When I placed my daughter for adoption 15 years ago, the relationship I envisioned developing between her and I involved monthly get-togethers, holiday traditions, giant family reunions, and much more. What actually transpired could not have been further from those thoughts spinning through my head late at night–my grief as fresh as the tears on my pillow. Like most things in life, you can spend countless days, weeks, and months planning for things only to be met with the reality that is life. People change, life happens, decisions are made with emotions calling all the shots. For a long time, I was not sure if I was even going to see my daughter again. Thankfully, and with so much joy in my heart, I was able to visit with her recently for the first time since she was a baby. The emotions I experienced before, during, and after that visit took me by surprise, as do many things I experience as a birth mom.
My post-adoption journey started off exactly as I planned. In the months after placement, I spoke to my daughter’s family several times. We went on a few outings together, I visited their home along with my own family members, and I even attended her baptism. My relationship with her family was developing nicely. To someone on the outside looking in, I was managing the entire situation very well. I had the mask I wore, the one that only allowed the positive to show: the well-adjusted, grateful, totally-not-internally-freaking-out mask I put on anytime someone asked me how things were going. I tried never to let on to the fact that, inside, my heart was broken, and I could not see past the veil of pain that clouded my every sight.
The agency I placed with tried to prepare me for the roller coaster ride of emotions I would experience after placement; but, my rebellious, I-know-better-than-all attitude got in my way once again. Add in the complicated matter of reconciling my relationship with the birth father to the objections of everyone in my and my daughter’s family, and things in my life were a mess. I began to feel like the unstable nature of my life was affecting my relationship with my daughter and her parents. Growing up with divorced parents where I often found myself in the middle, the last thing I wanted for my daughter was to experience any of the chaos I was trying to work through.
After considering all of my options, I finally reached out to the adoptive parents and let them know that I made the decision to take a step back from our in-person meetings and frequent communication. I never thought I would purposely decide to see less of my daughter and making the choice was one that I, to this day, find myself over-analyzing. However, like every conclusion I have come to in this journey, I had nothing but the best intentions at heart. The intention was to give my daughter everything, even if that meant taking myself completely out of the equation. I settled into a routine of writing a yearly letter and anxiously awaiting an update in return.
The years passed, I got older, made a lot of mistakes, and worked incredibly hard to be the best person I could be. I proudly got married to the birth father, had three beautiful babies of our own, made connections with other birth parents who could relate to the turmoil I was feeling inside, all while going about my everyday life wondering if I would ever get to lay my eyes on the one who took a piece of my heart with her all those years ago. Graciously, her adoptive parents keep their word and emailed me back every single year with an update and photos that I would spend hours poring over every detail of. I would wonder what her voice sounded like and what her feelings and thoughts were about this life that was selected for her without her consent. There were glimpses of hope and ideas exchanged about wanting to meet me or arranging a trip at some point. The thought of seeing her again was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. I wanted so badly to be the person she wanted me to be but had no clue who that even was.
It was during the pandemic that I started to feel a change inside of me. Obviously, I had been spending so much more time at home with my family. We welcomed our third baby during that time and through all of the fears going on in the world around us, I knew there was not any more time to waste. I did not want to go through another year of unknowns without at least attempting to make a connection in person. I put my big girl panties on, pushed back all the negative thoughts that are known to run wild in my head, and sent an email to the adoptive parents asking if we could arrange a meeting. Writing that email and pushing the send button sent the adrenaline coursing through me. I had no clue what to expect but even if a big fat “no way, never gonna happen,” hit me back in the face, at least I could say I tried.
I did not have to wait long. I got an incredible email back from the adoptive parents not only saying “yes,” but also an offer to make all the arrangements to fly me to their house and spend the weekend with the whole family. I could not believe that after all these years of wondering, I was finally going to visit with my daughter. I was on a high for months and told everyone I could what was in the works. I went from laying in bed at night wondering if I was ever going to get this chance to trying to wrap my head around the fact that this was actually happening. As the months passed and the date got closer and closer, the excitement turned into apprehension. Was this a good idea? What if she did not like me? What if we did not have anything to talk about? What if I am a disappointment to her parents? What if, what if, what if. I tried to prepare myself for every situation. I talked through everything with the other birth parents in my life, drank in all the advice I could get, and leaned on their words of wisdom. It was a nerve-wracking time mixed with eagerness to see how exactly it might play out.
In the days leading up to my departure, the anxiety was high. I am a terrible traveler, I was leaving my husband at home with our three kids, including my 8-month-old who I had never been away from for more than a few hours. Add in the fear of the unknown beating against the delight of getting to see my daughter again. The flight over seemed to take days instead of hours. My mind was racing and the pressure to be whoever it was that my daughter had in mind was on. I arrived in her town and spent several hours with her father before finally heading towards our meeting spot. We were to watch her play a final game in a sporting camp she was attending. I remember scanning the sea of children trying to locate her amongst the crowd.
I knew it was her I finally laid eyes on because of the color of her skin. The exact same warm, olive skin tone I see on my own children every single day. It was breathtaking to have my eyes fall upon her, not clouded through the lens of a camera for the first time since she was just a tiny baby. When it finally came time to meet face to face, the brutal truth of it all was that it was extremely awkward. Neither of us knew exactly how to act or what to say and that came screaming across in both our faces. We exchanged pleasantries and then she went back to her game and I watched from the sidelines with her parents. Around that time, the reality of what was happening slapped me in the face.
I suddenly felt like everything I feared was coming true. There was no warm reunion, no hugs, or “OMG I missed you,” that happened. My emotions were swirling around me, tears streaming down my face, unable to even understand what was going on. Looking back, it was 15 years of pain, love, relief, and fears all hitting my system at once. I tried to keep my composure, but when I found myself alone in the car with her adoptive mom, I just let loose. I came clean about what I was experiencing and how I was feeling. Any thoughts I ever had about choosing the right person to take over my title as “Mom” were eased right then when she responded in the exact way I needed. Understanding, compassion, and love radiated from her, and I truly will never be able to express my gratitude to her mother in that moment.
After a good night’s rest and unpacking everything I just went through with my family, I was ready to take on the rest of the weekend. I could write for hours about every detail of getting to know my daughter, but to get right to the point, it was a slow build. It started with a few exchanges about common interests such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and a fascination with serial killers. It was exchanging laughs, quick glances at each other, and realizing we carry ourselves the same. Unintentionally wearing matching shirts was a delight for which I was not prepared. After all these years of waiting and dreaming of what my daughter was like, she exceeded anything I could have ever prepared for. Just watching her smile, hearing her voice, and getting a sense of who she is was something I find myself replaying in my head over and over again. I also found something unexpected happening. I had spent years thinking about who she wanted me to be, wondering how I should act, or what kind of things I should say if I ever got to meet her. At some point I realized; I did not have to be anything other than myself. My awkward, weird, anxiety-riddled, uses-humor-to-cope, makes-big-mistakes-but-loves-even-bigger self. All I needed to do was be authentically me and let her accept me as I am. And she did. Reuniting with her will always be the greatest gift I have ever received.
Adoption is not for the faint of heart. I have struggled, and continue to struggle, with the decision I made. In my heart, I know I made the best choice I could at the time but to say it was without everlasting pain is untrue. Even after my trip, I felt like I was returning home from a dream and was not sure if it was one I would ever get to have again. I do not know what will happen from here, but so far, my relationship with my daughter has continued to grow. I have hopes of introducing her to my family and would be honored to play even the smallest role in her life. I have no doubt there will be many ups and downs, but the gratitude for getting to experience her in person, even just one time, is something that surrounds me every single day.