Graduation Letter to My Son – 5 June 2013

Graduation Letter to My Son – 5 June 2013
A letter I wrote but never sent…

Dear Eric –

Congratulations, again, on a fine finish to your high school days – and best wishes for a great start to the next phase of your life. Your mom keeps telling me how anxious you are to get out on your own and be independent. It’s definitely something to look forward to – fortunately for you, you’ve got a great family to support you, even while you’re busy forming your own independent thoughts and choices and life.

I am so grateful for the invitation to be a part of your graduation weekend. I know you didn’t have to invite me – and I also know your mom left that decision up to you. I enjoyed getting to meet the extended relatives and family friends and to spend a little time with you. I’m constantly amazed by your mom’s generosity in making me feel both at home and included in every aspect. I lost count of the number of times in just those few days she’d say to people, “Do you know who this is?” about me – as if there were any way they could have known. But it was cute – she was so excited to share our relationship. Giselle, the amazing waitress at that diner, definitely took the cake, though! You’ll have to let me know if you go back and see her again before you head up to Boston.

So funny how things work out, isn’t it? I’ve been wanting to move to Boston since I originally moved to New Jersey in 1992. I intended for New Jersey to be a temporary stop – but you’ve probably heard that quote from John Lennon about life happening while you’re busy making other plans. I would one day still like to get there, but it will be awhile, at least as long as Mary – John’s grandma – is still with us. And by then, who knows what we will have decided…

Your mom tells me you’re very interested in visiting Italy. Samantha, my sister’s daughter, was there for a study-abroad semester – so if you have questions, she might be a great resource. One of my cousins on my dad’s side was working on a family tree some time ago. I think Corina has a copy somewhere – I’ll try to get it for you, just so you can have an idea of where we’re from on my dad’s side. I’ve always felt that was something I should know – and yet I still don’t really. I know a tiny bit more about the Irish side (my dad’s mom), but just barely. I imagine part of the reason I’m so detached is because we grew up away from the rest of the family. I’m so glad you’ve got the experience of a large extended family. We have one, too – but they’re in Michigan and various parts of Canada, so we rarely see either side, and have never all been together at once. The closest we came to that was at my dad’s funeral, when relatives from both my mom’s and dad’s families were in attendance.

And speaking of families – you have another one out there, as you know. I feel now as if I should have asked if you even wanted the information I was able to find about where Tony lives. You never really expressed an interest to me, one way or another. I guess if I were in your shoes, I’d want to know – who he is, where he is, probably to see him at least once. Of course, if I were in your shoes, I’d probably have driven by his house already, but that’s just me. 🙂

Now that you know where Tony is – I’m sure you can also find a phone number if you dig just a little further than I did – you get to decide what your next move is. I can’t imagine the kinds of thoughts and feelings you must be experiencing right now, but I would understand if you wanted to try to meet him and also understand if you have no interest. The thing is, now you have the option.

I’m guessing your mom might have told you I also found him on Facebook. He looks exactly the same as he did the last time I saw him, except that he seems to be growing a weird ZZ Top beard. Your dad is concerned that Tony may not want to be found – and it’s certainly a possibility. He’d made more progress than I’d expected the last time I saw him. He’d just broken things off with a woman he’d been seeing when I went out there in February 2002, and he told me he’d told her about you. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that. But I don’t know that he ever told his parents, his sister, his aunt – or now, his wife. He’s different from me in lots of BIG ways – all of them reasons we’re not still together. I’ve always been an open book about who I am, how I feel, who I love, and everything in between. I don’t know if I ever told you that for the rest of the time I was at Lehman Brothers after you were born, I kept a picture of you on my desk.

One of the other birthmothers I knew told me that I made people uncomfortable because I was so open about the adoption. But that’s not how I saw it. If other people were uncomfortable, that was their problem. I never was. And I was never ashamed, never guilty, and very seldom regretful. Most birthmoms are all of those, all the time – or at least until they get counseling and come to terms with the grief. In our case, I saw my social worker at Spence 21 times while I was pregnant with you and 12 times after you were born. She told me the average birthmom sees the social work six or seven times, total.

