Do Not Open Until Christmas

Once again the holidays are upon us. It’s time to plan a trip to see my daughter’s birthparents. Yes, you read that correctly. Her birthparents.

My ex-husband and I chose to do what is called an open adoption. This is a domestic adoption in which the birthparents and the adoptive parents agree to enter into an adoption agreement. In other words, the birthmother makes the final selection rather than a social worker. The two sets of adults maintain as much or as little contact as the parties chose. Some birthmothers merely want photos and updates. Some birthmothers are fully integrated into their child’s new family. Many open adoptions fall somewhere in between.

My daughter’s adoption would probably be classified as very open. Not only do I send the birthparents photos and emails, but we talk on the phone. I’m friends with them on Facebook as well as Katie’s three brothers. (Yes, I call them her brothers because what other term could I possibly use?) Katie and I visit several times per year, and they come to my home as well. The two younger boys helped Katie navigate the sensory challenges in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They’ve proudly introduced her to their friends.

I wasn’t sure how an open adoption would work with a four-year-old and a nine-year-old. But from the beginning, the boys seemed to understand and accept what was happening. It was the adults who struggled at first. I’m a strong advocate of open adoption but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s probably not for everyone. Yet the boys took everything in stride.

A few years ago, the youngest said, “Katie gets to call my mom her birthmother. What do I call you?”

I thought for a moment. “I don’t think there is a term. I guess we need to make one up.”

“I know,” he said. “You can be my backup mom.”

“Okay,” I said, fighting tears. “That works for me.”

I’m happy to be the primary parent to my daughter and the backup mom to the birthmother’s three other children. (Her oldest son is from her first marriage, and yes, we know him too.) In return, the birthparents serve as backup for my daughter. It might not make sense to you, but it works just fine for us.

Katie’s birthparents were two of the first people I told when I filed for divorce. I was dreading the conversation because I felt that I’d failed them. The birthmother said I was being ridiculous, and both were amazingly supportive during the rough times that followed. When their marriage ended, I returned the favor. Now our visits include boyfriends and girlfriends—a strange assortment of people who all love Katie, a strange assortment of people who I consider family.

That has been the biggest surprise of my adoption journey. Not only did I gain a long-awaited daughter, but I added several branches to my family tree. Those branches are filled with beautiful, quirky, brave, and authentic people who I’m proud to know and love. As we enter the often stress-filled holiday season, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Have a wonderful and relaxing Thanksgiving.

Until next time,
Cynthia Patton

About Cynthia J. Patton

Writer, Editor, Advocate, Speaker, Special Needs Attorney, and Autism Mom. Also the Founder and Chairperson of Autism A to Z, a nonprofit providing resources and solutions for life on the spectrum.
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4 Responses to Do Not Open Until Christmas

  1. jason ravanell says:

    we are looking forward to seeing you! :)

  2. Jennifer Rous Gelker says:

    Cynthia – always great to hear others adoption stories. We opted for a different route, international. Mark came home from Samara, Russia on Christmas Eve 6 years ago. We traveled for our first visit right before Thanksgiving, so this is always a special time for us. There are many days where I would love to be able to pass on stories of his life to his mom, at the very least let her know he is healthy and happy. Some day we hope to go back, but not sure we can ever find her. We have our own version of extended family, the other families we traveled both trips with. Fortunately 2 of the other 3 families live close and we see them each year. So nice for the children to have that to share as they get older. Wishing you and your entire extended family a very happy holiday season!

    • cjpatton says:

      No matter the path one takes to adoption, it’s always wonderful to hear the stories. Each one is special in its own unique way. I’m so glad that you stayed in touch with the families you traveled with to Russia. What an amazing story to share with your child (and me!).
      Regardless of the type of adoption one pursues, I think it’s important to craft an individual adoption story. This simple step transforms a potentially shameful secret into a positive and loving act. Congratulations on your adoption and have a wonderful holiday season.

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