post contributed by Audra, adoptive mom
Cutting It Close
Just four weeks after submitting our adoption application, we found ourselves in the delivery room with birthparents Markael and Rhianna*, laughing, storytelling, and awaiting the birth of our son. With our first adoption a year prior, we’d been totally rushed and anxious, racing to the hospital for an emergency C-section and arriving just minutes before our daughter was born. We were breathless and worried then, after years of failed attempts at pregnancy and a failed adoption.
But this time was different. The very first day after we turned in our second adoption application, we’d matched with an amazing couple. They already had a toddler, like we did. They lived nearby. They were around our age. They were due in just six weeks, except that the baby was now coming early. Having only met them once, Mike and I wondered, would our new relationship with these birth parents be strong enough to hold us together through the adoption process? So much, so fast. Were we cutting it too close?
“Don’t rush,” Rhianna reassured us by text message from her hospital bed that morning. “I’m in labor, but we have time.” Indeed, we did have time. We ended up waiting for hours together in the delivery room, at their invitation. During that time, we told stories – laughing about jobs, television, parenting, and our learning curve as white parents naming and raising strong and beautiful black children.
Then, suddenly, it happened. A whoosh! A push! A baby boy! The doctor gestured toward Markael to cut the cord, but Markael turned toward Mike, beaming. “There’s your son,” he said, as he passed the scissors into Mike’s open hands. “There’s your son.”
After the cut, there were tears, smiles, and photos: First Rhianna and Markael holding the baby, smiling while we took pictures, then us holding the baby while they took pictures. We soon moved into separate rooms, but we stayed close for those first 48 hours in the hospital. Though the baby stayed in our room, we all moved back and forth to visit each other, and we met each other’s family members as they arrived: their daughters, our daughter, then my parents. In this emotional life moment for all of us, we were bonding. But is this too much, we wondered? Too close?
The worry was there, but it was so small in comparison to the big love that we felt for our son and for each other. On our final day in the hospital, there were thank-you notes, flowers, congratulations, and a written agreement that Mike and I would send pictures and call them a couple times a year. But in our hearts, we hoped that we’d be able to be even more open and stay close at hand.
Cutting It Closer
Our first visits after our son was born were at local playground. Our toddlers played together while we adults caught up on parenthood over baby bottles and breakfast. Eventually, Mike and I decided to host these breakfasts at our home every few months. During one of these visits, I asked for advice on getting my boy’s first haircut, barbershops being outside of my experience as a white woman. “Every black parent I’ve talked to says they do haircuts at home,” I told Markael. “I don’t know what to do about that. Should I take him somewhere?” Without hesitation, Markael smiled and said, “I could do it. I barber.”
I nodded politely and looked away. I’d have to think about that. The first haircut was a big life moment, and I was admittedly emotional about the milestone for our little boy. Wouldn’t it be emotionally confusing or complicated to involve birth parents? Wouldn’t it violate some kind of boundaries we should be keeping up? “How do you feel?” Mike asked me later that night, as we sat arm-in-arm on the couch after tucking the kids into bed. “I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe it’s just too personal? Too close?”
Why was I afraid? I recalled having felt afraid before, when we’d first learned about open adoption. I also recalled how far we’d come over the past years, working through fears and myths about open adoption with the help of our agency, social workers, and the birth parents and adoptive parents who share their stories in our local adoption group. With their support, we’d learned that risk and trust are part of open adoption. We’d also learned that fear wouldn’t stop us, if we didn’t let it. “When Avon was born, Markael passed me the scissors to cut the cord,” Mike reminded me. “I think we should pass the scissors back. Don’t you?”
And so, a few weeks later in our living room, our son sat in his high chair for his first haircut, with Markael barbering and Rhianna and I both taking pictures while our daughters ran around giggling together. I felt so full of love and joy. With each photo I snapped, I thought of how I’d have these images to share with my son later in life to reassure him: “We were all there. All of us, together. And we all loved you so much.”
Closer & Closer
“There can never be too many people to love a child,” a wise person once told me. But what that love looks like will be different in every adoption. Our son’s open adoption arrangement looks different from our daughter’s open adoption. Many of our friends have also adopted through Adoptions Advocates Inc. They are brilliant families whose relationships with their birth parents are unique, just like ours. As a group sharing our stories with each other regularly, we’ve learned that relationships with birthparents are sometimes more open and some less, depending upon the circumstances. We’ve also learned that relationships with birthparents can change over time. Over a lifetime, any number of things may draw us apart, or bring us closer together. We reflect and adapt according to what feels right to us and, most importantly, what feels right to our children.
For us, for now, our son’s birth family feels like extended family, sort of like the aunts and uncles and cousins I visited a few times a year when I was a kid. We get together sometimes to play and eat and and laugh. In this way, we are building our relationships not on one single act of risk or trust (like relinquishment or adoption), but on small acts of risk and trust that become regular over time (like phone calls, photos, and occasional visits).
As it turns out, haircuts are perfect, natural reminders to schedule a visit. Markael, Rhianna, and their daughter will come this Sunday to do our son’s second haircut, and we’re happy for their family and for ours. For us, for now, we’re cutting it close and it looks so good.
*Birth parents’ names are pseudonyms.