on the day she was born, and thereafter
It’s been a busy week in the Luna household. Three birthday celebrations for our now two-year old girl, two visits with birth family, and emotions high and low.
Where to begin?
I’ve been telling Jaye her birth story in some more detail. I’ve been telling it in some form since the day she was born, but a few months ago I started using this book to illustrate a bit more. It’s not at all about adoption, but rather about a child’s connection to the universe — to the stars and sea, sun and moon, forests and beaches, nature and wonder, animals and humans alike.
On the last page, a newborn baby is held by a woman and surrounded by a circle of loved ones who welcome the beloved child to the world. The very first time I read it to Jaye when she was a tiny baby — adding her name and using “we” instead of “they” — I cried, of course. Later, I added that the golden-haired woman in the middle was Kaye, and the people in the circle included Mama and Dada and Grandma Bea, who were all there that beautiful morning. I told her we were all so happy, that we had all waited so long to meet her. I told her that on the day she was born, Kaye was so strong. I told her that Mama and Dada were there and cried happy tears. I told her how much we all love her.
The next time I read it, Jaye remembered.
When we got to the last page, she said “[Kaye] so strong! Mama and Dada happy tears!” Wow, I thought. It’s only repetition, but she remembered, even if she didn’t understand quite yet. I mean, sure, she knows on a cellular level who Kaye is, who Grandma Bea is, I think. But Jaye doesn’t yet understand what that means, and she probably won’t for some time. Still. It was the first time we were interacting in my explanation about how we became her parents, instead of just telling her how lucky we are that Kaye asked us.
“That’s right, honey,” I said as we looked at the book together. “[Kaye] was so strong when she brought you in to the world. And Mama and Dada were so happy to become your Mama and Dada.” Sometimes she’ll add something like, “all there!” And I’ll say, “Yes, sweetie, we were all there. And we all love you so much.”
And that’s the whole point, really, to let her know how much we all love her, that we’re all family. Not just her Mama and Dada — who have the pleasure and the privilege of sharing this story with her now — but Kaye and her family too. I want her to know they are her family, they are our family. I want her to know how much everyone loved her from the beginning, from before there was even Mama and Dada.
And while there is much more complexity — and the day will certainly come when it gets much, much harder — for now, it is simple. Except when it’s not.
Last weekend we celebrated Jaye’s second birthday with Kaye, her mom and little brother (Grandma Bea and teen Uncle Cee). Kaye really wanted to be here on Jaye’s actual birthday but could not, so we settled for the Sunday before. Kaye was excited to see Jaye. Not surprisingly there was a rush of emotion when she did. Just like last year, I can’t possibly attribute anything to Kaye other than what I’ve been told. But clearly it was a difficult afternoon. Her mom kept saying “it’s not you guys,” but we said there was no need for reassurances, it wasn’t about us. Clearly it was hard. While I can never know how hard — and I can’t even really share what I do know — I can say it is difficult for Kaye to see how time passes between each visit every few months. While Kaye marvels at our daughter’s incredible development, how much Jaye has grown is also a reminder of what Kaye has missed. Kaye still believes she is not ready to parent. It is not a matter of regret, as I understand it, but the reality of missing. She is also looking toward her future, perhaps wondering how to get there, what it may hold.
We also scheduled a party for the weekend after, when Jaye’s cousins and friends could join us. We invited Kaye and her family and made it clear we wanted them to join us, even though we would have our own celebration with them too. Her mom and brother said yes but Kaye couldn’t make it. But then they didn’t show. Or call. So it left me wondering if we had done or said something to offend, or if something else came up, or if everyone was okay. Really I had no idea what to think. I was grateful that Jaye was distracted by nine other kids and didn’t think to ask about them. But after no response to an email, I called Grandma Bea and asked what happened.
I can’t really get into it, because again this story is only mine to share in part. But there are some generalities that apply. Let’s just say that open adoption can be complicated, for so many reasons.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many times you extend an invitation, you have to keep re-extending it. You have to remind people countless times how open the door really is, because the inclination may be to assume that it’s only open the littlest bit, even when you’ve said and done everything to assure otherwise. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you say or do, either, because everyone has their own issues and filters through which they view it all. And we all have issues, every one of us, which affect how we perceive, interpret and respond to everything.
Open adoption is complicated because relationships are complicated. Life is complicated.
So. We keep on working at it. I am trying to address issues as they arise in the hope of making it easier the next time something comes up. But I don’t always know what the issues are, and sometimes there is absolutely nothing I can do to address them. I am trying to find ways to resolve issues without hurting feelings or betraying trust. Sometimes communication is better than others, more open and honest, and sometimes it shuts down altogether. You do what you can, but it’s also a two-way street, and each side has responsibility even though it may sometimes seem otherwise.
We’re just trying to create a safe, open and supportive environment for our daughter. What we’re saying isn’t lip service, it’s a genuine desire for real connection. It’s a real aspect of opening our family and our lives. And quite honestly it can be exasperating sometimes, exhausting even. It’s hard work. It’s complex and dynamic. I can only hope that as our daughter grows and begins to appreciate some of the complexities, we will have figured it out a bit more by then.