Vanessa McGrady’s posting, The Birth Parents Move in, in the New York Times Motherlode Blog, both broke my heart and cracked me up. As I sat at my computer (ok, maybe I was in the loo looking at my iphone, it was 2 weeks ago, I can’t remember) reading the posting, I recognized myself in her writing. I voiced an inner “oh god” reading the first paragraph where she loaded her child’s birth parents into her car to rescue them from homelessness, their rabbit cage and all. Oh god, that’s not a good idea, oh god, I could totally see myself doing that, oh god, my therapist would think all her work was for naught if I did that, oh god, my kids would be so excited if their birth families moved in, oh god, bunnies stink. Oh god, Ms. McGrady sure summed up the complexity of adoption in just a few short light-hearted paragraphs.

I can relate to Ms. McGrady’s desire to help her daughter’s birth parents, to swoop in and lift them up. I have felt this same tug when I hear of setbacks, or unexpected turns in the road, for my daughter’s birth family members. In the past I have helped on a few occasions, none that involved a bunny moving in, and sometimes it worked out well and other times; the assistance was awkwardly given and uncomfortably received. In our open adoptions, I often come up against the complexities of family, fairness, justice, opportunity, love, privilege, loss, power, judgment and suffering when I feel the urge to help, especially when it isn’t asked for. Our adoption constellation is complex and even a simple thing like lending a hand requires deep consideration and reflection. However, I have come to accept that the greatest help I can give my daughter’s birth parents is to love, care for, and raise my daughters well, to become kind, loving, healthy and happy women.

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I worry about my daughters. I worry about the usual mom things like their safety and well-being. I worry about them eating enough vegetables and fruit (they don’t!). I worry that they don’t get enough free play time in our busy schedule, enough adventures in the fresh air, and whether or not they’ll ever ride a two-wheeler without training wheels. (I hear there is a woman called the bike whisperer…She teaches them to ride in three lessons! I may need to call her soon).

I also worry about adoptive mom things like bonding, openness, self-esteem, relationships with their birth families, talking about adoption, loss, and sadness. I worry the adoptive mom worry, that no amount of love I give them could possibly fill the hole in their hearts left by the loss of their families of origin. I worry that any new unexpected behavior runs deeper than typical development, I worry it runs straight to the heart of their loss, and grabs on with vine-like tendrils which may be impossible to unwind.

These are the worries that keep me up at night, after one of my lil ones has awaken me with a need for water, or snuggles, or let’s be honest, a need for dry pj’s and a change of sheets. Instead of following my usual bedtime routine again of reading or more typically these days, listening to an audiobook, for a bit until I drift off to sleep, I find myself searching for answers to that day’s worries. I find myself playing the “what’s adoption-stuff and what’s just kid-stuff” game over and over in my mind. I despise that pointless game, and I don’t know why I play it, especially when it is an irresolvable question.

However much I dread the nighttime visits from the worry monster, I am also thankful for all my worries. I am thankful that my worries keep me thinking about our family life and my daughter’s well-being. I am thankful that my worries oblige me to reach out for help from teachers, friends, professionals, and most importantly family. I am even more thankful for the people in my life that are brave enough to listen to my worry, and even braver to ask uncomfortable questions and offer a kind word, or the possibility of taking a new path. I am most thankful that I have my two beautiful and courageous girls to fret my mother worries over each and every day.

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sleepA few weeks ago, an inquisitive first grader, with adorable crazy curls, wearing a tousled outfit (reminds me of myself at that age) walks into her kitchen during Daisy Scouts, and overhears me talking to her mom about our family. The Inquisitive first grader then asks me what adopted means. “We’re an adoptive family; I’m her adoptive mom, or everyday mom. She also has a birth mom who gave birth to her.”  I explain a bit more about adoption and how it is for our family, then she announces “that’s sad” and says “who’s her real mom?” I of course laugh it off, and tell the now slightly bothersome, yet still adorable, first grader that neither of us is imaginary, that we are both real moms. Then she avoids my eyes, spying some cookies up on a high shelf, asks her mom for some, and heads back to the scout meeting. Her mom and I gave each other that, “Yup, that’s first graders for you” look and moved on with our conversation.

