How To Help Your Child Find Identity In a Closed Adoption.

Does a closed adoption impact your child significantly? It’s a big question we’ve been asked often. But more importantly, how do you help them find their identity when they don’t have a relationship with their birth family?

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The first time my daughter asked for her biological mom she was 2 years old. It was a rainy Thursday in February. We had visited our adoption agency that morning to pick up a gift that her birth mom sent through the mail. It was a doll and she immediately named it after her birth-mom. We left a gift for her birth-mother and were assured that the agency would send it on to her. After we safely buckled our pre-schooler into her car seat, we headed toward home. My husband and I were happily chatting in the front seat. That’s when our daughter started screaming from the backseat, “I want my MOMMY!” I turned around to see what was the matter. Nothing seemed amiss but her wailing increased. My heart broke for her and so I climbed over the center console, twisting my legs like pretzels to be near her. I leaned in close and put my hands on hers, “It’s ok. I’m right here.” She froze mid cry and clearly said, “Not you! My other mommy.”

I had expected that one day she would want to know more about her birth mother and would even feel deep sorrow over our closed adoption, I just hadn’t expected that it would happen so soon. I fumbled over my words and eventually sat in silence next to her while she cried quietly for the remainder of the trip. As we pulled into the driveway, I felt completely defeated. This was the first time my daughter had felt deep sadness and I had been ill equipped to deal with it. I unbuckled her from her seat and as I lifted her out of the car she wrapped her little arms around my neck and buried her face in my shoulder.

That was the day I began searching for my daughter’s birth mom. I would scan crowds at the mall, search the internet and even devise plans to “bump in to her” if I ever found out where she was located. As my daughter grew older, her own search for her biological family grew as well. We begged the adoption agency for information of her whereabouts, but by then they had lost touch with her as well. I wanted to respect her privacy but I also desperately wanted to heal the deep loss that my daughter felt.

In our family we strongly value our children’s ties to their birth families. We have learned that we do not need to be afraid of building relationships with biological family members. Of our 8 children, 7 have open adoptions. We have a range of relationships with their biological families. Some we visit once or twice a year, some we see once or twice a month. Two of our children even have a biological sister who lives within walking distance of our house.

Our only closed adoption is also our only infant adoption. We have always shared an extra special story with our daughter. We were there the day our daughter was born, we fed her the first bottle. We changed her first diaper. The night she was born, her birthmother asked to keep her overnight. We were afraid it meant that she was changing her mind. We left the hospital and spent a sleepless night at home. The next day, we returned to the hospital to wait for her birth-mom to make her decision. She signed the papers and chose to keep the adoption closed. She said she had sent a friend to watch us with the baby and knew that we would be great with her. We were overjoyed to be our daughter’s new parents but we couldn’t escape the deepness of the loss that had just occurred for our daughter as well as her empty handed momma.

As our daughter has grown into the beautiful young woman she is today, we stand beside her and marvel. She is strong, creative, intelligent and beautiful. We see ourselves in her ability to write and create. We like similar foods and laugh at similar jokes. She carries so many of our family traits that the distinction of her adoption often seems irrelevant. Sometimes I want to keep her all to myself and the closed adoption doesn’t seem so bad.

Today I was putting toys away in our backyard. I was caught up in my own thoughts when I began mindlessly singing a long forgotten tune. “Where did that come from?” I asked myself with a laugh. Then I realized, my daughter was singing in the shower. I could hear her powerful voice, despite the noise of the running water, through the solid wood bathroom door and past the exterior wall of our home. Her voice is breathtaking. I stood and listened for a while and my mind wandered back to that precious momma of hers. The one who just wanted a better life for her baby girl. My heart hurts for her and my heart hurts for our daughter who longs to know more about where she came from. She yearns for the connectedness of knowing where she gets her singing voice, or who else carries her same wide grin.

I used to worry that I was not enough for my daughter. I now know that I am not enough, I was never meant to be enough. My role as her mother is to stand beside her as she creates her own identity. She will take a little from me, a little from her dad, she will borrow from her brothers and sisters. She will discard the pieces that don’t fit and fill the empty spaces with those that do. She will piece together a patchwork quilt of values, morals, likes, dislikes and beliefs. My hope is that one day her birth family will also be a part of her tapestry.

Question: Are you an adoptive parent, parenting a child in a closed adoption (either your choice or the birth families’ choice)? What are some trials you’ve faced? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Deanna

    Thank you for your thoughts and the blog 🙂 I am binge reading the ones I’ve missed 🙂
    Is closed or open adoption always a choice when foster parenting? My husband and I are in our first placement, a sibling group of 3 and reunification does not look possible.
    I guess I wonder how we could foster a healthy open adoption when there has been abuse and part of the kids healing has been learning to trust adults again.
    Sometimes I feel like I’ve done something wrong when the oldest (who is 6) talks negatively about his birth parents. I don’t want them to ‘hate’ their birth parents, but I do want them to see the difference in my husband and I so that they can learn to trust again. Thoughts???

    • Kristin Berry

      Hi! For our foster/adoptions we made a post adoption plan with the court that took into account the best interest of the child (different in every case). For our children that would not benefit from face to face contact, we still try to keep the birth parent conversation open. Sometimes it’s tricky to find a balance between the good and the bad, but we do our best. For example, one of our son’s has a birth mother in prison. They cannot talk or visit and she did not take good care of him when she did have custody of him, however he has her same beautiful blue eyes and unbelievably long lashes. He knows there is a difficult part of his story but it’s not all bad. He got some wonderful things from her as well. I hope this helps a little. You will find a balance as you go along this journey. You are already looking for answers and that is what our children need most, parents who are willing to learn and do their best! K

      • Deanna

        Thank you for your reply. It does help. I’ve struggled this whole path unsure of how to handle the birth family issue. I want so much for their birth mom to make the right choices and get her life straightened out so we can walk through life together with these kids. The best of both worlds. However, she doesn’t seem ready at this point. She is also in prison. I send her letters and pics of the kids, update her on milestones, etc. Sometimes I feel torn on who I’m advocating for. The best I can do is pray someone enters her life that can point her in the right direction.

  • diane robinson

    Adoption attitudes have happily come a long way. Wanting to know and find my birth family virtually ended a relationship with one adopted brother and strained my relationships with other adopted family members. Happy to read that this is no longer the accepted norm.

    • Kristin Berry

      I am happy too! Open adoption can be difficult but for our kids it has been so good for them to be able to find answers about where they’ve come from. Thank you for sharing a little of your story. I’m sorry it’s been a difficult road for you and your family.