Today I am thrilled to have Rachel Garlinghouse sharing a bit of her heart with us. Rachel mothers three children, all adopted domestically and transracially. She’s the author of COME RAIN OR COME SHINE: A WHITE PARENT’S GUIDE TO ADOPTING AND PARENTING BLACK CHILDREN and has written over seventy articles on adoption and healthy living. Rachel’s family has been featured in ESSENCE magazine, ADOPTIVE FAMILIES magazine, on MSNBC’S Melissa Harris-Perry, and on The Daily Drum National Radio Show. Visit her blog at www.whitesugarbrownsugar.com
Our transracial, adoptive family of five is used to questions, stares, comments, and compliments. We’ve heard it all, it seems. One issue that continually comes up is the question of open adoption. Will my children, each of whom has an open adoption with their biological family, be confused or resentful by the openness? What if the birth parents see the kids and attempt to “take them back”? And, what would we do if (gasp!) the children’s birth parents were to just show up on our front door? (Um, we’d let them in the house…)
Of course, there are many myths surrounding open adoption, and these myths generate fear, both in the public and in the hearts of adoptive parents. And the key to keeping biological parents at bay is to objectify them, stereotype them, or simply dismiss them. Some agencies and adoptive parents like to share that birth parents “place and move on” indicating that the loss of a child is now a non-issue. The stereotypes surrounding birth parents are numerous: young, substance abusers, unstable, promiscuous, poor. By putting these falsified likelihoods onto birth parents, they are objectified, de-humanized, and therefore, even easier to dismiss as less-than, unimportant, irrelevant.
What changed for me, and for many adoptive parents, is coming to know a birth parent and to understand the depth of their forever-loss, even when the placement of a child is voluntary. The loss is no less significant simply because the child’s first mother willingly “gave the child up” to another family. Internalizing this loss is so much different than flippantly saying how “unselfish” and “wonderful” birth parents are for giving their children the “gift of life” and placing them with another family.
I remember rocking my first daughter, when she was a newborn, quietly in the nursery. It was late one night, and I was in awe of my baby’s beauty and her peaceful demeanor. The soft glow of a nightlight spilled over my daughter’s milky-brown skin, her long eyelashes resting on the tops of her cheeks. And it hit me how hard it would be for me to lose her, even only knowing her, loving her, and caring for her for only a few weeks. Her birth mother had her for forty weeks. That’s a long time. A long time to be physically and emotionally connected. A long time to feel movement and growth. A long time to bond, knowing that an impending due date would sever the physical connections.
When my second daughter was born, we had the honor of meeting her birth parents shortly after taking the placement. Our daughter was the perfect combination of her birth parents, with her birth mother’s velvet-dark skin and slim build and her birth father’s height and nose. When my daughter turned ten months old, I realized that she had been with us, her adoptive family, as long as she had been with her birth family in utero. To lose her at ten months old was unimaginable. Yet, her first parents did it. They let her go, after forty weeks of being with her.
Two years later, our son was born. For the first time, we had the privilege of visiting one of our children in the hospital. Each of the two times we visited, we hung back, giving his birth mother space to be what she was, his mother, for that short period of time. We were simply there for a few moments to congratulate her and to say, “If you want us to adopt him, we will, and we will keep the promises we make. We love you. We support your decision, whatever it is.” It was difficult to deal with the heartache of knowing that we might “win” in the situation: we would leave the hospital with the baby. She would leave with a deflated stomach, milk-filled breasts, and empty arms. She would be a mother without a baby. And that is what happened. He became ours. She let him go.
Open adoption has awarded us many rewards and joys. Our kids know their birth parents and birth siblings. We have photos of the children as they grow up with arms around birth family members. We share gifts and hugs and laughs and memories and hopes. We exchange photos and texts frequently.
I carry these birth families members’ spirits with me every day. I feel them when my child experiences joys and hardships. I feel them on my children’s birthdays, on Christmas, on Mother’s and Father’s Day. I feel them on days when firsts happen: first steps, first day at gymnastics class, first day of school, first time seeing the ocean, first time writing their names. I feel them on days when the children are sick with a fever or when they fall down and need a bandage. I feel them when my oldest daughter makes a face like her biological brother, or when I see my second daughter’s dimple that is shared by her biological father, or when my son grins, looking exactly like his birth mother. The first parents are always, always with me. And they are forever a part of the children, and the children are a part of them.
ee cummings once wrote, “i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)i am never without it.” The poet’s words perfectly express my feelings about open adoption. When we are asked about the kids’ birth parents, I always respond confidently, because my heart is full to the brim with love for them. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 rings truer than ever, because of the blessing of open adoption:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Rachel has also graciously offered to give away a copy of her book to one lucky reader! Enter via the gadget below!