I rather enjoyed my conversation with the inquisitive first grader, she’s a kid I really like, and I appreciate her frankness. I am also amused that we made it all the way to first grade before anyone asked about my oldest daughter’s “real” mom. We are lucky to live in a pretty progressive place, in an enlightened age, and to have many different family make-ups in our daughter’s school, in our community, and in our church. We have always felt welcome and accepted in our community, and most importantly felt like a “real” family.

With all that said, we do still work on keeping appropriate adoption speak and realistic images of adoption present in our life, most in particular in our girls school. This week, my oldest daughter will be sharing a book with her class, which she and I made, about her adoption story. My husband and I will join her in class to help with the presentation, and to guide, or deflect, any conversation or questions her classmates may have. We will also be bringing in a few of our favorite picture books about adoption for the class to borrow, and some photographs of our family, including some of our daughter’s birth family to share with the kids. Hopefully our story will teach the kids how real bookswe all are, and that the most important thing about our adoption is how real the love is that our daughter has from all her parents.

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Over the last six months in my household, we have been reliving the joy
of those sleepless nights caring for our daughters as newborns. Literally, as my
oldest would say. My husband and I have been awakened many times a
night by our youngest, needing us like she did at five weeks old, to cuddle
and soothe her, despite the fact that she is five years old. It’s been hard
on us all, well me mostly, as I sleep closest to the door. My youngest flies
open our bedroom door and lets the bright hall light shine in my eyes,
which are shut tight, hoping it’s all part of a dream. Like most parents I
know, sleep is a delicacy which I look forward to indulging in each night.
I had imagined that after my youngest slept through the night at three
months old, that my next sleepless nights would come sometime in the
teenage years, when she willingly broke curfew and was up to no good. Oh
man, was I off by a decade!

My daughter’s sleepwalking, which was funny when it started last spring,
with her appearing at night hovering over her sister in bed, has morphed
into full-blown insomnia. While I’ve been so sleepless, I have been
prowling on Google for answers to my youngest’s insomnia, which has led
to my own iPhone induced insomnia. As I lay in bed, awake at 2:00am,
I find myself drifting from the wisdom of the Mayo Clinic, and off into a
wormhole of my own creation.

My searches are often for my daughters’ birth family members whom I do
not yet know. Perhaps, one downside to living in our open adoptions, is
the immense amount of information I have collected, sometimes only tiny
bits, about different family members on our daughters’ birth family’s sides.
I know most of the names on both of our girls’ family trees, at least back to
their great grandparents, but I don’t know much beyond their basic data.
Some family members I know only their nickname, or part of their name.
I search to complete the puzzle to who these people are, and how they fit
into our family.

Usually, my search comes to a screeching halt, either by the limits
of Google to read my mind in the middle of the night, or due to my
realization of the fruitlessness of these searches. I suppose that’s why
my genealogical scavenger hunts are reserved to the sleepless nights, to
the times when my brain doesn’t know any better, than to search for the
answers to questions I do not yet know.

I wonder, what is the question I am searching for. Is it; who are these
people who run through my daughters’ DNA, what part do they play in our
family’s life, or where does my oldest get her love (ok, lust) for Cantaloupe?
These are the questions that may seem important, but they are also
questions that I can easily find answers to, by asking my daughters’ birth
moms and families. I think the question I am searching to answer to is why.
I want to know the why of their adoption stories. Why is the question I will
not be able to answer for my girls. Why is the question that I think haunts
me, late at night on my insomnia induced internet searches. How can I one
day shepherd my girls on their own journey, to answer the question, Why? I
have no idea, and neither does Google.

