Tuesday, December 15, 2009


When Buddy was about four weeks old the adoption agency called us and said they had a package for us. This happened quite regularly because in "those days" they didn't allow fully open adoptions, so we had to send all letters, pictures, and gifts to the agency first. They would open them and read them, then they'd forward them on to the recipient. We wrote to his birth mom every other week and she always wrote back, so there was a steady stream of letters going back and forth. The pit stop at the agency was extremely annoying to G and I. His birth mom never complained because I think she was just so grateful to hear from us.  We now realize how frustrating it was to her too.  Life with a newborn clips along quickly, so by the time she received our detailed accounting of his life, a couple weeks had passed and it was all old news. Not to mention, we were on pins and needles waiting to hear from her to make sure she was OK and that she was finding a little joy in the life that had just completely been turned upside down. Nothing was the same for her. After her delivery she moved to another state to live with her parents. She lost all her friends and her job, and she was doing all of that with empty and achy arms. The one little person that brought joy to her heart and had given her hope in the worst of situations was now the greatest joy of our lives.

We were heartbroken for her. And so each week we were anxious to hear how she was doing.

It was a few days before Christmas. We were living in an apartment and looking for a house and we were pretty sure we had just found a perfect one. I was trying to wrap things up at my job and I was taking my newborn baby into the office some days and driving him to my mom's house some days.  We had no tree because we were hoping to move soon.  We had newborn baby gear and boxes all over the apartment.  And we were exhausted, of course. 

When I got home from work on this particular day, I eagerly opened the package that the agency had forwarded onto us. Inside was a picture frame (which now holds our first family photo -- taken there in the agency conference room minutes after she placed him with us), a gorgeous scrapbook she had made for us of her pregnancy and her five days with him, and her detailed journal of everything she did and thought and felt while she spent her time with him. If I remember correctly, it was about 11 pages long. I remember reading it and weeping at the depth of love she had felt for her baby. And the depth of grief she was experiencing at his loss. It seemed incomprehensible that someone could be so strong in the face of such a trial, but she was optimistic about her life and his. And selfishly, that gave me comfort.  I just treasured her journal, knowing it would be so wonderful for him to read someday.

We continued to write letters for a few more months and then after the adoption was finalized (Buddy was 8 months old), we asked her for her email address. We figured the agency couldn't dictate our actions at that point, so on the day of Buddy's blessing, we sent her our first email. My email address includes my full name, and we attached a transcript of his blessing, which also included his full name. This was all a big deal because we were treading into "open" adoption and we didn't have anyone telling us this was OK.

Not too much later, we asked our caseworker if it was acceptable to have a post-placement visit with Buddy's birth mother. We had never known anyone to do this, but he said the agency was slowly becoming more open to openness and he encouraged us to do whatever we felt was right. To be honest, it seemed awkward NOT to see her again. But we didn't know how to bring it up with her. Several more months passed and one day she told us that sometime when we were in Utah visiting family that she would love to see us. Interestingly enough, we had a trip planned to Utah soon, so we made arrangements to meet at her house for an afternoon BBQ. Buddy was 17 months. We figured it might be "hard" or "awkward" to be there in her parent's home. Keep in mind, we didn't know anyone else who had done anything like this.  She has since told us it was hard, but we had a fantastic time and felt so comfortable spending the afternoon with them. Finally well past Buddy's bedtime, we drug ourselves from her home and left.  We worried we were being selfish and hurting her more than was needful.  But in our hearts, we knew that what we were doing was right.

We had another visit on my 30th birthday. Buddy had just turned three. And then we had another visit when Buddy was almost four. Both of those visits came at extremely critical times in our adoption journey to find Sambo.  I think I've blogged of them before.

G and I started getting the itch to hang out again over a year ago, so we invited her and her new husband to come visit us. She was newly pregnant and not feeling so great, so they declined. But let me just tell you, we were so thrilled about her pregnancy, so we totally understood.  And we understood her need to hold her family close and enjoy at least that pregnancy without involving us too much.

A few months ago we got an email from her husband. He has always been extremely supportive of us and from the first time he met Buddy (2 years ago), he sincerely loved him. He is a genuine guy, so when he asked if they could come visit sometime -- anytime -- as a surprise for her 30th birthday, we started making arrangements right away. We suggested they come for her birthday, which was also Thanksgiving week.

The days leading up to the visit were filled with anxiety and stress for all of us. We all supported this visit, but an afternoon BBQ is one thing. Spending five days together in our home is entirely different. But again, I knew in my heart that this was a good idea and would bring clarity to my mind as a mother, and as an adoption advocate. But since this isn't all about me, I thought it would be good for Buddy. And from what I knew about his birth mom, I thought it would be exciting for her to see our home, how we live, and more of his personality.

They've now come and gone.  Since their visit, I've been consumed with trying so hard to remember every detail of the visit. I think I learned more about myself, motherhood, grief, healing, joy, the gospel, sacrifice, and kindness in that short week than I have in the rest of my life combined. Not to mention, I gained so much insight into Buddy and his personality than I even thought possible. He is quite like me (and us), but his personality is very complex and I understand him so much more now. The interesting thing is, I realized how similar his birth mother and I are. It's eery how similar we are, so I'm still not sure if nature or nurture is a stronger pull with him. At the very least, it's interesting to think about.

