Two Reunions and a Wedding

Two Reunions and a Wedding

Tomorrow is John’s and my 7th wedding anniversary. We chose St. Patrick’s Day, a Thursday, because of my affinity for the Irish part of my bloodline and because it was pretty nontraditional. As important a day as it was, the day before – seven years ago today – was perhaps more important, because it was the day I had a face-to-face reunion with my son for the first time since he was 2 days old.

It took John and me a while to figure out the right date and decide what we wanted to do for the wedding. We decided on an outdoor wedding (at Bell Rock) in Sedona. As soon as we knew the details, I phoned up Kathy and told her that she, Bruce, Eric – and Jill, if she could make it – were invited. She was quite happy for us – and nervous about telling Eric. He was 16 at the time and, understandably, we weren’t in as direct contact as we are now. Though Jill wasn’t able to attend, Kathy, Bruce, and Eric made the trip.

Next, we had to plan that first meeting between our son and me.

I invited Eric and his parents to meet me at our favorite diner – the place John and I had breakfast almost every weekend the entire time we lived near downtown Phoenix. John decided not to go, as he didn’t want to crowd the meeting. He figured there’d be enough tension without Eric having to meet my husband, too. I was giddy – and nervous – for the whole week leading up to the meeting.

Thankfully, I tend to have some common sense – so I planned for what I figured were the two significant possibilities: Eric would be like Tony, close-lipped, quiet, reserved, smart as hell, and saying very little. Or he would be like me: open, warm, and easy to talk to. Strangely, I didn’t feel like I had to do that much in the way of psyching myself out for possibility #1. Though the odds were pretty much 50-50, he’s a guy, so I tended to lean toward the assumption he would behave like Tony. And I was ready.

I felt I had done very little in the way of pestering or interfering with Eric and his family through the years. I’d let Kathy know that I was available if Eric had any questions (he never did), and he and I had exchanged a few emails. I sent a Christmas ornament for their tree every year, and acknowledged his birthday with a humorous ecard and the occasional gift. But I’d been as hands-off as I could be, because I didn’t want to overreach or scare either Eric or his parents. Kathy had told me several stories to indicate that our kid was a caring child, growing into a caring young man, but this was going to be an unprecedented meeting for him. How do you get ready to meet the woman who gave you birth and then gave you away?

Quiet and uncommunicative would have made sense to me. Turns out, I needn’t haveEric & Lo worried at all.

 

My sense of our son is that he took after Tony physically, but he seems to have more of my emotional makeup. He was obviously nervous at the meeting, but we sat, him between his parents, and I on the other side of our booth. We all chatted for a bit – and then Kathy and Bruce made a gracious exit and allowed Eric and me to talk, which we did for about an hour.

I was ready – expecting – for him to be quiet, and he was anything but. We talked easily like old friends catching up. He chuckled as I described my initial meetings with his parents. When I told him that their social worker, Anna, had described his dad as “hard to get to know,” he laughed out loud.

“Yeah – pretty much exactly,” he agreed with Anna’s assessment.

His folks swung back by to pick him up when we were done. Kathy said she asked him how it went – that was when he got quiet. “Fine,” was his only response. I’m sure he told her more later – but he probably needed time to process things. As far as I was concerned, the meeting could not have gone better.

The wedding was the next day at about 2 in the afternoon. Earlier that morning, we all made our independent ways up to Sedona from Phoenix: John and I; Eric and his parents; my sister and her husband; John’s family; our wedding officiant; and our photographer. Corina and I had hired a caregiver to look after our mother during the ceremony and throughout the weekend, but our mom came down with pneumonia a couple weeks before the wedding and we decided the day before that she wasn’t strong enough yet to make the trip. The caregiver didn’t get the message, though, so other than the gal who married us and the photographer, she was the only non-family member in attendance – other than the hikers and tourists who gathered around to watch. It was quite an experience!

