Jen has been working in the field of adoption for over a decade, helping birth mothers come to the decision of placing their children with adoptive families. Adoption can often be a positive and rewarding experience for everyone involved, but she will be the first to admit that it can also bring challenges for everyone involved.
And, as an adoptee, she can attest to those challenges firsthand.
Many of the obstacles that Jen faced, like so many other adoptees, could be attributed to the nature of the adoption relationship. While most of the adoptions that Jen works on are open or semi-open, her own adoption is closed. She was born in 1980, and most adoptees born at that time or earlier had no relationship with their birth mothers.
Although adoptions were much more closed than they are today, Jen’s parent were always very open with her about her adoption, and they told her what they could about her birth mother. But a closed adoption still leaves gaps in the story, and she couldn’t help but imagine what her birth mother was like. In fact, she and her best friend from childhood – also adopted – made a game of it.
“We had this awesome story,” she said. “Her birth mom was a gymnast, so she had to choose adoption because she was in the Olympics, and my mom was a supermodel and had to choose adoption because she’s a supermodel. So we had these stories in our head and idealized our birth moms.”
While she said that these kinds of behaviors were normal among adoptees, she added that the idea of her imagined birth mother made her hesitant to actually reach out to her. At different times in her life, she started to look into the search and reunion process, but circumstances in her own life – first a marriage and then a pregnancy – required her attention, and she never ended up contacting her birth mother.
It was during this time, though, that she realized she wanted to work in adoption. The social worker who helped her begin her search left her with a desire to help other people affected by adoption. “I just wanted to do what she did for me for one person,” she said.
Still, the curiosity about her birth mother was never completely quelled. While she knew that her birth mother was not the supermodel she had created in her head, she didn’t have any real information on the woman who placed her for adoption so long ago. Whenever she travelled to the city where she was adopted, she would think about the tiniest possibility that she would walk by her on the street.
Because of the uncertainty that she and so many other adoptees have faced in the past, she is a staunch advocate of open adoptions.
“People will ask, ‘Do you hate your birth mom?’ I think that’s one of birth moms’ biggest fears. No, I didn’t hate my birth mom. But I questioned why she made that decision. One of the great things about adoption today is that kiddos who are adopted today don’t have to go through that because of open and semi-open adoption.”
Not only is she a proponent of open adoptions, but she added that the effects of adoption in her life were much more positive than negative. Her parents were always there for her and provided her with whatever she needed. She was not treated differently than her brother, who is her parents’ biological child. Even when she struggled with aspects of her adoption, they always talked about it with her in a positive light – as something that did not define her, but was still a part of who she was.
She went as far as to say that adoption may have saved her life. As an infant, she suffered from a heart defect that her mother was fortunately quick to notice. “When I was two months old, my mom noticed that when I was feeding, my lips would turn blue. I just think that my birth mom, being a busy single mom and not a nurse…I don’t know if she would have caught those symptoms as early as my mom did.”
In speaking about adoption and the effect it had on her life, Jen was very open and honest about the challenges she faced. At the same time, her stance on adoption was undoubtedly positive. Looking back on all the questions she had about her birth mother, she landed on one thing that she knew she would want to say to her.
“Some people ask if I want to tell her I’m thankful,” she said. “I think what I really want to tell her is that I’m OK. Because I feel like she’s spent the last 35 years going, ‘What happened to that girl? Is she OK? Is she healthy? Is she happy?’ My family was not wealthy, but I never needed for anything… My life is not perfect at all, but I don’t think that I would have it nearly as good as I did if I hadn’t been adopted.”