on first meeting

Last week I wrote that we’d be meeting the mother of Baby J’s biological father (aka her grandmother by birth) for the first time. I wrote how I feel a need to foster a connection between Baby J and this side of her family, since her biological father has not really provided that connection so far (as our contact has been minimal).

I wrote that I thought we’d need to create and maintain some healthy boundaries with Baby J’s biological grandmother, for the sake of our new family. I edited to clarify that my issue was not merely her initial lack of support for the adoption — that was hardly it at all; and besides, she is supportive now — but because we have not been able to build the trust necessary for a good open relationship, and there is reason for concern.

Ultimately I’m concerned about whether our future interaction may serve to undermine our little girl’s well being or our new family in some way.

The meeting was fine, it went well. We had a lovely lunch with nice conversation. We all marveled at our beautiful baby girl. They saw how much we love and adore her. We heard that they would like to be a part of her life. They held her for hours. We took pictures. We talked about our story. It really did go well.

And yet.

It wasn’t an easy meeting. There were awkward moments. There was tension. I assumed this was natural under the circumstances, and I did my best to ignore it and be perfectly lovely.

I realize we’ve been spoiled with the ease of our relationship with K. But that came with time and a lot of effort. From our initial meeting in which we felt an instant connection with K, to building our bond over time, our hearts opened and expanded to include K and her family over a period of six intense months. M and I worked to overcome our fears and embrace the potential for good. And when things got hectic, we could stand upon a foundation of trust with K and be honest with one another.

Very different here.

I should say that any family has its own dynamics, especially with in-laws or grandparents to new babies. Yet open adoption brings even more people to the table. Instead of 4 sets of potential grandparents, there could be 8 sets (or 16 with step-parents, etc.). That’s a lot to negotiate, potentially.

As with any such convening, it was emotionally charged. A first meeting. A brand new baby. A new family. First time grandparents with little connection to their son and a fear of loss. A safe neutral place. A few hours time.

Unlike a phone conversation or email, an in-person meeting provides added dimension. A hug, a smile, a firm handshake, the smell of a baby’s head or a kiss on her cheek — these are things you can’t convey electronically. Yet with this also comes interpretation. Even the slightest comment or gesture can be misconstrued. Eye contact, body language, even clothing, all convey much about who we are and what we intend.

And so it was that we experienced our first meeting with Baby J’s biological grandmother, step-grandfather, and young aunt, on a hot summer afternoon when Baby J was nearly 10 weeks old.

The high points? Putting faces to the names, voices and story. Watching Baby J’s 11 year old aunt feed her a bottle and offer to babysit. Hearing that they are happy with this outcome. Seeing the knitted blanket made for Baby J. Taking photos that she will have forever. And my lunch, of course.

The tough moments? Knowing  they will always want and expect more than we are willing to give. Realizing how little her birth grandmother knows about Baby J’s biological father. Hearing a misguided comment about loss inappropriately dumped onto a tiny child. And finally, what could have been a sweet gesture of pride instead comes across as an improper claim of possession.

When I say “claim of possession,” I don’t mean proudly referring to Baby J as “ours,” or saying “look, she’s got his chin.” It’s the belief that a child is a possession to be claimed or owned, rather than a little being in need of care, guidance and connection. The child is viewed as secondary rather than as a unique individual in his or her own right. Ultimately, it’s about the person seeking to claim, and not about the child. This is a significant issue that any parent should ponder, I think.

I can’t get more into specifics as I want to respect Baby J’s story. In fact, I may not even write about our interactions in the future, since I can’t find a way to say what I want to say without saying too much…

For now, any decision regarding the extent or frequency of our future in person contact is left in the balance. I imagine we will have contact, but clearly we will need to establish some boundaries to preserve and respect our own family unit.

Maybe this is all normal. Relationships such as these can be awkward. Certainly birth grandparents suffer great loss too. I intend to ensure that they know this child in whatever way is possible, mostly for Baby J’s sake.