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Dear Birth Dad (MA),

It has been almost six years since you chose us to be the parents of the twins.   As in many adoptions, we sent pictures via our lawyer’s office every few months for the first year but then after a while stopped since the attorney couldn’t locate you and the pictures and letters were just tucked away in a manila folder in a file cabinet.

Thursday afternoon, our social worker and friend, ML, called and let us know that you had contacted her.  We were so happy to hear that you are doing well and feel that you are in a much better place.  I am so thrilled that the twins will know that their birth father cares about how they are.   I can only imagine the courage that it took for you to make the call to ML and ask for the pictures.  We hope that the note and photographs that we send will bring comfort and joy, in knowing that the twins are happy, healthy and enjoying a wonderful childhood.



-Do I send the best pictures of the kids or do I want to make sure they are more ordinary pictures? 

 -When we originally met MA, we met his mom too and learned that he had a teenage son.  Do I ask about his son?  Do I ask how his mother is?  Or is this making it appear as though we want to embrace his family?  Am I overthinking this…………and is it appropriate to ask? 

-I don’t have much information about MA’s  family.  Do I take the opportunity to ask so that I can share with Bruiser and Princess?  Do I ask for a picture of his son?  I have a picture of the birth mom’s daughter and grandson but nothing of his son. 

-I don’t know how much information our twins will want when they get older.  Would they want to have pictures of  MA’s son – their brother?

Thanks for asking about the kids and taking the interest in how they are doing.  We are truly grateful that we can share with the twins that you have a place for them in your heart.

Our best,

Bruiser & Princess’ Mom & Dad

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Kahlil Gibran, On Children, The Prophet

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, “Speak to us of Children.”

And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

I often think of Kahlil Gibran’s poem “On Children” from his book of poetry, The Prophet. It reflects how I think of my girls. I first read The Prophet about two decades ago, between college and marriage, when I had time to do things like read Lebanese Poetry. I remember then thinking this all sounded so profound, but I utterly didn’t get the full meaning at the time. As I became a mom, I learned that these words are not only so profound, but dead on right. This poem leads me through many of my difficult times in parenting, especially as a mom living in open adoption.

I truly believe that my children belong to the universe and it is just my honor to be their mom or “…the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” This is why one of my strongest beliefs is being upfront and honest with my girls about their adoption stories, my knowledge of their birth family, about my own life, and family of origin. I want my children to launch into the world with as much knowledge and history as they need, having a full tank of self esteem, self worth and self love.

This is also why, at age 5 ½, my oldest daughter knows 99% of her adoption story. Some of it is beautiful, some of it is ordinary, some of it is funny, some of it is tear-worthy, and some of it is downright ugly. The only parts that are left out are some of the more complex human emotions that she is too young to fully understand. But the facts, she has them all. They are her facts, not mine, not her birth families, just hers. She has 100% ownership of the facts as we know them. I guess that’s the funny thing about facts, different people hold different ones. Again, I can only tell what I know. My eldest’s birth family can tell what they know. Because this is my daughter’s story, which she owns, she calmly asked her birth mom as they snuggled on the couch one day, a question that had burned within her soul. As I stood looking on with my eyes full of tears, watching this tender moment, my daughter asked a question, a very important question, and was given an honest and loving answer. My daughter owns that answer. She owns the emotions, the tears, the love filled hug that followed.

Now that my daughter is old enough to start sharing her story with others, I am a bit freaked out. I wonder how her story will be received by others, will others get it, and will they get how important this story is to my oldest.  Ok, deep breath, I am the bow, she is the arrow, the archer wants the arrow to go far….exhale. I just have to believe that her arrow will find its mark, that I as the bow am steady enough to shoot her in the right direction.