And I promised you – and myself – while I was pregnant that I would never deny your existence. So I can probably still count on both hands the number of times in the last 18 years when people have asked me if I have children and I’ve said no. Those were usually toss-off questions, questions from busybodies, or questions from people I felt I just didn’t owe an explanation to. Otherwise, if people know me for longer than about five minutes, they know about you.

But that’s not how Tony is. I’m not sure why, exactly, either. Maybe he’s changed, but when I knew him, he buried and stuffed all of his emotions. They came out every once in a while when he’d been drinking. I’d known him for more than eight years when I found out that his only aunt on his mom’s side is a birthmother in a closed adoption. He didn’t know – probably because she didn’t know – whether the child was a boy or a girl. She’s in her sixties now – and back in those days, once the woman gave birth, they just whisked the baby away. She never got to hold him, rock him, talk with him, or even see him. Very different from my experience when I got to hand-select your parents. You’d think that would make him more willing to talk with his parents, but for reasons I still don’t understand, the opposite seemed to be true. Again, a lot of time has passed since then, and he may have told them by now. I hope so. But I can’t promise that. And I have no idea how receptive he’d be to hearing from you – or how much he might stonewall you. I was talking with John about all of this over the last couple days, and he said something that is such a picture into who he is and why I married him: If Tony doesn’t want to see you, he’s the one who loses out.

Corina’s the only other person who ever really got to know Tony at all – and even that wasn’t very much. Hell, I knew him for 6 years longer than I’ve known John at this very moment, and still never got to know him very well, because Tony didn’t want anybody to get to know him. But when I spoke with Corina about this whole crazy episode last night, she said three things: (1) she’s sure Tony would recognize himself in you if he saw you; (2) getting married may have settled him down somewhat and made him more receptive (especially since he has a stepkid – who golfs!); and (3) that seeing you face-to-face, Tony would have a really impossible time just walking away. My sister’s the most intuitive person I know – so I rather trust her instincts on this. But again, it’s up to you. It’s not up to your mom and dad anymore. You get to decide this one.

My instinct is that even if Tony THINKS he doesn’t want to be found, he’d be more receptive to direct contact from you than from me. But if for any reason you want me to reach out to him for you, I’m more than willing to do that. I’m still guessing you’re just going to want to sit with things for a while.

Eric – just know that no matter what you decide about this, no matter what happens in school, where you go, what you do with your life – I will always love you, and I will support you in any way I can. I used to get really aggravated when people would tell me I was lucky to have found such great parents for you. It wasn’t luck, though. I worked really hard to get to the right people.

That was another place I broke the averages for Spence Chapin. Most prospective birthmoms used to choose a family after seeing three or four profiles. Your parents’ was the 12th profile I saw. And I had to demand to see it, too. After the seventh or eighth, the adoption department started to doubt I was serious about going through with it. For whatever reason, they could not hear me when I said I just hadn’t found the right family yet. It wasn’t until I threatened to leave Spence to go somewhere else that they relented and let me see more families. And your parents had just come into the process, so their profile wasn’t even fully complete yet. Before they’d let the prospective birthmom see the profile, they’d redact any identifying info. They hadn’t got there yet with your parents’ profile, so Mary, my social worker, read it to me instead of letting me see it for myself. And then she got up and left the room and left the folder with your folks’ info in it on her desk. I have no idea whether that was a deliberate move on her part, but as I look back on it now, I suspect it may have been. And I was so tempted to look at it – had I done so, I’d have immediately had all the info I eventually learned on my own. But I had made a commitment not to do that, so ever the good girl, I behaved myself. I love that the universe conspired to allow that info to come to me a little later, when I was ready for it.

As you are no doubt aware, we’ve had soooooo many coincidences, it’s beyond uncanny.