G and I have just been in awe at the experience. First of all, we feel so fortunate to have gotten an objective view of Buddy. When we get caught up in the daily grind of life, it's hard to take a step back and see our children for who they really are. What their talents really are. Why they react or over-react to certain things. We got such a good look at his potential and the many wonderful gifts he came to the world with. I'm not trying to minimize the huge influence we have over him, but I could plainly see that many of her challenges happen to be his challenges. And likewise, her will to be the best she can -- and to love deeply -- and her sensitivity to sacred things -- and her zest for life -- and her sense of humor -- just so happen to be some of Buddy's greatest gifts. Her desire to please and to do good is so strong it incapacitates her at times. When I saw it happen to her while she was with us, my tender motherly heart just broke because it explained so much about Buddy. This will be a challenge for him and until I saw that in her, I didn't understand that part of his personality. Or mine, for that matter.

I have never experienced grief like hers and it was healing and motivating for me to see that in her. I know her, so I knew she wasn't "over it," but I realized while she was with us that she never will be. She sacrificed EVERYTHING so Buddy could have the best life possible. And now that she's a mother, she has a better sense of not only what she gave me, but what she lost. It was really, really hard to realize the intensity of her grief. In my naivety I assumed that because she's doing well and has a great husband and a darling baby and more faith than ever, this part of her life and all it's sadness and joy takes a back seat to everything else she has going on. But seeing the situation for what it is re-motivated me to be a better mother. Pretty much every time I receive an email or gift from her, I re-dedicate myself. But while she was here, I not only was on my best behavior because I felt like I had to prove I was providing everything she hoped for (which caused me more anxiety than you'll ever know).  But like I said, I suddenly caught sight of the bigger situation. I can be the best mother because she's set the pattern for me. Buddy started out with a mother that would lay down her life for him. I have never been asked to do that for him, so it makes the day-to-day mothering seem a little easier.  I can deal with tantrums and laundry and talking back and heaven-help-me all the teenage drama when it comes.  I chose this. And she gave it to me.

The lessons we have learned from her are just too many to count.  But one last lesson must be mentioned.  I kept telling people that it was the best and worst week ever.  Nothing bad happened per se, but as I already shared, the intensity of the situation weighed heavy on all of us (well, not the kids).  It was hard.  And through that, I learned that hard doesn't necessary mean bad.  It's OK to have hard experiences in life.  She placed her baby for adoption knowing it would be hard.  She came to our home knowing it would cause pain.  We invited her to our home knowing she would struggle here.  But it was OK.  In fact, it was good.  And I think there is a good lesson there.

Last, I must make it clear that we do not hide any of this from Buddy.  Some of the heavier conversations are saved for when he's not present because we speak to him in a way a child could understand.  But he knew it was hard for her.  He also knew that we were having a ton of fun and I have never seen him so happy or so "himself."  It was confusing for his birth mother to understand her place while she was here and she wanted to make sure she never parented him or overstepped her bounds (not that she would).  She asked me several times, "Who am I to him?  I'm not an aunt.  I'm not a friend.  I'm certainly not his mom.  Who am I?"  And to be quite frank, it was never an issue for him.  She's his birth mother.  He's comfortable with that because she always has been and because he's never not known her.  She is the one who gave him life, his gorgeous face, his talents, his smarts, his sense of humor, his tenderness, his family, and the gospel.  He knows that.  In fact, a few days ago he had a friend over to play and he asked his friend if he had a birth mom.  The friend was totally confused and said he didn't know what a birth mom was.  Buddy said, "You don't know what a birth mom is?  How do you not know what a birth mom is?  A birth mom is the person who gives birth to you.  She gives you your family."

I don't have a birth mom.  His birth mother doesn't have a birth mom.  So we have this strange need to come up with an explanation of who she is by comparing her to other relationships we have.  It's impossible to do that because this isn't like other relationships.  The interesting thing is, Buddy doesn't do that and he also doesn't confuse who she is.  Very interestingly, his brother, at age 2 also gets it.  Never once while she was here did either boy try to undermine our parenting.  (Buddy does it all the time when grandparents are here so that was a big shocker).  He had so much fun and was so comfortable with them and he tried SO hard to please them.  But he didn't think she was his mom.  And trust me, when Buddy is confused or stressed everyone knows.  He most definitely was not.  It was a relationship you can't totally understand, apparently, unless you're a part of it.

To Buddy it's clear.  I'm not naive enough to think that he'll never have doubts or questions or insecurities, but that is definitely not an issue now.  And if and when the day does come that he has a question, he has a relationship with her, so he can ask her (or me) and she'll tell him.  I love that! 


Emma said...

Those are some great insights. Thank-you for sharing.

Chelle said...

This post just kept going and I just kept crying. Thank you for your heart and your words.

You explained the complexity and blessings so well.


Vial said...

What a beautiful post. I can't even imagine the thoughts and feelings going on that week, but I know you are amazing and so is she. What a blessing Buddy has in having two such fantastic mothers.

Nicki said...

I had goosebumps reading this whole thing. Thank you for such a great glimpse into your relationship with her. I am still in awe that it happened and that it went relatively well!

Sarah said...

This is a beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing this experience.

Myndi said...

I love this post.

Jordan said...

I finally think I understand the "best week and worst week" thing. Since we spoke about it I have struggled with how that's possible. But now I get it! It can be rough and hard and bad, and not be bad at all, but good. I thank you, and her, for helping me understand.

JLJ said...

That is a lot to think about. I have no point of reference to this but your perspective is inspiringly honest and hopeful. I'm most impressed that you have chosen to trust, accept and love. I was thinking that my natural reactions would have been closer to defensive, possessive and mistrust. But I think that you show that it you never loose when you you love. Thanks for writing this post.