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may have seen mention of the many powerful coincidences that punctuate our adoption experience. It was a monumental coincidence that helped us open the adoption in the first place. There are also all kinds of birthday coincidences, too. On the day of our wedding, we learned of another astounding coincidence that did not involve me or my family at all. As we all gathered in the parking lot of the hotel to drive down the hill for the ceremony, it was the first time the Stanfields were meeting my sister, and also the first time they were meeting John and his family. So imagine all of our surprise when both John’s grandmother, Mary, and Bruce did double-takes. “Don’t I know you?” one of them asked.

Mary and Bruce

“Yes – from the bank in New Jersey 30-plus years ago.” Mary had been a teller when Bruce was starting in auditing at the same bank branch back in Clifton, New Jersey, decades earlier. I still shake my head at the odds of such a thing occurring. There had never been any doubt that Eric was where he was meant to be – but this was absolutely uncanny.

After getting over our shock, we made our way to Bell Rock and had a beautiful ceremony. The reception dinner followed at Heartline Café – and Eric was so gracious as John’s dad (unintentionally?) pummeled him with questions about his plans for the future. I was so pleased that Corina got to meet and chat with Kathy and Eric. It was the only time they ever connected, but important to all of them, I think.

Life with John has been such a blessing – it’s hard to believe it’s already been seven years. And right alongside that wonderful relationship, I’ve been developing one of the other most precious relationships in my life. So glad to be connected to you, my beautiful son!

Lo with Stanfields

PHOTO IDs

Cover Photo: The whole wedding – pictures courtesy of master photographer David Bell. L to R: Matt Bustos, Corina’s husband; Corina, my sister and maid of honor; Gayle Kelemen, John’s stepmom; Laura; John’s dad, John Sr.; John; Ed Snible, John’s bro-in-law and best man; Charlotte Snible, John’s niece; Gayle Snible, John’s sister; Kathy Stanfield, my son’s adoptive mom; Mary Kelemen, John’s grandmother; Eric, my son; Lauralee Green, our officiant; Joan Pearlman, my mom’s would-be caregiver; Bruce Stanfield, my son’s adoptive dad.

Eric and Laura

Mary and Bruce meet again

Kathy, Laura, Eric, and Bruce

____________________
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.

Opening an Adoption

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.

“What?”

“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.

Checking the Calendar

Checking the Calendar

If you’ve been reading or following this blog, you may have seen a comment or two from me about the seemingly innumerable coincidences – or synchronicities – that punctuate our adoption.

Today is Kathy’s birthday – HAPPY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Eric’s other mother! It’s only the first February birthday, though. Eric’s birthday is also this month. HAPPY ALMOST BIRTHDAY to our amazing kiddo. Come May, we’ll celebrate my birthday, which always falls near or on Mother’s Day. That is the first May birthday, as Jill, Eric’s sister, also has a birthday in May.

Now here’s where it starts to get strange. I’m not sure why, but up till now, I’ve never known Bruce’s birthday – Eric’s dad. Thanks to Facebook, I just discovered that it’s July 15. Here are 22 years’ worth of belated Happy Birthdays, Bruce! But guess who else has a July birthday? Tony, Eric’s birthfather.

So that’s three birthday coincidences so far – you might even call them smallish. But wait – there’s more! Eric shares his February 24 birthday with the late Steve Jobs, who also happened to be adopted. It’s also the day before Tony’s sister, Wendee’s birthday. Oh, and I just found out that Jill’s husband’s birthday is February 28 – but maybe we should stop counting.

For those who are keeping score, that’s four close family birthdays in February, two in May, and two in July. In other words a lot, as well as the pretty cool shared birthday with a famous smart guy. Here’s one last synchronicity related to birthdays in Eric’s family: Kathy is 10 years older than her brother, Tommy (Eric calls him UT), and Jill happens to be 10 years older than Eric. Hmmm…

There are 365 days in a year. What are the chances of that much overlap between just eight people? You know, Eric could probably calculate those odds in his head.

But we’re just getting warmed up. Keep reading to learn about the whoppers of coincidences in our story that go way beyond shared birthdays.

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.