I love your family – and I love seeing you with them. They are very different from me, to be sure. Your life with me would have been very different. But I hope that even if you might wonder about that untaken road – a perfectly normal thing to wonder – you never experience regret. I have always believed that life takes all of us precisely where we need to be – and you, my smart, beautiful son, are precisely where you need to be. I’m pretty sure I would choose differently if I had it to do again, but only knowing what I know now about taking one moment at a time. At the time I was choosing adoption, I was trying to make the very best decision for so many people: for you, for Tony, for myself, and for each of our families. I didn’t realize that everything always works out, and I’d have been OK, no matter what. But instead, this is where our journeys have brought us. This is what we were meant to do and who we were meant to be to each other. And it is fine. I have always been at peace with it. Your situation, of course, is different, but I hope that you have – or one day soon – will find peace, too.

I love you, kiddo, so very, very much. Thank you for inviting me, including me, and sharing your special time with me. If there are every any questions I can answer – or you just want to talk – you know how to reach me.

All my love –

Laura

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NOTE: I wrote this letter the day after I returned from Eric’s high school graduation, uncertain whether I would ever send it to him. As it turns out, I didn’t. But I have, in the interim, told him most of these things. At the time, in June 2013, we were still unaware of the string of serious losses we would all face: Eric’s aunt, John’s dad, my sister, and most recently, John’s grandmother. I also recently discovered through some Facebook research that Tony’s dad passed away almost two years ago.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Prospective Adoptive Parent Profile #12 – The Final Profile

Prospective Adoptive Parent Profile #12 – The Final Profile

After the debacle with Joe and Patricia, I think the birthparent department at Spence-Chapin may have lost faith that they would ever come through and find a family for me. It wasn’t their fault – but that kind of thing should not have happened. If adoption is going to work, all sides need to be forthcoming about all the details. Evasiveness only delays the problem – because the secrets will be revealed, and if they’re your secrets and you’re not the one to reveal them, they will bite you on the ass.

So you can imagine Mary’s upbeat nature at our next scheduled meeting. She was bouncing on her heels with excitement. “I have it,” she said. “This is the one – I just know it.” A new family had just received approval to enter the adoption process – they were so new that the agency hadn’t even had a chance to redact their profile of identifying information so I could see it. Mary sat at her desk and read it to me.

Their names were Kathy and Bruce, and they’d been married 15 years. They had a biological daughter – hmmm… It turns out, they’d had a baby girl who was born with a heart defect and lived less than a week. Understandably distraught, they decided to try to get pregnant again as soon as possible, or they feared they’d never try again. So they got pregnant – and their second daughter was born, also with a heart issue, but she was strong enough to pull through. However, she was the only bio child they would have.

So they already had a little girl, 10 years old at the time they were wading into adoption. That had been one of my four criteria: a family who already had a child. Sure, I would have preferred if their existing child had been closer in age to my son, but it was way more important to me that they already were parents. And I loved that they’d taken their time deciding about the adoption. I could also see immediately – after having waded through the 11 previous profiles – the fact that infertility was not a factor would be quite significant.

They were Catholic, and active in their church – things that wouldn’t impress me all that much now, but at the time, these were exactly the characteristics I was looking for in a family for my son, because they were familiar to me. They felt like home to me. That was what my childhood experience had been, so it felt right. Although I wasn’t able to read through their profile, I was able to look at the photos they’d included. One still stands out – a picture of Bruce taking their daughter, Jill, trick-or-treating. That single photo made me so happy.

When Corina and I were growing up, our parents were OLD. It was like a double-generation gap, because they were almost 20 years older than the parents of most of our peers. Kathy and Bruce were about the same age my parents had been when they’d had Corina and me, but they seemed years younger.

