Zoe got a new outfit a few weeks ago. We’re going to keep it forever.
It’s not the outfit per se that is special; it’s the person who gave her the outfit. Her birthmother.
Life is messy. But let me back up.
When I first told God that yes, I would adopt, I was 15 years old.
I visualized an orphanage in a third world country. I visualized a child with no living biological family and no relational confusion and messiness. I’d be the only mom she would know and my husband would be the only dad she would know. We’d celebrate and explore her country of origin but not her family background, because we wouldn’t know much about it. She wouldn’t meet her birthparents because they would be dead or unknown, and this would cause angst and sadness and maybe even contribute towards some depression but it would be clean cut. No one else could confuse or challenge my position as her mother. The last thing I wanted was a long, drawn-out relationship with a birthparent that could open my child (or me!) up to potential hurt or confusion.
God is funny.
When David and I felt led to domestic adoption, our agency told us: all the birthmoms want open adoptions these days. If you say “closed adoption,” chances are you are not going to get a child.
I almost ran.
I didn’t want this ongoing relationship with a birthparent—I just wanted a child. Frankly, open adoption scared me. I had spent the last few years working with children whose hurt ran deep—very often, due to abandonment by their birthparent(s). I was scared to see my child suffer the same hurt. I was scared that a birthparent might change their mind and try to get custody of my child after our adoption was finalized, contact my child against my wishes, or even kidnap my child. I was scared that a birthparent might bring drama into our lives, complicate our family celebrations, or make my role as my child’s mother smaller. I was scared of having a relationship I couldn’t control.
But as I prayed, God gently pointed out that this was what He wanted for our family—that any “control” I feel in relationships is an illusion because He is ultimately the one in control—and that He wanted us to trust Him to handle the details of our relationship with our child’s birthmother.
And He has…but not in the way I predicted.
When we were matched with Zoe, we chose to pursue a semi-open adoption and signed a legal contract with her birthmom specifying what “semi-open” meant (pictures/letters at specified intervals.) So when we took Zoe home, I thought we would reach out every three months (then six months) and that would be the end of it. Sure, it wasn’t as clean-cut as my orphan with no traceable biological family ties, but it wasn’t messy.
But I’ve found that things are still messy. And that I really couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t decide to just go ahead and dwell in that messiness, because people and relationship can’t be cleanly cut to fit our expectations and if we try to force them to be a certain way because it suits our needs better, we aren’t really seeing them like Jesus does.
And that’s why we met Zoe’s birthmom for lunch a few weeks ago.
Because she’s grieving. Because she’s fearful. Because she wanted to see with her own eyes that she had done the right thing.
We didn’t have to meet her. We have no legal reason to. But we like her, and she’s been nothing but wonderful and respectful. And so to us, it felt unethical to take the gift she so graciously gave us and then close our hearts and leave her alone in her pain because we were scared. (Note—this statement is not prescriptive. Every birthmom situation is different, and in some situations it would be really inappropriate to meet. In our situation, we felt like it was inappropriate NOT to.)
We hit traffic and were 15 minutes late to the restaurant. I walked in full of apologies, but stopped talking immediately when I saw the joy that filled her birthmom’s face. She didn’t care that we were late. She didn’t care that Zoe had spit up all over the the “look, our daughter is really well cared for” dress I had carefully selected for her. She just wanted to see a thriving baby who connected with us.
And that’s what she saw.
She wanted to know (but didn’t know how to ask) if Zoe felt like our “real daughter.” She wanted to know (but didn’t know how to ask) if Zoe felt sad or abandoned when we took her home that first night. She wanted to know (but didn’t know how to ask) a lot of things. But the Spirit was present, our conversation was prayed for, and I think we answered her questions, the spoken and unspoken ones. And I think she felt peace. At least, I saw it on her face.
She had bought a cute outfit for Zoe, which I put on Zoe right away, because when else will she get to see her in it? She called us Zoe’s “mom and dad.” She waited to hold her until we invited her to. She passed Zoe back to us when Zoe got fussy in her arms and we easily calmed her down because we know her. And she was her birthmom and we were her parents and it didn’t feel very messy after all.
When our lunch ended, her birthmom asked if I could take a picture of them together. I took one and could tell she wanted keep holding her, so I just kept taking pictures.
57 pictures later, our social worker said, “well…”
and we said “well…”
and her birthmom said “well…” and then hastily asked, “I was just wondering if you would think about whether we could meet again—maybe when she’s a year old?”
And we said our carefully practiced answer, which boils down to “we’ll think about it.” And she said “that’s all I want–for you to think about it. Take your time. I understand if you say no.”
And then we said our goodbyes, got in our different cars, and drove different directions.
David and I hadn’t even backed out of the parking lot when we both looked at each other and said “hmm. I think we’re going to meet her again. I guess we’re doing a more open adoption than we realized. Because that was cool.”
But if things change and it’s not good to meet her again after all, I am still glad that someday when Zoe says, “my birthmom didn’t want me,” I can pull out a tiny red outfit and say,
“See this? Your birthmom gave you this when you were 4 months old. We weren’t supposed to meet, but she really missed you and wanted to make sure you were doing okay, and we thought that was cool, so we met her again. She bought you this little outfit, and she asked lots of questions about how you were doing, and she held you and smiled. And then she gave us back to you because she saw how happy you were with us. And it made her very sad to give you back, but she loved you enough to do it. And she is a strong woman, and you are very strong like her. And it’s okay if you feel a lot of confusing feelings about it, because God will help you sort it all out. Because He helps us deal with messy things.”