I just don’t yet know what is possible.

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~ by luna on August 14, 2009.

11 Responses to “on first meeting”

  1. It’s all possible, Luna, but potentially so fragile too. I admire the care you take to so consciously open your heart and include all of Baby J’s biological relatives, especially her birth grandmother. I know all about the precarious balance that must often be negotiated between protecting your own family and letting the others in enough to maintain harmonious connection. We have sadly be forced to end our attempts to have a healthy relationship with our son’s biological father (our known sperm donor), but we continue to pursue regular contact with the grandparents, who were supportive and happy about our DI process from the beginning. They adore our son and *say* they want to be involved in his life, but it seems that I am always the one initiating visits. There is awkwardness, but also joy, and it may always be this way. It’s so difficult to see into the future in these situations, and we can only do what is in the child’s best interest. I commend you so highly for your careful efforts and I hope that you can ease into comfortable and positive connections.

  2. I’m glad that things went mostly good and hope that things in the future with this additional family are smooth.

  3. It takes a lot of strength and grace to do what you are doing. Trying to be compassionate to them yet protect your family. It’s all uncharted territory. All you can do is your best.

  4. You’ve given me a lot of food for thought to digest here. I think you’re both so amazing for keeping these connections open for Baby J. Simply born out of love for Baby J. You have to be compassionate towards yourself as well. Mmmm, I wonder what’s ahead for me, but I appreciate your writing about this.

  5. Argh. Sounds like a real family…all the complications and drama and toe stepping on included.
    Just remember, you are the parents, you set the boundries. I know it has been the hardest lesson for me as a parent, especially with my H’d messed up family, who we ended up cutting ties with because they refused to respect our choices and be a part of our family in a positive way. The bottom line for us was, is this relationship going to add to our family or take away from it? They came out on the take away side….
    A long way of saying, open adoption, natures parents, however you come to be a parent, you set the tone, you make the rules, you are the ultimate guardian for your child. You do what you know in your heart to be right and she will be fine. Golden.

    ANd did I write before about how stunning that blanket is???? WOW!

  6. 16 grandparents? Ay ay ay.

    Your effort is truly admirable, Luna, and you’ll see what comes of it. It is strange, the way adults claim children as appendages or accessories to their internal dramas. That’s one thing I’m hoping to avoid in my own parenting, because I agree: That little one is a person, first and foremost, with her/his own destiny and life to make.

  7. Luna, this?

    ” It’s the belief that a child is a possession to be claimed or owned, rather than a little being in need of care, guidance and connection. The child is viewed as secondary rather than as a unique individual in his or her own right. Ultimately, it’s about the person seeking to claim, and not about the child. ”

    Describes my MIL. This is her view of her grandchild, exactly. It’s why we’ve been on pins and needles since Bella arrived, and why Maddy blew everything wide open. (Hard to turn a deadbaby into a project, I suppose.) I guess my point here is sadly, some g’parents are like this — no matter the relation. And I obviously haven’t found a way to connect to mine, either. But I feel you here. It’s v. difficult to negotiate. I would keep things on neutral territory as much as possible. And I too worry about when Bella figures this out — that she’s an object and not a granddaughter. She’s a smart kid, and that knowledge is gonna hurt someday.

  8. […] our own I recently wrote about the concept of “possession” and “ownership” when it comes to […]

  9. […] hasn’t been as easy with Baby J’s biological father, yet, or his family, and it will be interesting for us to determine where an appropriate boundary might be, given our […]

  10. […] in August. We’ve continued to reach out to members of her birth family, even when it has been challenging. And we (finally) enjoyed our first visit to our local pumpkin patch, which was so unlike our visit […]

  11. […] five months old, and saw him again in January when she was nearly eight months old.) While that first meeting with Grandma Lea last summer went well, there were some understandably awkward moments which left us […]

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