other children’s laughter and the sound of Abby’s cooing. Abby’s birth grandmother paid us the highest compliment: “You make me feel like I’m there.” Here’s an excerpt from an early letter about a surprise baby shower.

Last night I got a phone call from our friend, Lucia. “You are coming, aren’t you?” she demanded. I had forgotten about our monthly meeting. I hesitated, but she wheedled until we agreed to come. Our friends cheered at our arrival and led us to a table decorated with streamers and colorful balloons hanging over a large cheesecake topped with bright red cherries. Abby squealed with delight.

In a few years we expect that Abby will add some scribbles or sentences to the letters. Later on, she’ll be able to revisit her early development by looking through the book. If we were creating another portfolio today, we’d make a cover with a picture of many figures twirling together along with a caption that reads, “Many hearts dancing — for and because of Abby.”

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Creative Correspondence

Here are some of our favorite ways of keeping our letters warm and personal:

Make it Colorful: Print your letters on bright-colored paper.

Stick It On: Stickers add pizzazz. When we described how Abby’s room is decorated with a butterfly and dragonfly motif, we embellished the letter with butterfly stickers.

Get Points for Penmanship: An occasional hand-written note makes for a nice change.

Frame It: Write some of your letters on cards that have cutouts for photos. Abby’s birth parents loved the picture we added of Abby lying in her crib wearing sunglasses.

Make Your Mark: We pressed Abby’s footprint on paper using an inexpensive ink pad bought at a craft store. As Abby grows, we will periodically include her footprint in letters, so that Abby’s birth parents and extended family get a visual record of her growth along with the written one.

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