In honor of November being National Adoption Month, Portrait of an Adoption is running a special series called 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days. Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying experiences.
By Cindy Williams
I was pressured to place my son Zachary for adoption in 1986, and his brother Nathaniel for adoption in 1988. Luckily for me, they placed Nathaniel with the same family (even though I had placed with a different agency) and the boys were raised together. Their adoptive parents also adopted two little girls, in 1990 and 1992. All four children are bi-racial.
We started out with a closed adoption. I never told any of my friends about my sons. Not even my best friend. The only times I would talk to people about them was when I would drink and it would depress me and make me cry. I thought I was a horrible person and that nobody would like me anymore. I never had any counseling at all, was never offered any. I think I thought I was crazy because all I could do was think about my "babies".
In 1994, I finally wrote to Catholic Charities (the 1st baby's agency) to ask if they had any information about my baby (at that point I didn’t know if I had a boy or girl in 1985). I didn't know if they would be able to send me any information at all, because I don't ever remember telling me that they would have pictures and letters on file. I didn't know I was at least entitled to that. They wrote me a long letter informing me that I had two sons, and they were being raised together as brothers (thank God I told the 2nd agency about my 1st baby). They sent me pictures and letters I never knew were on file. I was so ecstatic to receive these things.
When I first got the pictures and saw that my bi-racial sons were being raised by white adoptive parents, I was worried that they wouldn't grow up knowing both sides of their heritage. But as I looked through more pictures, I saw that the adoptive parents lived in a racially mixed area, and there were lots of people of all colors in their classes in school. I was worried because I'd read studies that bi-racial kids raised by white adoptive parents sometimes didn't have a good identity about themselves. They couldn't relate to black or white. I think my sons can relate to both, and they do.
When I finally got the pictures, I got the courage to start telling a few (very few) people. I finally told my best friend, in a letter. I was so relieved when she still wanted to be my friend. After I told her, I only told a couple more people.
The eleven years that I didn't know my sons were pure hell. I agonized over the not knowing for so long. I drank to try to block everything out, but that didn't work at all. The shame I felt for placing not one, but two children was awful. I thought that no one would like me anymore because I had placed my sons for adoption. Luckily, everyone that I have told has mostly been supportive of me.
Finally, I was in a Borders bookstore for the first time. I found a book on birthmothers. I was shocked. I didn't even know such a book existed. What a relief to find that all the things I was feeling was normal. I now have about 25-30 books on adoption. If I go into a bookstore, that is the first section I always go to.
I don't remember exactly when I found the on-line support group, but I am so glad I did. I really think that no one understands a birthmom like another birthmom. No one else has ever had the kind of experiences we have had. I can see that all the feelings that I had over the years were normal, and that I am very lucky to have met my birthsons.
In September of 1997, Catholic Charities finally started a support group (I had only been asking for the past four years). It was great to finally talk to someone that had been through the same thing. In November I asked my social worker to contact the adoptive parents and see if they could send some pictures.
My social worker called me and told me the adoptive parents wanted to meet me. I met them in November. We met at Catholic Charities (that's the only way CC would do it). We talked for about two hours, and they brought me some pictures and some letters from Zak and Nate. We also exchanged phone #'s so we could cut CC out of the picture completely.
I finally met my sons 2/19/98. That was the absolute best day of my life. We met at the state aquarium in Camden, NJ. It was kind of strained at first, but soon the boys warmed up to me. We had a great day, although they were both trying to keep me to themselves. We went to dinner from there, and their adoptive parents let them ride in the car with me. I was so excited. I think it's amazing that their adoptive parents came to trust me so fast. I had them alone that first day, and the next time I visited, they dropped the three of us off at a local museum for the afternoon. I think it's great that they gave us time to be alone so early in the relationship.
The first time my sons told me they loved me, it was music to my ears. My sons called me and wished me a Happy Mother's Day in 2001. I waited many long years for this.
