We are three days out from leaving for our annual reunion with Katie’s birth family. Our first reunion since Katie was a baby took place four years ago, and the weeks leading up to it were terrible. Katie, who was preparing to enter kindergarten, was old enough to know that meeting her birth family for the first time in her conscious memory was a big deal, but she was still too young to know how to talk about all the emotions it stirred up in her.
As a result, during the month or two prior to the visit, Katie’s behavior was erratic and impulsive, punctuated by rages toward us followed by fits of self-loathing and self-harm. When she was angry, she would yell things like, “Just throw me in the garbage.” It made me cry to hear witness her pain.
She was working through her feelings of abandonment by her birth mother, as well as her mounting fear that the reunion really meant WE were planning to give her back and abandon her too. She had so much anxiety and distress that we wondered if we should cancel the visit.
But she was also desperate to see her birth family and meet them, and we hoped that the visit would soothe her anxieties, not make them worse, so we proceeded. The actual visit went far better than expected, and all of Katie’s behavior problems dissipated immediately after the visit. Our adoption therapist concluded that the behavior problems had been tied to Katie’s apprehension about the visit and not to anything else.
Life went on, and the next year, we once again saw Katie’s behavior deteriorate in the weeks before the visit, but it was not as severe as the previous year, because Katie had some memories now, and her birth family was not just a huge unknown. Again, within a day or two of the visit, Katie returned to being the sunny, easygoing girl she usually is.
Last year, we noticed a marked decrease in Katie’s anticipatory anxiety leading up to the birth family visit. She had a few off moments, but nothing notable, and we were able to combine the visit pretty seamlessly with a road trip that we were taking with our best friends. In fact, the biggest meltdown for Katie took place when she had to say goodbye to M, her birth mom. For the first time, she sobbed and cried with grief about saying goodbye, and she was quite bereft. That was really hard for me to see, and it was hard for M too.
And so here we are, three days out from the visit. I can honestly say that Katie must be feeling pretty comfortable, because there has not been any aberrant behavior. (I should bite my tongue, lest tonight is the mother of all meltdowns).
It shows me that Katie is growing older and processing her birth family relationship more, and that she has benefited from the regular contact. She asks me questions about M and she has a vague knowledge of M’s very difficult life. I answer Katie’s questions honestly but very simply, and I never elaborate beyond what she asks, in an attempt to have her gradually become aware of some of the more distressing aspects of her birth family’s situation.
From what I can tell, Katie’s birth mom and I are feeling more anxiety at this point about the visit this weekend than Katie is, which is a first! I just want it to go well and smoothly. I want Katie to continue building a connection with her birth family while still protecting her from knowing too much. We always meet in a neutral place, which helps, and we try to plan something fun to do with Katie and her birth family. She is intensely interested in her birth siblings, who were also in foster care when we adopted Katie but returned to live with their birth mom.
This is the first time I am making the trip on my own without Andrew and our other daughters, mostly to manage the costs of the trip. I will miss having Andrew to talk with at night. I am looking forward to seeing M and talking with her. She is funny and intelligent, and she has always been remarkably laid back and easygoing. Katie has inherited M’s flexibility and her resilience, two wonderful qualities in life.
Three more days. I wonder what it will be like this year.