Kathy and Jill were horsewomen. They routinely visited a stable close to where they lived and each had a horse they rode regularly. They also volunteered there, mucking the stalls and feeding and brushing the horses. If I’m not mistaken, there was mention that they did not have any household pets – but they were open to getting a dog later, when their new child was older. Still, to this day, I’ve never ridden a horse in my life. Yes, I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona – what was once the Wild West – and I live here again now. Still, I didn’t relate much to the horses. The promise of a dog, though – that was another plus. Mine had always been a dog family.

I was in. I wanted to meet these people.

Suddenly, Mary got up and walked out of her office – I don’t remember the reason. And she left Kathy and Bruce’s unredacted profile sitting right there on her desk. I could have so easily gone over and read it – learned their last name and where they lived. But, remember: I was a good girl, always behaving myself. I’m not sure why I didn’t – but I did not look at those pages. I let that most amazing opportunity slip past me. I’ve never known whether Mary did it on purpose, but I’ve always suspected that, even if it was unconscious, she did. (Some things are just meant to be, though. More on that in an upcoming post.)

I arranged a phone call with Kathy – and she was every bit as delightful as I’d hoped she would be. The question about my parents – inevitable, it seems – came up again. This time, though, instead of telling me that I had to tell them, Kathy said something to the effect of, “Well, you know your parents better than anyone. If you don’t think they’ll take the news well, not telling them is your decision. Maybe someday you’ll want to tell them, but if that day never comes, that’s OK, too.” Wow, respect for my decisions – that was new, and welcome.

Yeah – these were good people. Tony and I decided to meet them, and things moved forward from there.

You know, Kathy follows this blog and reads these posts. I’ll have to check with her to see if I remembered the details of hers and Bruce’s profile correctly – or if the lens of memory has colored it in any way. Regardless of the accuracy of my memory, I’ll be forever grateful for the folks on the other end of Profile #12.

As an aside, I didn’t realize until recently how fortunate Kathy and Bruce were: a recent review of the Spence-Chapin website indicates that there’s typically a one- to two-year wait for a couple to adopt a child, and the majority of their babies are placed by black and Hispanic women. I don’t know if those statistics were the same 23 years ago. But Kathy and Bruce entered the process, and within six months were able to adopt a healthy – no drug or alcohol issues – white infant at birth. The likelihood of that occurring today is unbelievably rare.

Prospective Adoptive Parent Profile #8

Prospective Adoptive Parent Profile #8

Finally, after turning down at least the first half-dozen profiles of prospective adoptive parents I had been shown, I received a profile from Mary of a couple who seemed kind of interesting. He was a child psychologist and she was a teacher’s aide at a Montessori school. The fact that both of their careers revolved around children appeared to be a plus. When we read through their profile, though, there was a very brief mention that the husband had started down the seminary path toward becoming a priest, but abruptly changed his mind and left the seminary.

That intrigued me, because my father had been a Catholic priest who left the priesthood to marry my mom. Unimaginably scandalous, as far as his family was concerned. His oldest brother was a priest and his oldest sister was in the convent. To have a third child who had chosen the Church over marriage must have been an absolute coup in the Catholic one-upmanship game. His leaving must have destroyed his parents’ pride of ownership. Then there was my mom’s family. My mother was first generation Mexican-American, and all of her siblings had married other Latinos – the vast majority of them also Mexican. So not only was my mom marrying a white man, but she was marrying a priest – they never saw him as gone from the priesthood and continued to refer to him as El Sacerdote (The Priest) for the rest of his life.

So when this man mentioned his brief dalliance with the priesthood as a toss-off comment, I wanted to know more about that. I asked my social worker if it would be possible to get more information from them about this, and other aspects of their profile that struck me as a bit sketchy. Had it been permissible, I think Mary would have driven to their home to get the details herself if it meant that I was finally settling on a family. Within a few days, she called to tell me that the couple had expanded their profile and invited me for an unscheduled visit to the agency to review it.

