Eight Years of Open Adoption
by Lisa Ritter Starr
One year has passed since I moved away from my daughter's hometown, where I lived from her birth until she turned eight years old. Soon I'll be flying back to visit for her ninth birthday, which I hear is a big one. Since it's also the end of the calendar year and the beginning of a new one, I thought I'd go back and review some of the times that have passed.
So much can happen in a year. For adults this progression is not as obvious, but you can see it clearly when you watch the progress of a child. For example, in my daughter's first year, she gained several inches and pounds and learned to laugh, sit up, crawl, and say her first words. Those are major lessons, and represent major changes.
The first year for birth mothers in an open adoption also feels full of changes, and is often the hardest. The baby's progress happens remarkably quickly, and each first represent another loss. If the adoption is open enough to include visits and the two sets of parents are friends, the birth mother probably hears about each of them right after they occur. Yet even if she has frequent visits, it is unlikely that she will actually be present for the first word, first smile, or first step.
My daughter's has always been a very open adoption, so I was there for some firsts her first night home from the hospital, first doctor visit, and first holiday. It was difficult, however, to hear about it when I missed her first smile and first trip to the ocean. She also spent her first Mother's Day out of state. I liked hearing about them, especially because her adoptive mother was so excited to share her progress with me, but each of these steps required another degree of letting go.
With each year that passed, there were other special occasions to share. I remember holding my daughter in front of her first birthday cake, and was surprised when she didn't dig in with her hands like other one-year-olds are known to do. When my daughter was two, we saw each other about every two weeks. She met my mother and my sister's family for the first time. She and I spent some time alone every now and then, to visit my friends or go out for tea or ice cream.
In her third year, I made plans to go to Germany for one year. While I was there, I spoke to KQ on the phone every Sunday. Each time, she would ask me what I had been doing, and tried to show me (through the phone) what was going on around her. She often asked me when I was going to get out of Germry, and if I'd like to come over. She didn't quite grasp how far away I was, but was content to know that I would be coming back someday soon.
When I returned from overseas, my daughter and her adoptive mother went to my family reunion. There, they met dozens of my family members, including many cousins, aunts, uncles, and my brother. We had a great time, but another phase began when we went back to her hometown, where we all lived. KQ sometimes avoided me and said things like, I only love my mom. I didn't understand it at the time. Later, I realized she may have thought my return from Germany meant the end of the adoption. Luckily, this phase only lasted for a few difficult weeks. Perhaps she saw that the adoption was still on, and no longer worried that she would lose the only home she'd ever known.
When my daughter was five, she attended preschool. This is when she began to sing a lot (like her birth father), create little altars out of found objects (like her adoptive father), and converse in a quite grown-up way, using words and tone that mimicked her adoptive mother. She always got a big kick out of it when people remarked how much she and I looked alike.
During her sixth year, my daughter's parents separated. She was fairly independent by that time, and had already spent the night at my house, as well as other friend's and family member's houses. I even ended up moving in for about six months with her and her adoptive mother. I helped them pay their mortgage until their house sold. KQ liked to get up early and would sometimes sit on the stairs outside my bedroom door and sing softly until I woke up and opened my door. She also loved my two cats and was sad to see them go with me when the house sold and we all moved out.
The next year may have been a little chaotic for all of us. My daughter and her mother lived in a temporary house for a while, and her parents had to develop a schedule to share in her life separately. She spent lots of time with other family members, too. Her birth father's mother would read with her and sometimes they would go to church together. I visited about once every two weeks, and her birth father came over once a month or so. She also had lots of friends from school and got to play with them often.
When KQ turned eight, she and her mother had a house of their own near the school she attends. She had lots of friends and had gotten to know and love her two new aunts her two birth uncles' wives. Just after her eighth birthday, I moved several states away back to my hometown. Six months later, her birth father also moved for the first time. It was the end of an era.
It may be an end, but an end is also a beginning. This really hits home for me when I come to the end of one year and celebrate a new one. I have visited my daughter three times this past year, and I will be there for her ninth birthday party soon. KQ is now in a city choir and sounds more like a teenager every day. She has a lot of friends, family, interests, and talents. I am very thankful that I have been part of her life and have first-hand experience of it.
In the coming year, I may not see my daughter as much as I used to, but I hope someday that we can live closer. With openness in adoption, this is not only possible, but desired by adoptive family and birth family alike. That is the great thing about openness. Some think it is not possible. We are living proof that it is.
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