Navigating Ambiguity in Adoption

Welcome to the sixth annual acclaimed series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. 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 Amy and Hannah

Navigating ambiguity is a phrase I’ve heard recently, in grad school, of all places. How “comfort with ambiguity” is becoming an important part of professional life these days…I’ve smiled in class, because I think that’s most of life.

I am a birth mother and regular mother, so to speak. I have two beautiful daughters, full sisters, age 12 and 21, and I often say that they are not in my physical home as much as I might have expected (due to adoption with the first and divorce/joint-parenting with the second) but that I am actively mothering and connected to each of them.

I met my daughter Hannah in person (essay about our first meeting) in 2011, when she was sixteen. Now she is twenty-one, and carrying on a genetic legacy of musical talent by majoring in music education. The last few years have been ambiguous, to say the least. Here are some of our individual reflections, including Hannah’s memories of that first meeting, and a little bit about what the last five years have been like for each of us.

So what do you do, when the day you’ve waited for since you were four years old, finally happens? I hugged her. I talked to her, with her, and sometimes it felt more like I stuttered at her. Her wise eyes and that subtle smile that went from her mouth, through her cheekbones, and then burst from the corners of her eyes. Five years later…what happened?

I chuckle to myself sometimes, thinking about my unsteady nerves and calculated demeanor upon meeting my biological mother for the first time, when compared to the number of times I’ve called her sobbing without a second thought since beginning college. It could be a break-up, a bad test, a menstrual cycle, or nothing particularly identifiable, and I just call her. It seems like a natural thing…to call your mom. Well, your birth-mom. Right?

So, in these last five years, what exactly happened?

My curiosity has been quenched and set ablaze more times than I care to recall. The phone calls increased, concert attendance and dinner meetings have come and gone, some years more frequently than others. I’ve hugged her with urgency, and sometimes without even thinking about it too much. My heart has skipped beats with anxiety and intense excitement when seeing her walk toward my residence hall on campus, peeking through the glass of the double doors of the entrance. My heart has broken when she leaves after a day together, or even a few hours when we have met for coffee or dinner. It’s chemical. It’s…spiritual. It’s biological and primitive and confusing.

She has guided me musically — a gift I have appreciated on a genetic level. College is so hard, and knowing a bit more about why I felt so pulled toward the musical realm of education was clarifying and calming. I’ve been justified in my desires, mannerisms, and even emotional fluency.

It has been anxiety-ridden and stressful.

Will my mom be upset?
Will I be in trouble for driving to Evanston for a holiday dinner without explicitly getting permission from both of my parents?
What if they sit together at the choir concert…or worse…my voice recital?
Is there a reality in which both families can support not just me, but each other mutually and authentically?

In my quest to meet my birth parents, beginning at a very young age, a sort of desperation was born. I don’t remember creating a specific scripted fantasy to occupy my mind and heart, but I did create a safe haven of curiosity and possibility. Five years ago, any hope or expectation dissipated to make room for something much more important — a new, realistic chance at a relationship, be it unconventional or undefined.

That sunny day, a day where I worried too much about my outfit and sweaty hands, a complete paradigm shift occurred. And now, I find myself thanking God everyday for so many loving people who are in my circle. I continue to search for clarity as I evolve and learn to act upon the healthiest choices for myself, rather than the most pleasing to everyone else.

Five years after that first, exciting meeting, Hannah is a senior in college a few hours away from me. We talk a few times a month, and try to see each other every couple of months if possible. She has come to a few family gatherings, met my parents, connected with her birth dad, stayed overnight at my place a couple of times, and soon I plan to visit her and her college roommates for a Saturday of “living-on-our-own cooking 101”.

My connection with her adoptive parents is light – I see them occasionally and we are friendly. I have suggested via email that we all get together for lunch, and talk about this new world we are entering – the world of ambiguity, as I see it, now that Hannah is an adult. There has not been much response to that outreach – but I am open and hopeful about future conversations.

In the meantime, I am trying to figure out my personal guidelines for this phase in the process, in the absence of a rulebook. I signed a contract with them to raise my daughter, to love her, and to care for her. And they did a wonderful job.

That contract is silent about what happens “after age eighteen”… And while many people tell me how I ought to behave, as people tend to do about anything related to childbearing or parenting, I have not been entirely satisfied with their advice, which doesn’t take into account some of the basic connection needs in play. Here are a few things I’m certain about so far:

  • I want to have a relationship with Hannah, because it helps me feel whole.
  • I have an internal “do not harm” policy with regard to Hannah’s relationship with her adoptive mother, but that’s not 100% in my control – it depends so much on others’ perceptions.
  • I am committed to sitting in the constellation of Hannah’s life in a place that is additive – that helps her be more – more secure, more confident, more knowledgeable, more connected to herself, more loving, more open-minded, more relaxed, more successful – any of the above.

Here are a few things that I am certain about so far:

  • I am 100% sure that meeting my birth mom, dad, and little sister when I was sixteen was the right choice, and I’m incredibly grateful to my parents for setting up that meeting with my birth parents.
  • I find myself triggered when anyone, be it a relative or friend, offers advice or input about my relationship with my biological family when not invited to.
  • I want to have a relationship with Amy, because it helps me feel whole.
  • I have an internal defense system ready at all times if anyone questions or disapproves of my relationship with my birth family, particularly my birth mother.
  • I continue to be confused and unsure as to how to talk about all of these family trees with my family and friends, and often feel like I am making others uncomfortable. Sometimes I wish people would ask me how I am feeling, what I’m thinking, and how I’m navigating this rather unconventional “thing” as a young adult.
  • I am committed to getting through my undergraduate career, and becoming the best version of myself possible.

My parents raised me well. I feel more secure, more confident, more knowledgeable, more connected to myself and others, more loving, more open-minded, more relaxed, and more successful because of choices I have made, because of the people I grew up with, and the people I continue to foster relationships with.


Go HERE to read the complete set of posts in the 2016 series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days!

Are you looking for awesome children’s adoption books? The second book in the Jazzy’s Quest chapter book series for adoptees is HERE!!! Be sure to get your copy of Jazzy’s Quest: What Matters Most, the sequel to Jazzy’s Quest: Adopted and Amazing!

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Carrie Goldman is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter

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