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My big 14th birthday is coming up this week (at least according to my 4-year-old, who also thinks I am still in High School). I usually dread my birthdays. I was born on “Cabbage Night”. Not quite Halloween, but still, a Witch cake was usually presented to me after my birthday dinner of pizza or mac and cheese. My mother, you see, LOVES Halloween. When I was kid, and people still had answering machines (and home phones for that matter), she would even change the outgoing message, to one with a wicked witchy voice and cackle.  By the time I was in Fourth grade, and had outgrown my mother’s five-foot frame by several inches, my mom gave me her wedding dress to wear. That year, I was a gypsy bride complete with a groovy head scarf a la Valarie Harper as Rhoda, circa 1975. I loved that year. Really, I always have loved Halloween, who doesn’t? It was just my cabbagey/witchy birthday I didn’t love so much. What kid can get excited for a plain old birthday, when there is tree toilet-papering and pumpkin-smashing mischief to be had, followed the next night by gorging on candy (and even candy apples- back before we all poisoned children on Halloween)? My kids, that’s who.

My kids love birthdays, almost as much as my mom loves Halloween. They love their birthdays best, of course, but they get equally excited for anyone, and everyone else’s birthday. They love to make and send birthday cards, they get excited to watch friends and family blow out candles on their cakes, they think of special gifts and treats for the birthday boy or girl (or mom or dad). Birthdays are awesome for my kids. Through their eyes, I see the awesomeness. I see the thoughtfulness of the witch birthday cakes, which haunted me for years. I see the kindness behind my mom dragging me and my brother out to dinner for my birthday, which happened to be our town’s designated trick-or-treating night that year, despite our pleas to be set free to stuff ourselves with candy instead. Through my girls’ eyes, I am psyched to celebrate my big Fourteenth birthday this year!

I wonder sometimes, will birthday always be so joyful for my girls. My girls’ birthdays are a cause for celebration in our family. A wonderful day when their little souls breathed air and shouted out “Watch out, here I come world!” We celebrate with a big family party, complete with delicious food and fantastic cupcakes. My girls’ birthdays are looked upon with great excitement and anticipation, so much so, that we now celebrate their half birthdays too!  However, I worry that one day they may feel heaviness brought on by their birthday. My girls know their birth stories; they know the choices the adults in their lives made. They know all their moms and all their dads love them.  We’ve talked about the feelings of happy-sad. But again, I worry, will it be enough? Will my daughter’s forever know that their birth brought so much joy to the world, so much love to their parents? Will they recognize that their birthday may bring pain and sorrow to the ones who love them most as well? Will they be able to separate the blessing of their birth from the pain of their parent’s decisions?  Again, I pray we are enough to heal any birthday wounds.

I pray that birthdays are always joyous for my girls, and in the meantime we celebrate! We celebrate birthdays with both our girls’ birth families in different ways.  Our youngest daughter’s birth mom, her husband, and their baby girl joined our big family party this year. Our oldest daughter receives cards, gifts and phone calls from her maternal birth grandparents each year. We cherish the love our daughters receive each year on their birthdays from our entire big crazy family. The love, the joy, the smiles and tears, it all gets wrapped up in the beautiful gift my daughters bring me each and every day * including my birthday!

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While watching Glee with K, I had a Fox and the Hound moment.  An F and H moment is an unexpectedly upsetting occurrence in a movie or show.  Our first such moment took place when K was 2 or 3 during the movie The Fox and the Hound (hence the name), a supposedly heartwarming adventure about the friendship between a fox and a dog.

It’s a Disney movie so it had the obligatory violent death of the main character’s mother.  Please see among others: Bambi, Finding Nemo and for an updated version where both parents suffer an untimely death, Lilo and Stitch.  The fox was taken in by a kindly woman and became friends with a dog owned by the hunter next door.  After an incident where the hunter (another group which typically doesn’t fare well under the Disney treatment) tried to kill the fox, the woman decided the fox would be better off back in the forest and returned him there.

