Our Blended Family

I’m the parent of a child I gave birth to, and a child I adopted. They are 27 and 23, respectively.

I was a veteran of fertility treatment when I entered the world of adoption. I quickly learned there was a language of adoption. People talked of “placing” a child rather than giving up a child. A “situation” was an adoption prospect, centered upon a relationship with a woman, who was considering placing her baby. Later on, we called this woman a “birthmother,” but she was only called a birthmother after she placed her baby with us.

I was so green when I started the adoption process. I read everything I could about adoption, and went to adoptive parent meetings and workshops. I soon learned that none of us would-be adoptive parents knew so much. We were all looking desperately for a birthmother who would place her baby with us, and take our pain away. We would learn to be adoptive parents after that had happened.

Our son Ethan, was the outcome of a phone conversation I had with a birthmother, several months earlier. She called me while she was in labor, asking if I was still interested in adopting her baby. I said yes(!), went into high gear and helped find her a lawyer. With his help, we identified an adoption-friendly hospital. Since no one in Ethan’s birthmother’s life knew she was even pregnant, I offered to be her birthing coach. Bonnie accepted.

When Ethan was born, Bonnie said, “Go ahead, hold him. He is yours.” Thus began my life as an adoptive mom.

When I brought Ethan home after a two-day wait, our life as members of a blended family began. My son Zach, 4, was shell-shocked—he had lived through failed adoptions, and so we waited until we were absolutely certain that Ethan would be coming home, before telling him he had a new baby brother. We did not have nine months to prepare him, for the newborn he met out in the hospital parking lot.

Our first foray into talking about adoption with Zach, began with our attempts to explain how Bonnie could not care for a baby, any baby, at this point in her life. And, how she had placed Ethan with us, his “forever parents.” There were friends and relatives to educate about adoption as well. I wish I had a nickel for everyone who assumed Ethan’s birthmother was either very young, very poor, or both. In fact, she was neither of these things. She was a working woman in her 20s.

As my kids grew older, people often asked me, obliquely or straight out, whether I felt differently about my two kids, and whether that difference was due to the fact that one was birthed by me, and the other was adopted. I told them the truth—that I felt differently about each son. This was because I don’t love any two people in the universe the same way. Brown-eyed Zach, and blue-eyed Ethan, were such different people. Zach tended to be serious. and Ethan was the life of the party. Zach lived largely in the realm of the intellect, even as a young child, and Ethan was wildly creative, in his approach to the world. I do know that I love both my kids with a deep, immeasurable kind of love.

Was the fact that one was born into our family, and the other was adopted, the reason they got along like a modern-day Cain and Abel? This was the most pressing question I was served up, as an adoptive parent. And did this have to do with Ethan’s sudden entrance into our family, or was it simply the case of competing temperaments?

Being an adoptive parent means you will be asking questions about your adoptive kid, questions that simply don’t come with easy answers. They are questions about who your child is, and why he reacts to things the way he does.

Ethan has always created his own path in life. He is a gifted documentary photographer, who is attracted to eclectic types of people. He is good at reaching out to others who feel marginalized, and developing a rapport, which makes them feel comfortable in front of the camera. Was this because he entered our family originally as an outsider? I don’t know.

Zach has followed his father into New York City, where he works in finance. His path has been carefully mapped out, as always. His analytical mind makes sense out of financial matters, in a split second. He rarely makes a move, in life or in finance, without thinking it through in a careful, deliberate way. Is this because he carries the genes of his lawyer dad, or his slightly OCD mom? Again, I do not know.

Do my boys’ paths in life have anything to do with how they came into the family? I can make a case for or against this, but in the end, do not know. I do know that how my kids came into the family is a live issue, one which will always be there. This is one of the legacies of adoption, and is woven into the fabric of our lives, enriching us, and sometimes confusing us, with its complexity.

In the end, I look to the photograph of my two boys on the kitchen wall, to understand their relationship. They are both looking into the camera. Ethan is wearing a broad smile, and Zach is smiling enigmatically. Zach is wearing a button down shirt, and a Brooks Brothers sweater. Ethan wears a colorful shirt, he got on a trip to Asia. What I love best, is that Ethan has his arm wrapped protectively around Zach’s shoulder. They look comfortable together--like the brothers they are.

Carolyn Berger, LCSW, is Founding Board Chair of Path2Parenthood, and current Chair of the Adoption Advisory Council. Berger has a private practice in New York City and Westchester County, focused on fertility, adoption and all forms of family building.

Read more adoption content from Berger here.

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