How many of us make plans for 20 years in the future? Many people don’t tend to think that far ahead. And yet, when a birth parent is working with an adoption agency, adoptive parents, and maybe even lawyers to create an adoption plan this is exactly what they are asked to do, think what life might be like in the far future.
Choosing Semi-Open Adoption: I Didn’t Realize Everything I’d Be Missing
I didn’t question my semi-open adoption plan while it was being proposed. It was a basic five-year plan that I’m sure the adoption lawyer had used in several other adoption cases both before and after mine. It stated that after placement the adoptive parents would send correspondence through the agency to me in the form of written letters and photos of my daughter until she turned five. An update once every few months for the first year of her life and then once a year for the remaining four years. At the time, while still pregnant, I thought that sounded great; I was going to get to see pictures of her until she was five! I just saw what I was getting, not everything I was going to be missing.
Back then, 21 years ago, cameras required film to take pictures and then you had to get that film developed before you could see the images you had captured. It was later in the evening of the day I had placed my beautiful daughter in the arms of her new loving parents and said goodbye. I was anxiously awaiting my mom’s return from the drugstore after developing film so I could see all of the pictures I had taken of my daughter during the two days I cared for her in the hospital. I knew then, on that same day I had said goodbye to her, while looking at and crying over the pictures I was left with, that five years was going to pass way too fast. I was already regretting my semi-open adoption plan.
When I gave birth to my daughter I was 22. This is not an extremely young age, but I was still naïve. Naïve to the fact that I had a voice, that I could have asked for more, that by giving two people my daughter to raise, pictures were the very least of things they could offer in return. I had never previously dealt with an attorney before. Even lawyers with the best intentions can seem intimidating to a young pregnant girl. Before I continue, I want to clarify that I was not coerced in any way to do anything I didn’t want to do by either the attorney or adoptive parents. They treated me with respect and care. I was simply not equipped with enough information to have made the best decision for what my future as a birth mom would be like and how that sixth year with no more updates would affect me. Had I been warned, had I perhaps known another birth mom that had already gotten to the sixth year of a semi-open adoption plan, then my views of a more open plan for myself would have been much different.
Requesting Ongoing Contact
As feared, five years passed in the blink of an eye. I had met my husband a year after the adoption and we were married two years later. He witnessed how I would eagerly count down the days until the next update on my daughter, always around her summer birthday. How I would cherish every single photo and letter that provided me with just a glimpse into her world and who she was. He also saw the dread in me leading up to that fifth year. What was I going to do if I couldn’t see how tall she had grown next year? How will I know what kind of toys she liked to play with? What outfit did she wear for her first grade picture? What was she for Halloween; did she play any sports, was she in the talent show, was her birthday cake chocolate or vanilla? All the things I wouldn’t get to see or read about. All these tiny little details and moments that make up a lifetime.
I hadn’t considered a fully open adoption while pregnant. I felt that letting someone else raise her, that placing my baby in their arms was going to be hard enough for me to do just the one time. Saying goodbye devastated me. How would I be able to see her regularly and have to say goodbye again every single time they took her home with them? I couldn’t stand the idea of watching them walk away with her in their arms over and over again. These were the thoughts I had and the moments I played over in my head while pregnant, my reasoning for not wanting to see her after the papers were signed. I thought it would be too hard for me. It took all of three seconds after I said goodbye and watched her leave the hospital room for me to realize how ignorant I was for thinking that way.
At the five year mark when I knew I still wasn’t ready to see the updates come to an end I wrote a letter to the adoptive parents and sent it, as usual, through the adoption agency to reroute to them directly. In my letter I asked if they would be open to continuing our correspondence through the mail. I stated that I knew it wasn’t in our original agreement but that I would be very appreciative if they’d consider it anyway. Waiting for their reply was perhaps more stressful for my husband than for me. I decided to resign to the fact that I was asking for something they hadn’t signed up for and I would have to accept a “no thank you” in response. My husband thought they owed it to me to keep sending the photos, but it wasn’t a matter of owing anyone, it was a matter of adhering to a contract. The “no thank you” came in the mail about a week later.
Why I Encourage Pregnant Women to Choose Fully Open Adoption
Sixteen years have passed since I’ve received an update on my daughter. She is now legally old enough to obtain her adoption records from the agency on her own. My anticipation could no longer be contained and I sent two letters to the adoption agency last summer making sure all of my contact information was on file and up-to-date. I still haven’t heard anything from my daughter or her parents.
I remind myself every day to not shift blame onto anyone else. I made an agreement. I signed an adoption contract and regretted the terms almost immediately. No one else did this to me. My advice to any birth parent considering a semi-adoption plan would be to consider what you’re agreeing to miss out on. Letters and pictures for five years were a great thing and I am so grateful for each one that I have that shows me just a little bit of my daughter that I otherwise would not have gotten to see. However, I know that if I had been coached just a little differently, or had the opportunity to know/see through someone else what it’s like to be in a more open adoption agreement, I would go back and choose the fully open option a thousand times.
In my eyes, a more open plan would have eliminated the need for updates through the mail. I would have instead, chosen to see first-hand how much my daughter had grown and what flavor birthday cake she had, and maybe have even gotten to tag along for trick-or-treating. These are some of the moments I missed out on in real life and, as time passed, in pictures too. I know now that if I had the chance to see her regularly the frequent goodbyes wouldn’t have been as hard as the one in the hospital was 21 years ago. The right open adoption plan can mean not having to say goodbye, just “see you next time.”For me, and for now, I’ll just keep wearing the edges of the precious photos and letters I am lucky enough to have until the next time I get to see my beautiful daughter again.
Laura Tuzzio is a writer, wife, mom, and birth mom. She shares her story to inspire and educate anyone touched by adoption.