When the woman drove away, K became inconsolable.  “She left him! She left him!  His mommy left him!”  Since his mom had been dead for a while, I was briefly confused.  “She left him!  She left him!”  Of course.  The woman was the mommy.  The fact that they were two different species didn’t make her any less of a mother.  I held K close and comforted her as best I could.  “She took him there to be safe.  He will see her again [oh I hope so!].  It will be okay.”  The fox found a mate.  After a scary scene involving the hunter and a bear, he resumed his friendship with the dog.  He occasionally looked at his old farm from a distance and seemed content.  K watched the movie a few more times until she made her peace with it.  She announced she would never watch it again.  I threw it away and detest The Fox and the Hound to this day.

Flash forward with me ten plus years to last week’s episode of Glee.  K and I love Glee for the music and the dancing.  I also appreciate the respect for differences that is conveyed through the cast of beloved characters.  The adoption story line has swayed back and forth from believable to tough to take but it has offered plenty of opportunity for discussion.  We’ve seen Rachel find her birth mother and wrestle with what that relationship is and could/should be.  We’ve seen Quinn place her baby for adoption.  Please note Glee writers: I said place for adoption not “give her up.”

After appearing to be unfazed by the placement, Quinn is now struggling with her feelings around it.  The adoptive mom is working through how to make a more open adoption possible.  Puck, the birth father, is eager for an opportunity to be involved in the baby’s life — all great themes to discuss and explore.  I think it’s important for kids who were adopted to understand that it wasn’t an easy decision for their birth parents.  I think it’s important for all kids to understand the painful decisions and consequences that result from a teen pregnancy.

My F and H moment was during the show’s conclusion.  Quinn turned to Puck and said “we’ve got to get her back.”  There it is – the birth mother “taking the baby back” angle.  I am hopeful the story will be about Quinn understanding that it’s not an option.  I am hopeful it doesn’t turn into a story that feeds the misconceptions about adoption that has led all of us to hear at some point “but aren’t you afraid they’ll take the baby back?”  If it does, I’m not as powerless as I was with that fox.  We’ll talk about the difference between what writers do for television ratings and what’s true.  We’ll talk about how we’ll respond to people who don’t know as much about adoption as we do and how we’ll set them straight.  Maybe we’ll send an email to Glee and let them know how we feel.  Finally, we’ll decide if we can still watch and disagree with the portrayal or whether we won’t watch at all.  After all, the writers may control the story but we control the remote.

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There were a number of topics percolating in my brain this month.  One was my ambivalence toward Mother’s and Father’s Day now that both my parents are gone.  Another was how my great relationship with my siblings sometimes causes me to worry about what K might be missing.  Then I stumbled across a “This I Believe” essay by Corey Harbaugh entitled “Truth and the Santa Claus Moment” and my topic was chosen.

Corey wrote the essay to describe his struggles to answer this question from his 8 year old son, Tucker.  “Dad, if I asked you if it was you who bought presents at Christmas instead of Santa, would you tell me?”

How many times do we wrestle with ourselves over how much of the truth we should tell our children?  What are they really asking us?  “Mom, where do babies come from?”  Is that a logistics question?  A transportation question? A reproduction question?  I’ve always found it best to answer K’s questions with a question of my own in order to increase my odds of answering her real question.  Whether or not I’m successful in uncovering it, I think K knows by now that I try and answer with the truth.  It’s not always easy but since I insist on honesty from her, it’s only fair I give the same.

K asked a tough question after my mother died unexpectedly. K was only 5 and had already lost one of her grandpas by then.  One day she curled up on my lap, took my face in her hands and asked, “Mommy, what will I do if you die?”  Part of me wanted to tell her that she didn’t need to worry, that I wouldn’t die, but there was something in those big blue eyes that made me dig deep.  I took a breath and said “You would be very, very sad but Daddy would take care of you.  You would miss me but you would be okay.”  I don’t know if it was the right answer but it was an honest answer and the best one I had.  She knew people died and when they died they didn’t come back.  She knew that it could happen when you didn’t expect it.  I believed her question wasn’t about me but about her – what would happen to her if I died so that was the question I answered.

