Opening an Adoption
There are coincidences and then there are COINCIDENCES. My friend Beth Kozan has written a book about the many coincidences – or synchronicities – she has seen in adoptions over her long career in the field. For one of my birthmom friends, it was snowshoes. For one couple in Beth’s book, ADOPTION – More Than by Chance, it was three trout.
The synchronicities in Eric’s adoption are almost too many to enumerate. I discussed the birthday-themed coincidences in yesterday’s post – and will write more about the others in future posts. The biggest one, though – the coincidence that really takes the cake – is the one that led to our adoption becoming open.
I had quit my job at Lehman Brothers (though I would later return in a different capacity) and was temping in New York City. In a short time, I had proven to the temp agency that I was pretty capable – resourceful, even – and therefore trustworthy to work on my own, as in not needing to be overseen by any sort of middle manager. I’m thinking that’s how I got the gig working for Barry. Now Barry was a curmudgeon of the highest order. He made the Grinch look like a nice fellow you’d want to have over for brunch on Sundays. I asked the assistant I was replacing why he was leaving. He mumbled something about going back to school, but I suspect he just needed to reclaim his life and was in a hurry to bail on a bad situation. I’d been there only a day or two before I understood completely.
Barry was writing a book – convenient for me, as I had a writing degree and an interest in the publishing industry. His book was an encyclopedia of military insignia – the patches and medals worn by American soldiers, dating back to World War I. The reason for his interest in creating such a book was that he owned a company that fabricated these patches and medals and sold them to the U.S. military branches. Only problem was that he’d been placed on leave from his company. It seems Barry’s company, along with its two major competitors, had conspired to rig the prices on said military insignia. The wheels came off the cart when an employee from Barry’s company became a whistle-blower about the price fixing.
At that point, Barry was relieved of his post – a forced sabbatical, if you will – which gave him plenty of time to work on his book. (A quick Amazon search reveals he’s written a handful of others since then.) Technically, he was not allowed any decision-making or influence when it came to the running of his company – a fact he literally cursed daily while I worked for him. However, he was still drawing a monthly 5-digit salary, even as he was sidelined from helming the company. I know this because, as his office manager, I deposited his checks.
That money didn’t roll downhill, though. I was struggling on my 19-hour-a-week temp gig for Barry, which was barely covering my rent and food. Yet it paid better hourly than my prior job at Lehman Brothers – and I had a lot more freedom. So I tried, for a while, to make it work.
Besides still getting paid very well for a job he wasn’t doing, Barry also had a beautiful young French wife and a baby daughter, maybe a year-and-a-half old. His wife would bring the little girl to the office in her carriage almost every afternoon, and the couple would bicker and argue something fierce – I knew this from the tone and body language, as they always fought in French.
One day, I’d just had enough. I was still dealing with the aftermath of the adoption, and Barry’s nasty attitude toward the world wasn’t helping at all, though he never really directed his venom at me. It suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t have to work for him – there were many other temp jobs to be had in New York City. So I decided to quit. In fact, my plan was just to go home and not come back. But as I sat in my apartment that night, I thought that maybe I should try to explain to Barry why he wasn’t the most put-upon guy in the world. So the next morning, I gathered up the most recent photos Kathy had sent and I want to work as usual.
I don’t really recall how I brought it up – I imagine I just waited for Barry to complain about something, which probably took all of five minutes. That’s when I said to him, “I want to show you something. This is the son I gave birth to about two years ago – he’s pretty close to your daughter’s age. But I chose to place him for adoption. This is his family, and…”
“Son of a bitch,” Barry said. I thought he was responding to the news about the adoption. The look on his face said otherwise.
“I know him,” he said, pointing at Bruce’s picture. “That’s Bruce Stanfield. He’s my personal banker.”
Holy shit. In a city of 30 million people, I was office assistant to a guy who knew my son’s adoptive father. And though I had come thisclose to walking out and not coming back – I had instead decided to go in to work and show Barry these photos. I’d been a good girl and resisted looking at that file on Mary’s desk. But some things are just meant to be. I was supposed to know who my son’s parents were.
Things got a little complicated when I decided we needed to let Kathy and Bruce – the Stanfields – know about my discovery, as our agreement was a semi-open adoption: they knew our identities, but we didn’t know theirs.
Difficulty #1: Tony. “We don’t owe them anything.”
Difficulty #2: Bruce. “You weren’t supposed to show those photos to anyone – they’re private!”
Eventually I convinced Tony that we did, indeed, owe it to Kathy and Bruce to let them know we now knew who they were. So I called Mary. She was surprised – and not so surprised, it seemed – at my news, and immediately contacted Anna, their caseworker. I wanted to meet with them in person to share this information. For reasons I still don’t understand, Bruce did not want to meet in person, but grudgingly agreed to a phone call. Remember, he didn’t yet know about the name disclosure – and still, he didn’t want a face-to-face meeting.
I honestly don’t remember the specifics of the phone call – whether Mary broke the news or I did. I do remember Bruce’s reaction. He was really angry at me for sharing the pictures with Barry. He felt that the photos of his family were private, and I was in some sort of breach for sharing them. There was no confidentiality agreement of any sort regarding the pictures – and, as I will write about in tomorrow’s post, I believe that in the Information Age, the promise of a closed (or semi-closed) domestic adoption is a pie-in-the-sky fantasy dangled by agencies and attorneys to lure prospective adoptive parents. In reality, it’s pretty easy to discover someone’s identity, even if they think they’re doing a good job at masking it.
I actually understand Bruce’s upset – because I imagine he felt responsible for the disclosure, as it was he Barry identified. Kathy, of course, seemed OK with the information. I’m sure she did what she could to calm Bruce down and smooth things over.
Little by little, the adoption became more and more open. One of the nicest immediate results was that we no longer needed to communicate through the agency. Kathy would send photos and letters directly to my house and, on occasion, I would write back to her. Eventually, we swapped email addresses and stayed in pretty regular contact via email. Then Facebook entered the picture. It was Kathy who encouraged Eric to friend me on Facebook. That was really special, because to this day, Eric still hasn’t friended his mom, which I totally understand. What an amazing adoptive mom – no competition or jealousy that her son was in contact with his birthmom in a way she was not. Just blessings and gratitude for the progress in our relationship.
I may have kicked myself for not reading that profile on Mary’s desk – but sometimes a divine plan has multiple methods of delivery. If this coincidence isn’t one for the record books, I don’t know what is.