The husband had apparently thought better about a life of celibacy and decided to skip the priesthood in favor of dating and the possibility of marriage. Who could argue with that? Satisfied by that explanation and the other additional information, I agreed to a phone call with the couple. This was the first time we’d made it this far into the process, and I was quite nervous about the call. We did it from Mary’s office, and I honestly don’t remember if Tony was there or not. I rather suspect not – but my memory about that detail is foggy. Mary left me alone in her office for some privacy, and I had a 10- or 15-minute chat with the woman.

At one point, she asked me how my parents had taken the news about the baby and the adoption, and I told her the truth: I had not told them – nor did I have any plans to tell them. That did not go over well with the woman. “What do you mean you’re not going to tell them? They are the grandparents – they deserve to know. You have to tell them!” Um, no, I didn’t. They were conservative Catholics – it wasn’t the pregnancy that would freak them out; it was the sex I’d had to have to get pregnant that would have been the bigger problem.

In spite of this blip, the woman and I made it through the rest of the conversation before hanging up. Mary waited, probably pacing the hallway like an expectant father. Her face fell when I shook my head no. It wasn’t the pestering me about telling my folks about the baby – although that didn’t help. I’ve never been able to put my finger on the specifics of it, but the woman was cold. Not maternal at all. So much so that it was difficult to believe that she worked with children. She was just so distant and ridiculously difficult to talk with. So I told Mary I would pass.

By this time, she was starting to become agitated with every profile I would turn down. “I think you should have one more phone call with them,” she suggested. “Maybe you caught them at a bad time.”

“No, Mary,” I said with the patience of a mother explaining something simple to a child. “I didn’t like her. She was cold and distant and not at all maternal. Another phone call is not going to fix that.”

Mary was nothing if not persistent – she kept trying for another week or more to coax me into giving this family another call “just to see.” I insisted that I wasn’t interested. Finally, she let it go, and we moved on to the next couple of profiles.

Strangely, I was traveling to a seminar with Judy Greene, the birthparent coordinator, not long before I left the NYC area to move back to Phoenix – so Eric was almost 5 at the time – and Judy told me that this couple I had rejected had never been chosen by any birthmother. It wasn’t just me: there was something about them that rubbed me – and apparently everyone else – the wrong way. Eventually they removed themselves from consideration as parents through Spence-Chapin. I’ve no idea whether they pursued a private adoption, whether they stayed married and childless, or if they might have gone their separate ways. I couldn’t exactly put it into words then, and I still can’t do much better today. All I knew was that they weren’t the right parents for my son.

So we plodded on. Stick around for a day or two to hear about the couple behind Profile #10!

So Much More Than Simple Luck

So Much More Than Simple Luck

Through the years, people have told me that I am lucky to have found such a great family for my son – a term that used to grate on me. It wasn’t luck – it was persistence and determination.

You know the saying, “You can’t be a little bit pregnant”? Well, that’s not exactly true – at least the way the Spence-Chapin agency handled things when I was pregnant. As I’ve written previously, I knew from the earliest days that I would place my son for adoption – and I never really wavered in that decision. Had his birthfather wanted to get married, I’d have changed my mind in a heartbeat – but that was not to be. So I got started with adoption counseling earlier than most birthmothers.

The process, as it unfolded for me, was an initial phone call with the head of the birthparent department. Next came an introductory phone call with the social worker assigned to us, as birthparents. Then the first face-to-face meeting. Somewhere in one of the very early meetings, we were shown the profile of a prospective adoptive family. This included a “Dear Birthparents” letter. I was impressed with any family who had the forethought (or perhaps a nudge from their social worker) to write “Birthparents” instead of “Birthmother,” because it meant they understood that sometimes, as was my situation, the birthfather is involved. The profile also included a dossier or résumé, of sorts, with details about the prospective parents, as well as a photo album.

