At this year’s Birth Mother Celebration, my job was to take pictures and speak briefly about what open adoption means to me.
During Adoption STAR’s homestudy classes, facilitators ask prospective adoptive parents to share their “birth” stories, those stories that parents or relatives tell us because we were too young to remember. It’s a good lesson for prospective parents. Children often mature into the stories we tell them, especially stories of their beginnings.
My mother told me the story of a co-worker who moved to Buffalo because she was pregnant and had to hide her pregnancy from her friends and family in her hometown. She told no one the story of her relationship with the baby’s father or her personal circumstances. My mom said it was like she was mute. She delivered her baby girl around the same time my mother delivered me but she placed her baby for adoption. Fast forward a few weeks later and they were both at a party at a mutual friend’s home. My mother left me asleep on a bed. When she came in to check on me, her co-worker was sitting on the bed watching me sleep. She asked if she could hold me. With tears running down her face and her eyes full of grief, she picked me up, cuddled and rocked me.
Back then, adoption happened in a set and prescribed way, regardless of personal needs or feelings. My mom’s co-worker may or may not have been allowed to hold her baby for a few minutes before she was whisked away, never to be seen or heard from again. We’ve come a long way since then. The Birth Parent Celebration tells us just how far the process has evolved.
As the resident photographer, I went from table to table and witnessed very different scenarios than the one my mother shared with me. We have learned and accepted that there are many different ways to be a family: I saw a fashion forward gay couple who dressed their toddler in a frosted green dress to match the streak of green in her birth mother’s hair; one family requested a picture and I couldn’t tell who was and wasn’t genetically related; what I saw was a group of people at ease with each other. And there were the families like mine: the birth parents were a different race from the adoptive parents. I saw moms throw their arms around each other because when you love with everything you have, you see what you share, not what makes you different. A reporter from the Buffalo News snapped a picture of a birth mother and an adoptive mother helping each other put shoes on their son. There was a young adolescent birth couple whose tenderness toward each other and their infant son reminded me of something I would see in a movie; when it was time to feed him, the adoptive mother gently relieved them. Some birth mothers came with children they were raising to meet with families of children they had placed. The siblings played and wrestled and laughed and got to know one another. A birth grandmother met her granddaughter for the first time and cried with relief when she met the adoptive parents. The baby slept comfortably in her arms and her tears were tears of joy. Togetherness, openness and most importantly love has replaced secrecy, loneliness and shame. Open adoption has transformed the process. Birth mothers have courageously, selflessly and with great love changed our understanding of family.
My son’s birth mother hasn’t as yet joined us for this event. I think she likes it better when we meet one on one. Regardless, I will continue to attend with my adopted son Cal (15 months) and my biological son Sam (7 years). Sometime in the future when Sam tells his brother “birth” stories and the Birth Mother Celebration is the topic, I may hear:
“Every year mom and dad dragged us to this lunch even though your NeeNee (Cal’s birth mother) wasn’t there. Mom said it was important because a bunch of families who are just like ours come and we needed to be around that. Turned out, it wasn’t so bad. The pizza and brownies were great.”
And as for the pizza and brownies…thank you to Adoption STAR for hosting this amazing event. I feel fortunate to have found the agency that guides and supports all of us – Adoptees, Birth and Adoptive Parents – throughout our journey. In particular thank you to our Expectant Parent Social Workers Sue Shaw, Alecia Zimmerman along with Party Planner (which is one of her many, many other duties) Kristin Ackerman and all those staff members who came out to support this event: Wendy, Senovia, Michael, Lori, Shannon, Rachel, and Meg. And Sue Reardon, great video! Most important, this is your vision, Michele…I am so thankful my family is part of the Adoption STAR landscape.