I didn’t want an open adoption. We were no strangers to the adoption process having “survived” our first adoption and we were comfortable with the fact that our oldest boy Eli’s birth family would have nothing to do with how he was going to be raised.
My head was filled with the stories of birth parents coming back for their child. I thought about the unrelenting chaos from the extended family, and the thought that our boy would have some sort of confusion about who his parents are.
Then, the unthinkable happened. In the process of adopting our second boy, we ended up being adopting by an entire family. Huh? See, when we met the parents of Ervin, our youngest boy, we were struck by the incredibly difficult decision they were about to make.
In front of us sat two young parents who loved their boy with all of their heart. I could tell from the first time I met them, that this was an excruciatingly tough decision for them and it had weighed heavily on them for quite some time. Still, after a few good conversations (plus a thorough background check, home study, letters of reference, etc.) they said, “Do you want to take him back to the hotel for the night?” Our first night in LA: Boom! Baby-time.
It was that moment I knew we would forever be connected to both of them. I could feel the weight in their hearts; they wanted what was best for their son; however, they didn’t want to lose him all the same.
I have always considered myself brave. I survived puberty, braces, dating, marriage, divorce, a teenage daughter, a teenage daughter, a teenage daughter, (catching a theme yet?), marriage again, a significant career pivot in my 40’s, months of horrible mind-altering fertilization drugs, months of in-vitro treatments with my wife (she was the trooper, not me), and a first adoption with a few ‘disruptions’ (a kind way to say ‘birthparents changed their minds at the last moment.’ We called them failures). Whew! That was a mouthful!
I repeat: I thought I was brave until I watched theses two young parents make the most difficult decision they could ever make: the decision to give their child a life that might be on a different trajectory than the one they could provide.
I can still feel the bellowing hug of Ervin’s dad, a man much taller than me, as he held onto me like we were long-lost brothers. I can still hear the pain in the voices of the extended family when they tried so desperately to change the course Ervin’s parents were on. I can still sense the inner turmoil everyone connected to our situation felt, both in LA and at home, where dozens of family and friends were praying for our return with Ervin.
I believe from a distance, many people think adoptions are sort of sterile. Birth mother has a child, adopting parents sign papers, the birth mother is discharged, and new parents leave with adopted baby. The only complaint I usually hear is how long the adoption process takes. The reality is they are all a bit messy.
Please don’t get me wrong; the mess is joyful, but honestly more joyful a few months after the adoption has happened. In hindsight, we were blessed for having been caught up in the midst of the ‘do I let my boy go’ or ‘do I raise him myself’ decision. Wow! Who wants to make that decision?
Let me think of all of the people who were upset with Ervin’s parents when they decided to do this? Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Brothers, Sisters, neighbors, Great-Grandparents, friends of the family, and even people who just wanted to be in the midst of a very painful situation: basically everyone.
A Definition of Courage
Courage is defined as “strength in the face of pain or grief.”
When I think about the love Ervin’s parents have for him, to gift him to us under overwhelming amounts of stress and pressure, I am still amazed at their bravery.
When I began to write this article, I asked Noel, Ervin’s other mother, if she was okay with my sharing our collective experience and her immediate response was, “Yes. If another birth mother or family can benefit from our story, you bet.” You see? Courage.
I would love to say that everyone came around immediately; however, such a big event in any family is tough to get over. Today, every member of our beautifully expanded family is completely committed to making this the best adoption experience possible for both of our boys. They call both of my boys, ‘their cousins, grandsons, and great-grandsons.’ I am called ‘son’ by Ervin’s great grandmother and I am honored.
Last year, we flew Ervin to LA to spend two weeks with his entire family. We heard from many camps about ‘how dangerous’ our decision was and ‘it would be confusing’ for Ervin; however, looking back on it, it was a great experience for all involved.
A few weeks ago, my boys and I flew from Omaha, NE (our home) to Los Angeles to spend the entire weekend living in Ervin’s grandmother’s home, driving her car, and visiting with family members from everywhere in the LA area. Ervin calls his mother by nature, “Noel.” His grandma, “Emme.” Grandpa will always be “Pappa” and all of them we call “family.” We aren’t sure what Ervin will call Noel as he gains a better understanding of the adoption process; however, if he ends up calling her mom too, we’re okay with that.
5 Important Lessons Learned
So, looking back now, almost three years later, what have we learned?
- We Are Adopting the Entire Family
We consider all of Ervin’s extended family, our family. We call them on holidays; we ‘tag’ them in Facebook pictures; we celebrate their birthdays; we text them almost daily; we ask them about their weeks, and we visit them when we can.
- The Importance of Sticking it Out
It takes patience, trust, and faith in each other in dozens of ways. When tough words are exchanged in the beginning, let them go. There will be some harsh times while you are forging your path along this journey; persevere. In our situation, everyone wants the best for Ervin and that is truly a blessing.
- Don’t Let Fear Get in the Way
I am asked about our adoptions almost weekly. Anyone who is new to our situation tends to ask questions like, “Aren’t you afraid of Ervin’s parents ‘taking’ him from you?” or “Why do you keep ‘in touch’ with his family so often?” When we explain how this is working out for everyone, people are usually a little bit stunned. Our advice? The more open, the better.
If you believe everything should be a ‘certain’ way, you probably don’t have kids yet. Families are so diverse today, it is important that you embrace the situation you are given. My wife says, “An open adoption is a state of mind. Just run with it, as it is a gift from God. If you are not so inclined to believe in God, just run with it….period.”
- Everyone Comes to Peace at Different Speeds
Everyone comes to peace at different speeds. In this case, openness speeds that up.
When I think of my first son’s family, they must wonder what is going on in his life. Is he doing well in school? How tall is he? Is he playing soccer? Basketball? Dancing? All of these questions are answered for Ervin’s extended family. I am never surprised when they know about something the boys are doing before I do because my wife talks to them so often.
I know every adoption situation is different and I am not an expert; however, for parents who are considering an adoption, lean into whatever situation comes your way. Be open. I would have never believed I would be sitting here three years later wishing both of my boy’s adoptions were open.
To this day, I am in love with our beautifully diverse family and we owe all of it to two young people who had to courage to create a new destiny for their child.