The American Adoption Congress conference in Denver, Colorado has just ended and I’m still processing my thoughts and feelings. Yet, I wanted to share some initial reflections before the “glow” wears off.
This year, I decided to propose doing a workshop on “Open Adoption Over Time.” My thought was that conference attendees – mostly adult adoptees and birth mothers/parents from closed adoptions, who are dealing with a lot of anger and hurt – would appreciate seeing another, potentially healthier, form of adoption (in my humble opinion). I proposed a panel discussion that would include an adoptive mother (me), Emily’s birthmother, Rachelle, K.J.’s birthmother, Tina, Skye’s birthmother, Kimberly, and K.J. (adoptee). We would represent voices from all sides of the adoption triad and talk about what a fully open adoption can look like over the course of the child’s development from infant to adult. We would also address what services, e.g. counseling, ongoing support, education, and other resources were offered to each of us, what was missing, and what changes ought to be made to the process for the health and well being of all. My proposal was accepted.
John and I arranged to get the three birthmothers to the conference. We also planned for John, K.J., Becton, and Journey to attend. (Skye was living away from home with an unknown return date at the time these plans were made, and Emily was/is in New Zealand.) Unfortunately, Tina’s knee failed her, and she was forced to stay in Nebraska for knee surgery. However, Journey volunteered to be a panel participant in Tina’s place. Thus, in the end, we had representatives from all four Falco open adoptions on the panel.
Journey, K.J., Kimberly, and Rachelle
I had “warned” Rachelle and Kimberly that the conference would be emotional and intense. But I couldn’t know for sure how each of them would be affected. Moreover, Rachelle and Kimberly had never met each other. And I wasn’t sure how that relationship would develop either. I knew Rachelle was particularly worried about speaking in public, and Emily had asked me to room with her for reassurance. Kimberly, in Tina’s absence, had a room to herself.
I won’t pour over all the details of what transpired in the three days leading up to our workshop. We attended keynote speeches and performances, workshops on many topics, support groups for our individual place in the triad, and so on. We met new friends. We did some things together and some things separately. Rachelle and Kimberly had conversations I was not privy to, and I had conversations with each of them that were thoughtful, reminiscent, tearful, and more. We each came to the conference with our individual concerns. We gained new perspectives from others. And, if I can speak for all of us, we left with a greater appreciation for one another and for our big extended family.
Very early on, Rachelle and Kimberly became aware that our extended family through adoption was rather unique in this setting. Both of them, at one point or another, remarked to me that they could never have endured the kind of adoptions they heard about from other birthmothers and adoptees. Many conference attendees were shocked to see an adoptive mother and her children’s birthmothers together. We were making a statement just by being there.
Rebecca, Kimberly, and Rachelle
Neither Kimberly nor Rachelle had spent much, if any, time with other birthmothers. It both helped them to identify, more globally, the sorrow that comes with adoption and to celebrate the positive in their own adoption plans. Indeed, I believe their experiences at the conference fueled them to tackle problems and obstacles in individual lives at home. It’s hard to explain. But I think that being with others who have experienced what you have experienced, and acknowledging that experience as significant and life altering is a form of empowerment for the journey ahead.
For myself, I was grateful for this time with my children’s other mothers – together and separately. As Rachelle remarked, we had really never had such concentrated time with each other apart from Emily. Being tired the next day after midnight talks and tears was totally worth it!
John, Journey, Becton, and K.J. arrived on Friday and added liveliness to our group.
K.J. at one of our meals together
By the time Saturday morning and our workshop arrived, we were a force to be reckoned with. Though I had imagined a panel of voices representing different viewpoints, my sense is that we came across as a group of warriors united in one cause. We were representing a family created through adoption that cared about all of its members. We were a family dedicated to making an experience that originates out of brokenness – the brokenness of infertility, the brokenness of being unable to raise a child born to you, the brokenness of leaving one family to be raised by another – into a beautiful mosaic.
I don’t mean to be overly dramatic or to turn a blind eye to how hard it can sometimes be to give each participant in the adoption journey all that he or she needs. But I think K.J.’s response to a question by another adoptee in the audience said it best. I can’t quote him here. But his response was something like this: “I’ve always known where I came from. I’ve always understood why my birthparents couldn’t raise me, even though they later married and raised my younger brothers. I’ve always known my birth family loves me and I’ve spent time with them throughout my life. I’ve always known my birth parents wanted something better for me than they were able to give at the time I was born, and that they chose my adoptive parents to love me and to provide opportunities I would otherwise not have had. I’m not angry with my birth parents or adoptive parents. I love them all.”
On that last evening of the conference, there was a celebratory event. As the night wore on, the dancing started. (Admittedly, some of these folks had had a few drinks.) The dancers were enthusiastic and hilarious and wonderful to watch. As one adult adoptee said to me, “After such intensity, dancing it out is the best thing.”
At our table, we particularly enjoyed K.J.’s obvious shock at seeing all these older (mostly) women tearing up the floor. For Rachelle and Kimberly, it was gratifying to be part of this delightful and loving group.
Before the conference, I made a slideshow with music that tracked, chronologically, the development of our open adoptions – from meeting Rachelle in California in early 1994 through pictures of Tina and the boys with K.J. at graduation in May, Skye with Kimberly at her home, and Journey meeting her maternal grandmother in 2015. I’ve seen the slideshow several times now, and the pictures I seem drawn to the most are those that show the bridges between the families separated by blood…
Journey with Emily’s sister, Brittani
Becton with Emily’s niece, Cerenittee
Rachelle with baby Skye
Teri with the K.J., Skye, and Emily
K.J. and Becton with Emily’s brother, Christopher
Skye playing with K.J.’s brother, Colton
During the dance, Kimberly said to me, “In the music business, when we have a band whose music doesn’t quite fit a standard genre, we make up a new genre. I think we need a new genre for what we have.” She may be right. “Open adoption” can mean many different things – simply meeting a birthparent, pictures shared at set intervals, yearly visits, etc. But our adoptions have created a complex, extended family with overlapping, ever-changing relationships, and we are all committed to making this work. I’m not sure what we call it, but I think Kimberly is on to something.
Next year, the AAC conference is in Atlanta. And if I have my way, our house will be filled with all the Falco birthmothers and as many of their children and relatives as we can hold.