Yesterday I shared Drew's mother's thoughts about open adoption; today I will share Katie's father's.
Just like Drew, Katie has awesome parents. During the first conversation I had with Katie on the phone, I also spoke to her mother. Katie and I had been talking for about an hour when she said, "Do you want to talk to my mom?" I was a little nervous and intimidated (I wasn't sure what to say to her mom...and what if she didn't like me?), but I said, "Sure!" When Elizabeth got on the line, she immediately put me at ease. She started off by saying, "We've spent hours reading your blog, and we love you guys!!" She was so friendly, warm, and affirming. What I remember most about the conversation is the way she talked about Katie. She told me how proud she was of the way Katie was handling everything. She told me that Katie had always been very mature for her age and that she is wise, kind, independent, and strong. I assumed that Katie was standing right next to her mom listening to our conversation, and I thought of how amazing it was that she was hearing her mother speak such positive, loving words about her--in a time when some mothers might have spoken about disappointment or mistakes. In the year since that first conversation, I have seen this mother-daughter interaction many times. Through ups and downs, Elizabeth always makes it clear that she loves Katie unconditionally and will always see the best in her. To me, that is true motherhood. What an example for me to follow.
And Katie doesn't just have a great mom--she also has a wonderful father. He is my mother-in-law Sally's cousin, and he was the first person to talk to her about the adoption possibility and to find out more about me and Ryan. (To read more about that story, click here.) Like his wife, he spoke so positively about Katie. In a time when he himself was surely feeling a lot of conflicting emotions, he focused on supporting his daughter. He told Sally that Katie would make her own decision, and he and Elizabeth would stand by her.
After Noah was born, Katie asked her dad to be there when she signed the papers relinquishing her parental rights. I didn't realize this at the time, but in an email that Katie later wrote to me, she told me that after the papers were signed, her dad gave her a Willow Tree statue of an angel holding a little butterfly up in her hands, ready to let him fly away. When I read about his symbolic gift and his accompanying words of comfort at such an emotional time, my eyes filled with tears. What a dad.
So now, with no further ado, a birth grandfather's thoughts on open adoption, in his own words:
I can’t say I was nervous about an open adoption with Noah. The truth is, I didn’t really have any expectation for myself or my wife and our relationship with Noah after Katie signed the papers relinquishing her parental rights. Nobody asks the birth grandparents to sign their rights away, although if it were required I certainly would have done so because I was convinced that it was the best thing for Noah and had been very confident in Katie’s decision to place him since she first told us she was pregnant. Truthfully, it had been a big adjustment just thinking that I was old enough to have a grandchild – and that my daughter was old enough to be a mother. I knew that Katie would want to be kept updated about Noah’s growth and his activities, but I hadn’t really thought about what I would want to know or see. While Katie was pregnant, we visited a friend of ours who had photos on her refrigerator of a grandchild who had been placed in an open adoption. That may have been the first time I realized that birth grandparents can still get updates about how the child is doing with the adoptive parents.
I do remember being happy for Ryan and Rachel’s parents and their chance to be Noah’s grandparents. In fact, one of the most memorable moments for me since Noah’s birth was when I first saw Ryan’s dad at Ryan’s brother’s wedding reception about a month after Noah was born. Although I had been with Ryan and his mom at the hospital, I hadn’t yet seen or talked with Ryan’s father, and I really felt joy for this blessing in their lives and the happiness that Noah brought them – while still adjusting to the idea that I was somehow connected to it all.
Perhaps the first sense I had of any role, however small, that I might have with Noah was when Ryan asked if I would give Noah a blessing before he left the hospital. Ryan had read a newspaper article about a BYU football player who had been adopted and who had been blessed by his birth grandfather before the adoption. The football player didn’t see his birth grandfather again until after he was in college. Ryan thought it would be nice to have me give a blessing to Noah. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is common for fathers (or a father figure) to bless their children at times when they might need comfort or confidence, such as before a school year begins or when they might be facing some kind of trial. (This type of blessing is not a formal church ordinance or a blessing that someone would receive if they were ill.) I was honored that Ryan and Rachel would feel comfortable enough with sharing Noah to ask me to do this. And that has really been the unexpected blessing in our lives: Ryan and Rachel are confident enough about their role as Noah’s parents that they are willing and encouraging about involving as many people in Noah’s life as possible. I haven’t ever felt any sense that Katie’s relinquishment of her rights meant that Ryan and Rachel had to possess Noah exclusively or that they needed to assert their authority by rejecting any member of the birth families.
Of course Ryan and Rachel are Noah’s parents and will make all of the decisions about how he is raised – but they are so willing to share their experiences with others. So that is how I, Ryan, and Drew’s maternal grandfather gave Noah a priesthood blessing. I didn’t want to infringe on anything that Ryan would want to say when Noah was given a name and a blessing in church after the adoption was complete, so what I felt like I should say was that Noah might be blessed during his life to know how much people loved him to allow him to be adopted. Because to me, one of the biggest concerns I have for Noah is that he is able to realize as he grows that everybody has tried to do the things that will be best for him in this whole process.
When Ryan and Rachel invited us, along with Katie, Drew and Drew’s family, to Colorado for the temple sealing and baby blessing, I didn’t think I would go. I knew that Katie would want to be there – and I thought my wife would want to go as well – but I still wasn’t sure that I really belonged in the picture. In fact, we booked airfare for Katie and my wife and I didn’t even get a ticket (until later that night or the next day when I realized that I should go also). I’m not sure if I was concerned about not wanting to compete with Noah’s adoptive grandparents or about somehow intruding in Ryan and Rachel’s affairs (even though they had invited us to come). Whatever it was, I was still looking at the situation differently than Ryan and Rachel. Perhaps that is something else I have learned in this process – I don’t need to feel uncomfortable or out of place if the reason why I am there is to support Noah and his parents in their happiness. I am who I am, and even though I don’t have a continued legal relationship to Noah, I am still connected to him (kind of like a distant uncle) and I can be supportive and happy for the family success that Ryan and Rachel enjoy with him. And that is what a temple sealing of a child to his parents really is, a family success and an opportunity for that family to remain together after this life is over. Of course, it certainly helps that Ryan and Rachel’s families have been willing to let us share this experience with them as well. Being in the temple with any couple (whether newlyweds or if they are being sealed later) carries such a feeling of hope for the future. With that knowledge, we didn't really have any feeling of loss or sadness. We look forward to the day when we will see these blessings for our own children and grandchildren, but that day isn't yet here. This day was about Ryan and Rachel and Noah - and that felt so right.
I don’t know how other adoptive parents choose to involve the birth family – and the choices Ryan and Rachel have made to include us may not work for everyone – but everything about being able to spend the weekend of Noah’s blessing in Colorado has reaffirmed in my mind what truly wonderful blessings adoption can provide, and we are grateful to have been allowed to be a part of it.