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The land of living ghosts (a plea for openness in adoption)

There's a lot of debate among those who have adopted, especially out of foster care, about the level of openness one should offer after adoption (openness meaning contact with the child's first parents, their biological parents). Sometimes, due to the nature of why they lost custody of their precious babies, these first parents can be volatile (or have a history of being so); some might even feel that they're unsafe people. People struggling with mental health issues or active addiction, like many of these parents do, are not easy to be in contact with.

Over the years, I've advocated more and more for contact with first families whenever possible. In part this is because I've learned so much from adult adoptees, who have taught me that it is their right to have that door kept open for them, so that if they want and need connection with their roots later in life on THEIR terms, they can get it. But to be truly honest, there's a whole other, much more selfish reason why I'm an advocate for open adoption in almost every case.

Here's the real reason, the honest reason why open adoption is so important to me: When you get a taste of what it's like to be separated in every way from the child you raised and loved and love still, you just don't want that kind of suffering to happen to anyone else.

When my foster babes went home after over two years of living with me, their Mama was wary of me, and I don't blame her. She wanted a fresh start and a life that didn't include an emotional former foster mama. After over two years of having to live apart from her sons, she didn't want my bond with them interfering with HER bond with them. She didn't want to have to worry about me criticizing her in my head, or to the county.

She wanted a break from me, and she made sure that she got one.

For over two years we had no contact. No pictures, no phone calls, no visits. Her social media has always been totally private from mine so I couldn't even cyber stalk. I had nothing. No word of the two little souls I had loved with everything in me. All this love, and nowhere to put it. All this worry, and no news to calm it.

As a foster parent I understood and respected her right to privacy for her family, but as a mother, oh, it was torture. A torture I wouldn't wish on anyone.

They came to me in dreams, laughing and running just out of reach, and on the playground when just for a second, an instant, another little boy with a similar haircut or voice or stance was MY boy, and I would turn towards them in exploding joy before realizing I was mistaken. I stared at every picture, watched every video, until I couldn't look at any of it anymore because to do so was to induce a panic attack.

My partner was bewildered. He'd say "But it's been YEARS, are you just going to cry every week about this forever?"

I was.

To live in the land of living ghosts is to see the faces you long to see everywhere, hear the voices you long to hear around every corner. It means feeling on their birthdays like a knife is in your chest, twisting, knowing that somewhere out there the person you most want to celebrate is not hearing what you want them to hear:

That you love them.

That you think of them, on this special day and on all days, all the time.

To live through a loss like that is not describable, or bearable, not really. You live with it and you have other children and build this whole other life without your former children in it, but somewhere in the back of your mind the grief sits, heavily. It seeps out at the seams and taints everything else that you do.

To live in the land of living ghosts is to have nights where you lay in bed and cry until your chest physically hurts, missing them, replaying memories of them and willing the universe to create a vortex that you could step through and be in that day again, that moment when they were RIGHT there. Right there.

To live in the land of living ghosts is to have nightmares of your used-to-be oldest son calling you on the phone, crying and begging you to come help him. In the dream you get in your car, you tell him to stay on the phone with you because you're coming, you'll be right there.

But you always wake up right before you find out why he needed you.

It hurts so much, SO much, to not be able to get even a text message or an updated photo letting you know how the children that you raised are doing.

And other people live there with you. Your mom who was their grandma for two years cries with you on the phone when she finds on of their legos behind her couch. You sister wistfully sends you a video clip, Do you remember this day? Do you remember when they were ours? The whole family grieves, the whole family remembers. And you stumble through the land of living ghosts together.

You try so hard to move on, but a Mama or Papa's heart remembers. People say to you you have to let them go, not understanding that they are a part of you now, that they always will be, that there is no letting them go. Even if you wanted to, wish that you could. Even if it would be easier.

And see, having lived there for so long, having felt that pain of not knowing, .I would never ever choose to send another Mama or Papa to live there too. I would not wish that kind of pain on another human. I would never allow my actions, or lack of action, to cause that kind of pain to another parent if it was in any way avoidable.

By maintaining some level of openness in adoption, we create a doorway for our child's first parents. Using letters and pictures, phone calls and visits, whatever we can, we allow our children's first parents to step through that door and be with their children in whatever way that they can be. We resurrect the living ghosts for them.

My first two foster sons did not grow from my body but I promise you: there's not a single day of my life since the moment I met them that I haven't thought of them. No amount of time nor distance nor life circumstance has ever changed that for me.

Those that made our children, created them with and cradled them within their bodies, how could they not feel the same? Even through addiction and pain, mental health challenges and poor choices, I know in my heart that most of the time, they feel the same. Their love may not be able to shine through in the same way, through all those layers of trauma and turmoil, but it is there you guys.

It's still there.

Challenge yourself to stop making excuses. Challenge yourself to make a way, any way, for your child's first parents to have an ongoing positive connection to them.

Walk through that doorway, as hard and as scary as it may be. Extend your hand out to the one that made your child. Even if they seem like they don't want to find the doorway, or don't care about it being open. Even if they act like they don't want to take your hand, or ignore it, reach out anyway.

Know that you are opening this door in the name of helping another person heal, and in the name of giving your child the best chance to be the most whole version of themselves.

Let's do our part to create windows and doorways in the land of living ghosts, so that parents who love their children don't have to live there forever.

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