I recently came across a lovely essay by Kathryn Lynn Harris, written in 2013, called “Dear Moms of Adopted Children.” It’s heartfelt, and vulnerable, and brimming with truth. Go ahead and read it … I’ll wait.
In the comments, one birth mother was clearly in a lot of pain (“Hurt people hurt people,” the saying goes). She felt that Kathryn had not adequately acknowledged the struggle of birth moms, and to her credit Kathryn responded with kindness. I was less sympathetic, to be honest — clearly Kathryn had been writing for adoptive parents, not birthmothers. Everyone needs a safe place to speak their truth … and I felt this person was stomping on sacred ground.
Those who have experienced relationship-based pain or trauma need a safe place to heal. Adoptive parents are supposed to become that safe place for their children … and yet we, too, need a safe place to process our experiences without apology, without criticism, without self-censorship. Some of us find that place is online, where we can meet kindred spirits who have walked this rocky road themselves, becoming beacons of hope for those caught in the brambles. So when that safe haven is intruded upon, it’s hard not to take it personally, or to withdraw. I know whereof I speak.
Do we need to honor birth parents? Absolutely. I am thankful for my children’s first mother, who gave them life. I am also thankful that she appreciates us. She has expressed numerous times how thankful she is that her children are with us. She has respected our boundaries. When they turn 18, no doubt our kids will want to see her, and I will support them in this. I trust that we both have their best interests at heart, and that we will both always have a connection to them.
Do I think all adoptive families should have an open relationship with birth family from infancy to adulthood? No. Each adoption involves a unique set of personalities and circumstances, and requires careful discernment on the part of the parents (and the court, in some cases) to decide what is best. Open adoption is very popular, but it’s not always practical or even desirable, especially in foster-adoption cases.
Sadly, open adoption can set up an expectation on the part of biological parents that, for a variety of reasons, may not be sustainable over the long term. No one has a crystal ball, and life happens. Just as birth mothers sometimes change their minds, and decide to parent — breaking the prospective parents hearts in the process — so adoptive parents may at some point need accommodation because of new information (their child’s counselor advising against further contact, for example) or changed circumstances (a job change requiring relocation).
My children’s birthmother has gifted us with empathy, when it would have been very easy for her to be angry and resentful. Every time I encounter those touched by adoption who are stuck in grief, angry and inflexible, I thank God that I, too, have seen that this is not always the way it has to be. Happy Mother’s Day, to my children’s other mother.