Open Adoption: One Birthmother’s Story

Janet Menke is a birthmother to a son in an open adoption. She is married to Greg, the birthfather, and lives with their daughter just outside of Baltimore, Maryland. She blogs about her journey to motherhood and her open adoption.

She begins with the questions many birth families ask themselves.

What if he is confused about who his Mom and Dad are?
What if he loves them more?
What if he hates us and feels like we gave him up because he wasn’t good enough?
What if he hates me for not being ready to be a Mom?
What if she is afraid we’re going to give her up too?
What if she wants to go live with her brother?

These were just some of the questions Buzz and Sally, Spike’s adoptive parents, and Greg and I, Spike’s birthparents, grappled with as we contemplated changing our semi-open adoption to a fully open adoption. Open adoptions were not uncommon in 2002 but still not totally mainstream. Initially the plan was to have a semi-open adoption with all contact going through the agency because that’s all the contact we thought we’d want or need. After Spike was born however my husband Greg went on a soul searching journey on whether to have another child. It was during a visit to the adoption agency when Spike was still an infant that Sally and I spoke on the phone. Given the possibility of another child entering the picture Sally suggested an open adoption to allow the kids to know each other as they grew up.

“If you have another child those kids are going to want to know each other. They’re going to want to be at each other’s birthday parties.”

I had to concede she was likely right but I was nervous. In parenthood we make thousands of choices- some easy, and others are very difficult with no obvious right answers. My husband and I wanted the best for Spike; we loved him, but we were also looking at what our future child might want and think. The problem is there was no crystal ball to tell us what the future holds. There weren’t any bolts of lightning opening the heavens with a voice from above saying “I declare this is the right path.” We four collective parents each grappled with the openness question. After Sally initially suggested the open adoption option we corresponded, had dinner together once to talk about our fears and concerns and sent a few e-mails to each other. In the end the final question became:

“What if we don’t open the adoption and the kids hate us for putting our own fears first and not allowing them to know each other as they grow up?”

It took time. For the next year we communicated via e-mail, had dinner at the aptly named “The Treaty of Paris Restaurant”, and saw Spike once or twice at the adoption agency. When Spike was getting ready to turn two Buzz took a new job out of state. It was then that the four of us were ready to take the plunge into the uncharted waters of open adoption. They invited us over to their house for dinner and we celebrated Spike’s second birthday together.

We kept in touch after that, visited each other’s homes several times a year, and ultimately our daughter Joy was born in January of 2006 in the same hospital and even delivery room as Spike. Our son and his parents decided to visit us in the hospital and Spike in his three year old voice proudly told everyone around “this is my sister Joy, I’m a big brother.” Tears welled up in my eyes as he said this over and over again.

Time passed. The kids saw each other for birthdays, we visited each other several times a year, and kept in touch by phone and e-mail, and one time we even took a vacation with our son and his parents. Buzz and Sally became “Uncle Buzz” and “Aunt Sally” to Joy. The kids seemed to be okay with the openness but were they really?

This past August we were visiting for the weekend with Spike and his parents. The kids, then 10 and 6, were playing in Spike’s bedroom. Sun shone through the windows in the late afternoon. His room was decorated in a space theme with glow in the dark stars on the ceiling, and a lamp with planets on it on the dresser. A comforter with rockets on it lay rumpled up at the foot of his twin bed. The night he was born we stitched embroidered patches of cats on a butter yellow fleece blanket. We wrapped him in that blanket the next day when I held him for the first time. I could see that blanket carefully folded sitting on a shelf through the open closet doors.

In the corner of that sunny bedroom I was carefully doing my needlework, cross stitching a Christmas ornament. I paid careful attention as I counted rows in my snow white fabric, and made the pattern of two raccoons decorating a Christmas tree come to life. The truth was though, this was an excuse to watch my kids unobtrusively, get a window into their world.

Spike and Joy had what seemed like a hundred stuffed animals out in the middle of the floor. There was a blanket spread out on the tan carpet. They were playing a game of make believe.

“I shall defend my Princess, Princess Joy against the animals,” Spike said in a low voice and marched the animals across the blanket, out of harm’s way across the blanket away from Joy.

“Oh thank you King Spike, you are my hero,” Joy said in a high-pitched voice.

“Spike I was wondering, would you like to come and live with us?” Joy asked. “We could play together all the time and I wouldn’t miss you.”

Tears welled up in my eyes as I listened to her question. This was the moment of truth. All of those questions. All of the concerns we had about openness. The time was now. I was going to get my answer about whether we’d made the right decisions. My heart thudded, my body tensed. Head down, I remained silent, looking at my needlework, noticing a mistake or two, and waited what seemed like an eternity to hear Spike’s response.

“Joy thank you for asking. I love you guys and I miss you guys when we’re not together but I love my Mom and Dad too and they are my parents. I love my house and I love my friends. I would miss them. I love you but I don’t want to move. This is my home,” Spike said.

I waited what seemed like an eternity for Joy’s response.

“Well okay, your choice, but if you ever change your mind about living with us let me know,” Joy said nonchalantly and they continued their game of King and Princess as if nothing had ever happened.

All of these years and all of those fears…. This was it. Neither child resented us. There was no confusion about whose parents were whose. No body hated me, nobody hated us. Spike and Joy love each other and when we are together they are brother and sister. When we leave our visits though they are content with the lives we live. We made the right decision so many years ago. This was my “ah ha” moment. I held back my tears of relief and gave both kids a quick hug not letting on to the significance of this moment, this moment of clarity I’d waited for so long.

Read Letters Adoptive Parents Sent to their children’s birth mother:

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