The couple in this “sample” profile looked older than us (I was 27 and Tony was 25) but still young. They looked happy. And, boy, were they white! I think if I were choosing a family today, I might aim for more diversity – but at the time, I went with what I knew. (Although my mom was Mexican – making me half – I always identified as Caucasian. And Tony was a WASP, through and through.) My requirements were simple (or so I thought): I wanted a traditionally married Catholic couple who already had at least one child (I did not want my son to be the Guinea pig) and lived in a suburb somewhere in the Tri-State Area (so he’d be close to New York City but still grow up with a yard). Check, check, check, and check. That first couple met every one of my criteria. I was eager to meet them.

Not. So. Fast.

You see, I wasn’t pregnant enough yet. At that time, Spence-Chapin had a rule that a woman had to be at least halfway through her pregnancy before she could start officially considering profiles of prospective parents. The one we saw was just “to give us an idea” about what a profile looked like. So it might have made more sense for them to show me the profile of gay couple or a single ethnic woman if they didn’t want me to actually consider them as parents for my son.

I’m not sure how long I had to wait before I could begin “officially” reviewing profiles, but it was probably close to a month. And by the time I was able to start the process, that perfect family I’d liked so much was gone. Some other prospective birthmother had swooped them up – and who could blame her? I was crushed. But some things are not meant to be – and other things are. We’ll talk about adoption synchronicities in another post.

Interestingly, I later learned that the gal who’d chosen my first-choice family was quite young, perhaps an addict, and quite a storyteller. She’d told the couple whatever they wanted to hear, in terms of her personal history, her health, and the baby’s health. She came down with diabetic preeclampsia, and the baby was born in distress and would likely have health issues, going forward. I was sad to hear this couple had had to go through that – and wondered how this gal’s behavior wasn’t spotted before it got that far. But what it meant to me, personally, was that I had to start from scratch to find a family for my son. That was a long road.

I remember hearing that the average birthmother saw two or three profiles before choosing a family for her child. But what if I don’t like any of those families?! I remember asking, horrified at the thought. This was the most important decision I would ever make in my life, and they wanted me to choose from the first two or three families the birthparent team pre-selected for me, without ever having met or spoken to me!? Yes, Mary was good at her job, but was she really equipped to describe for these strangers exactly what I wanted in a family for my son? It is a point of pride for me that as a result of mine and other birthmoms’ input via the Birthparent Advisory Board, every prospective birthmom (or birth-couple) considering adoption through Spence-Chapin now gets to see a summary of ALL of the waiting couples, singles, and families who might become adoptive parents to their babies.

By the time I’d seen six or seven profiles and rejected all of them for various reasons (more on that in a future post!), the agency started to doubt my sincerity about the placement. I suppose it did seem odd – Tony and I had been “together” for five years at this point. I had a stable job WITH health insurance. There were none of the big red flags that indicated a “crisis” pregnancy. Except that I was determined to place my baby for adoption, and they weren’t taking me seriously. It was only when I threatened to leave and head over to Catholic Charities, a Spence-Chapin competitor, that they reconsidered and grudgingly allowed me to see a couple more profiles.

As an aside, Kathy told me something she’d never shared with me when we were visiting with Eric’s family last month. She said that she and Bruce experienced something similar on the adoptive parent side, because the agency was concerned that Bruce wasn’t properly committed to the adoption. It wasn’t until they mentioned that perhaps they’d use Gladney (another well-known NYC agency) instead that they, too, were taken seriously.

It’s funny, because in my head, I can see Mary hesitantly handing me a red folder and me having to pry it from her hands. I know, of course, that it wasn’t like that – but that’s how I’ve doctored the story in my memory. They were so reluctant to allow me more than one profile at a time. Maybe this couple will be to your liking? I can hear an imaginary Mary saying.

There may have been luck involved – I’ve come to think of it more like divine providence. The coincidences in our adoption are so voluminous and unlikely that it feels there had to be some sort of divine guidance at play. Going forward, I’ll review some of the profiles I rejected and my reasons for doing so. I bless each of those couples and thank them for having been part of my process. More than anything, though, I’m grateful for the couple who belonged to Profile #12.