By: Stacey Ellis
The text came without warning.
Hi! I didn’t mean to bother you. I’ve had your number saved since the hospital and wanted to call you but I’ve been afraid of intruding. I called the agency about how to write you so I’ll be writing soon! I love the pictures!
I got a call from my former direct report who now had my old work blackberry. The day before I had called her and casually mentioned – “Oh, by the way, I used my work blackberry when communicating with the birthmother of our daughter because I knew I wouldn’t have that phone forever – so if for some odd reason she calls that number, just let me know.” Now, I said this to her two months after I left my old job and blackberry, and in passing, never thinking it would amount to anything. The next morning, my former direct report calls me and reads me the message. I always knew I had some “vibe” –when I think of someone, they would miraculously call or email within 24 hours, even if I haven’t spoken to them in years. This one still shocked me.
When we were in the hospital, the birthparents were clear when they said, in these exact words, “She’s your daughter. We’re not going to interfere. We’re not going to track her down. When she’s 18, 21, 35, whatever, and if she wants to meet us, you have our number; reach out and we’ll talk about whether that’s the best for everyone.” Since then, we were required by state law to send photos and letters on the first, third, sixth, ninth and twelfth months. We had just sent the three month letter and this text came in four weeks later.
We didn’t know what to do. Do we text her back? Do we call her? How do we respond? We decided that my direct report needed to text her back right away, so we dictated, “Hi! Stacey no longer has this phone as she moved to a new job at a new company. But I will try to reach her and pass along your message.” The “try to” gave us some time to think. When we decided to adopt, we were clear: we wanted to be parents, not foster parents. What we meant by that was, we wanted to be able to go about our life raising our daughter, knowing she is our daughter and not feel like we have to report to someone – or feel like we were raising someone else’s child. We were thrilled when the birthfather said they wanted no contact. Then the state told us we had to send the letters and pictures. Okay, we thought, that’s no big deal. We can do that. But now those letters and pictures opened up this Pandora’s box.
Our first reaction was to pick up the phone and call her. But we talked about it and changed our minds. Sure, we could call today, even from a blocked line, but what does that open? Would she expect us to talk to her weekly? Monthly? Yearly? We didn’t know what her expectations would be. We were not open to weekly or monthly calls. But since she is a normal, sane, mature woman, we were still curious. Every now and then questions come up in our brains that we realize we forgot to ask. Sure we asked about any allergies her son had but now that we think about it, that’s about all we asked. We didn’t ask if the birthmother listened to rock music while our daughter was in utero. We now know: our daughter loves rock music. We didn’t ask what our daughter’s biological brother loves – does he love water? We now know: our daughter does. Does he love to blow raspberries? We now know: our daughter does. Is he fussy when eating, waiting til the last ten minutes before a bottle spoils to polish off the whole thing? We now know: our daughter does. We never even asked what the birthmother’s hobbies were…we realize that when we were in the hospital, we were so laser-focused on the baby, we never really asked anything. We didn’t want to pry. We didn’t want them to change their minds. We were new at this!
A phone call would allow us to ask a whole host of things…but it would also be so friendly, it would open up so many other communications – would she ask to facebook me? Would she want my phone number? My email address? We decided we would text her back from a blocked phone number. So we did. “Hi! We got your message and hope you are doing well! Did you want to talk to us? We’re available tonight but we have family coming to town tomorrow for a week. Let us know.” Radio silence. No response. We checked every hour. Nothing. We wondered if she changed her mind. We were obsessed for a day and then we had to let it go. So we did…
Then the letter came. Just this week. It was handwritten and three pages long. Her opening line was “I apologize for not writing sooner.” For some reason she felt like she was obligated to write us back. She wrote all about how much she loved our letters and the pictures. “I know that we originally said we didn’t want pictures. I thought that it would be hard to get the pictures. In a way it is hard, my heart yearns for what could have been but I love the pictures and they make us happy to see you all so happy.” She asked if she could send a gift and mentioned she didn’t want to intrude. She asked if she could send some pictures of her son since our daughter looks so much like him. She asked if we could keep this communication going and gave us her email address. The letter was nice. Really nice. We didn’t feel offended or like she intruded. She was very careful, asking permission before just sending something.
And she answered some of our questions by commenting on our letter to her where we mentioned our daughter’s love of water; her biological brother is a water bug too! And she commented on our daughter’s love of rock music; nope, our daughter heard mostly R&B in utero. So now what? Do we write back now? To comply with the state law, we aren’t obligated to write back for another six weeks. But we respect the birthmother too much to just leave her hanging. So, we had to make a decision and that decision may set the pace for communication for the next 18 years…