When our first grandchild is born into an open adoption, it’s not easy.  Many of the landmarks of becoming a grandmother are skewed.  Right out of the gate - when our child tells us they are pregnant and planning for an adoption – we enter into a sea of ambivalence and uncertainty.  What do we feel?  How do we respond?  If a part of us wants our child to keep the baby in the family, how strongly do we advocate for this?  And do we have the right to even advocate at all?

At that moment of hearing the news, I didn’t realize how quickly I was approaching a fork in the road:  the woman who wanted to love and support her daughter and the woman who wanted to know and cherish her grandchild.  Before Lila’s birth, the split seemed more manageable.  Fiona’s well-being was the priority.  I openly shared my feelings but did not insist that she act upon them.  Choosing a life path for Lila was Fiona’s decision to make.  This clarity was my touchstone as events unfolded before the birth. 

The open adoption matrix follows a very structured pathway leading up to the birth.  All the pivotal decisions are contemplated and discussed like scaling a mountain – one crucial detail paving the way for the next, culminating at the summit - selecting the adoptive parents and preparing the hospital birth plan.  But reaching this summit is by no means the end of the climb.  The mountain range is endless, as the “after placement” portion of the terrain rises up to meet us.  Though others have traversed this path before us and many others will follow behind, we alone must find our way on the open adoption trail. 

The trail head begins the moment we exit the hospital.  If we gave birth to our own children in a hospital, we know from experience the enormous symbolism of walking out of the hospital and into our new lives with our newborn cradled in our arms.  My heart was broken open as I bore witness to my daughter giving birth to my granddaughter.   When I left the hospital this time around, I surrendered an entire future with my granddaughter that was not meant to be.  It was a profound letting go.

Before Fiona’s pregnancy, I had never even known open adoptions existed.  So when I first started reading the books, trying to determine how I, the grandmother, might figure into this dynamic and flowing system of relationships, I was hopeful.  And I believe that everyone else who has a role in the open adoption is hopeful, as well.  The paradigm suggests that as long as we base our actions on our common bond - what is best for the child in the center - then we will each find our unique places around a circle formed out of love, respect, trust and skillful communication. 

I had hoped that Fiona and I would be in close proximity on that circle – a continuation of the intimacy she and I shared during her labor and the birth.  I knew we were both grieving and had assumed this grief would unite us.  In fact, sometimes it felt unclear whether I was carrying her grief or my own, they seemed so intertwined.  But Fiona kept her distance from me.  And whereas my grief surfaced as sadness, hers surfaced as anger and a need to regain some semblance of status and control in Lila’s life.  This resulted in a tumultuous series of events with Lila’s adoptive parents.  The three of them ricocheted from one extreme to another in their efforts to address their individual needs and safeguard their unique positions in Lila’s life. During this process, their mutual trust in each other was severely battered. 

Witnessing this head on collision, I had contacted the adoption case manager explaining what was happening and asking for some guidance and intervention.  We were well within the six month window, prior to the Court finalizing the adoption, and thought we still had some leverage to bring things back into balance.  I was mistaken.  Aside from suggesting that all parties receive counseling, either through the agency or an outside source, the adoption was proceeding.  The birth parents had signed over their legal rights and there was no turning back.

After celebrating Lila’s first birthday with Fiona and the birth father, Lila’s family moved across the country, settling on the East Coast.  Regular contact with her daughter, which had been a pivotal contingency for placement, was now being denied.  Lila’s open adoption was shutting down and the agency, which had gone to great lengths to support Fiona and represent her specific wishes and preferences in finding the best placement for her baby, was now inaccessible.  Their advice to me was to let it go.

Today Lila is 2 ½, and my experience in the open adoption circle has triggered an endless stream of emotions, as events continue to unfold that could never have been anticipated.  Anger and despair felt in one set of circumstances led to absolute joy in another.  It’s an unpredictable ride, rich in complexity and opportunities for growth.  The terrain has not been easy but it has enabled me to create my own means of being a grandmother.  And this I enjoy.

A month ago, Lila left me a voice mail and I heard her say my name for the first time.  The validity of our connection felt so strong and present through Lila saying my name.  I kept it on my cell phone, so I could listen to it again and again.  Until one day I tried to retrieve it and it was gone.  For those first few moments, I could feel myself grasping, grieving.  Then I simply let go.  And maybe these are the salient lessons that Lila and her open adoption are teaching me – to feel it all and to honor it all. Maybe in order to keep on loving…we need to keep letting go.

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