Like many kids who were adopted, K has also asked questions about her birthparents from time to time.  Regardless of the question, my approach has been to be as honest as I can.  K’s family history is her story, not mine.  Just as the type of books she is allowed to read or the type of show she is allowed to watch has developed over the years, the details of her history have been shared in what I hope has been an age appropriate fashion, but they have always been true.  I’ve also always tried to answer in a way that welcomes more questions.  I want her to know that when she asks me, I will tell her.

Which brings us back to the Santa question.  This is a question, K never asked me.  It makes sense that she wouldn’t.  K believed in Santa with her whole heart.  When other kids would tell her there was no Santa, she didn’t get upset or confused.  She didn’t even try to convince them of the error of their ways.  She would simply walk away and shake her head at the poor deluded souls.  Since I had never demonstrated the proper respect for dragons, Hogwarts and the like, I’m sure I wasn’t considered a reliable source for information about something as important as Santa.

Tucker Harbaugh, however, thought his dad has some information on the subject but their conversation was delayed due to younger siblings being in the area.  When Corey brought the topic up later, his son said instead, “Don’t answer me, Dad.  I think I know the answer, and right now I just want something to believe in.”  Wise words for an 8 year old boy but I loved his dad’s response:  “Your question was if you asked me about Santa, would I tell you, and my answer is yes.  If you ask, I will tell you.”  I love Tucker’s response even more:  “He considered this for a moment, smiled, and before he drank the last swallow of soda pop told me easily, “Then I’m not going to ask.”

“If you ask, I will tell you.”  “Then I’m not going to ask.”  A lesson in honesty and respect.  Well done Corey and Tucker.  Well done.

Check out for other great essays like this one.  My personal favorites include “Always go to the Funeral” and “Be Cool to the Pizza Dude” but you’re sure to find some that speak to you.   The website also has instructions on how to submit your own essay on what you believe.

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A few weeks ago we had a wonderful visit from my youngest daughter’s birthmom, her husband, and their 3-month-old daughter. My daughter’s birthmom’s youngest daughter, is also my youngest daughter’s half-birth sister, however we just call her, Baby Sister, to make life simpler.  We were all under one roof for three days, and our house was full of the love and happiness of two moms, two dads, two big sisters and one baby sister. For the kids, our visits are full of visits to the park, dinners out and in, school visits, bedtime stories, and being tucked in by everyone my kids love at night. For the mama, mommy, dada, and daddy, our visits are time to reconnect, to continue getting to know each other, and of course to snuggle beautiful, sweet, lil baby sister.

The foundation of my relationship with my youngest daughter’s bithmom is built from hefty stones of regret, pain, loss, hopelessness, and grief. We both carry these stones, putting them down, and having a seat on them once in a while to talk about how heavy they are, how much they make our back break, and how they can make our soul wince with pain. However dense these stones are, they seem weightless as pumice when we see our daughter happy, or jumping for joy as she introduces her birthmom to her teachers and classmates at school, or when she cuddles her newborn sister and gives her kisses.

We put down our stones in strange places; in the baby section of Target, or driving on our way to pick up our daughter from school, or in the Deli line at the supermarket. However, we put them down, and we talk. Which I think is one of the most important parts of our Open Adoption.

We talked about how family can let you down. We talked about how someone whom you would have never met, if it wasn’t for life changing circumstances of making an adoption plan for your child, can become one of your greatest allies; an “Auntie” to your youngest daughter, and a mother to your oldest. Mostly, we talked about regret. The great big “What If’s” that sometimes haunt us both. We talk honestly, plainly, and with endearment for the hopelessness of wishing to change the past.

Reflecting on our visit, and our talks, has led me to revisit a book I read a few years ago called, Lifegivers: Framing the Birthparent Experience in Open Adoption by James L. Gritter.  I have chosen to reread this book as my next Adoption Reading Challenge selection. I am particularly interested in the chapters on grief and regret, and I am hoping giving this book another read-through will help me to understand more of my youngest daughter’s birthmom’s experience in our Open Adoption relationship.

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