Thirty-eight years ago, my mother quit her job, packed a bag of soft, tiny baby clothes, hurried my father to a cab, and recited directions to the law offices of _____ & _____. When she spoke with their attorney earlier that day, he suggested leaving their cars at home; he would drop them off after they signed the adoption papers and their newborn son rested safely in their arms.
I can picture them now: My mother’s tangible excitement, my father’s rational calm. I imagine him chatting with the cabbie while she gazed out the windows at the passing miles that would bring them one step closer to parenthood.
When they arrived at the law offices, their attorney briskly announced that there would be no baby that day. The child was born with problems and had been pulled from the adoption process. He told my parents to find a ride home and wait until another baby was available. Then he excused himself, leaving them devastated and alone on his doorstep.
Sara and Dave and I are standing in Naomi’s room. They’ve decorated the walls with pretty prints and nicely framed photographs of their brown-eyed, beautiful daughter. Sara laughs and points to a shelf on my right. “Look at all of those albums,” she says. “They’re full of pictures. We take them constantly.”
“Wow,” I say. Roughly 20 leather-bound albums sit side by side.
“I send photos to Naomi’s birth mother every two or three weeks,” she explains. “I want her to feel included.”
She points again, motioning this time to a set of photographs that hang diagonally above the shelf. The first is of Dave kissing Naomi’s smooth baby forehead. The third is of Sara in the same pose. The middle photo shows a woman I don’t recognize.
“When we took these,” Sara says, “We asked Naomi’s birth mom if she wanted to participate. She said no, but I encouraged her to stay in case she changed her mind. That’s how we got that picture.”
I study the photo. Naomi’s birth mother looks happy. She gazes at Sara and Dave’s daughter with clear and unflinching affection. There’s a reason for that; it’s what fascinates me most about open adoption: Naomi’s birth mother will never be a peripheral character. She’s an integral member of this family. Sara and Dave have seen to that.
I look at the beaming parents standing with me in this room. There’s so much I’d like to say to them—like how amazed I am by their selflessness and generosity and committment—but I only manage this: “You have no idea how much that photo will mean to Naomi one day.”
Sara nods and is quiet for a moment. “I hope so,” she answers.
For me, parenthood is as much an anthropological study as it is an exercise in love and responsibility. My sons are the first blood relatives I’ve ever known. They look like my husband, but they have every dripping ounce of my personality. They have my mannerisms. They’re loud and quick and spontaneous. It’s uncanny.
But when it comes to nature vs. nurture, I’ll bet on nurture every time. I may not look like my parents since we have no genetic tie, but I’m still their spitting image. I’m swathed in my mother’s empathy and my father’s pragmatism; I share their love of music and literature and art, their liberal leanings, their fiery dispositions, their positions on God and country. If you were to ask them, I think they’d say they understand me the way they understand themselves.
When people ask if I’d like to know my birth parents, I have to split my answer: I wish I knew about them, but I’d never want to meet them. Not now. Not at 36. Either they would be disappointed, or I would be. So in my case, closed adoption was the right choice. My parents are my parents. Those mystery people who brought me into this world were simply vessels who made sure my life would be more than whatever they could offer.
But for Sara and Dave and Naomi, open adoption was the right choice. Naomi will grow up knowing where she came from, that she continues to be loved from both sides, and that she was never a “mistake” and never forgotten. She’ll even know her half siblings. What a gift that is.
I think back to my parents standing on the doorstep of that attorney’s office. They’d changed their entire lives to prepare for a baby that basically dissolved into thin air. Then they waited months for the next call, with no real assurance it would come.
But it did, and they brought home my brother that December. Eighteen months later, I came along, and our family was complete.
I think of the role fate played in my history. When my parents initiated their second adoption, they decided they wanted a girl. If I’d been born male, I’d have grown up in a different family, with a different name in a different house in probably a different neighborhood and perhaps a different city, with different friends and different experiences that would have taken me to places I’ve never been. I’d have lived an entirely different life.
When I think about that—when I think of all the things I would have missed—I can’t bear it. I want this life. This very one. In this house, with this family, surrounded by the people who have loved me since the day I was born, and the people I’ve chosen for myself, and the people I helped create.
So when people talk about fate? I just thank God for mine. More than you could possibly know.
~*~ Find me on Twitter @36×37
~*~ Visit the 36×37 facebook page