This is a letter the adoptive parents wrote for me to help other adoptive parents with their fears...
We're the adoptive parents of four children, two boys ages 12 and 10 and two girls ages 9 and 7. All were adopted as infants, ranging in age at the time of adoption from 7 weeks to 4 months.
The two boys have the same birth mother and over the past year and a half we have enjoyed an increasingly close relationship as a family. We'd like to let other adoptive parents know about our experiences. For, although every situation is different, we are glad that all of us have had the chance to get to know each other better and that our children have the love and support of their birth mother.
As part of our adoption process, we provided the adoption agency with photos and update letters from the time our children were placed with us. And we knew from our contact with the agency social workers that in some cases the birth mother was sent or picked up those letters and photos. But it wasn't until the boys were about 10 and 8 that we knew that their birth mother, Cindy, had contacted the agency for information about them. We kept up with occasional letters and photos through the agency and didn't really expect that we would have closer contact with Cindy.
Then in December 1997 we heard from the agency that Cindy would like to find out more about the boys. We suggested that Cindy meet with us so we could share more about the boys and get to know each other. That meeting happened just before Christmas at the agency offices. It was a little tense but probably all of us experienced a sense of relief at finally seeing each other face to face. We were interested in knowing more about Cindy and about what she might want to know about the boys. She made us very comfortable by telling us right away that she didn't want to step into the role of parent but that she hoped she could develop a close relationship with each of the boys. She shared the scrapbooks that she had made with the letters and photos we had sent. We talked with Cindy about how we were a family that included the two girls as well as the boys and that as much as possible we didn't want the girls to feel left out, even though we knew that Cindy had a special connection with the boys.
By the end of that first meeting we all felt ready to take the next steps. So we agreed to begin meeting as a family. We met for an afternoon at the state aquarium and then went out to dinner. It was an easy way to handle the first meeting, because it gave Cindy and the boys a chance to tour the exhibits together on their own while we took the girls around and then the dinner was a chance for us all to chat together.
After that first meeting more than a year ago we've had a number of family outings with Cindy. She has come to the boys' birthday parties at our house and we have been to family get-togethers at her house where she lives with her parents. The boys have spent nights and weekends with her and are planning for a week with her this summer. Cindy has also made sure to include our girls in her plans and has taken them each on a special birthday outing on her own.
Each time we get together our relationship deepens — not just the relationship Cindy has with the boys but her relationship with us and with our girls. She provides all of the children with an extra dose of loving and attention and has become an interesting and fun adult friend of ours. We live far from our own extended families and having another adult willing and eager to help out and be there for all of us has been appreciated as well.
Of course, we have to be honest and say that we weren't always so sure that meeting Cindy and having the boys establish a relationship with her would be positive. But now we know we are lucky to have Cindy in our lives and that all of our children are blessed to have such a loving and open relationship with one of their birth mothers. We are trying to make contact, through the adoption agency, with the girls' birth mothers, in the hopes that perhaps they might be interested in corresponding with us at least.
We hope that other adoptive parents will consider establishing a relationship with their children's birth parents. We've found that this can be a wonderful enriching experience for the whole family.
Bernard and Sam
It is now 2012.
Zak is 25 and lives with his girlfriend Tayler (they live right next door to his adoptive parents). Zak works for a local airline. He is fun, a great mechanic and I love to spend time with him and his girlfriend. We have a great relationship. I see them about once a month, luckily they live about 25 minutes from me.
Nate is now 23. He got married in 2010 to Saralee. My beautiful granddaughter Sophia was born February 19, 2011. She is the light of all of our lives, and I try to see her as often as I can. Nate and I have a great relationship and he was in my wedding in December, so that was a wonderful feeling.
I am one heck of a lucky Birthmom, and I know it!!!
By Cindy Williams
Portrait of an Adoption is hosted by Carrie Goldman, author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. This year’s adoption series is full, but if you have a story you would like to submit as a candidate for next year’s series, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.