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“What does adoption mean to a child?”

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Jennifer's Story

What She Learned from a Closed Adoption and Birth Mother Reconnection

Within days of my birth I was given the most awesome gift: my family. I know it sounds odd, but my birth mother decided that placing me for adoption was the best choice for both of us. I still can’t imagine all she went through to come to that selfless decision.

My mom was working as a nurse at a local hospital, so my dad was home alone with my brother when he got the call. It was happening. My parents could come to the agency the next day to meet their baby girl. (That was me!) They had been waiting three years for that call, and they were frantic, pulling cribs out of the attic to get ready for my arrival. My brother, who was 9, was pretty psyched too. My brother is my parents’ biological son, but my mom had complications from his birth that rendered her unable to have any more biological children.

Within four months of my birth, I became very sick and had to go to the hospital, where they discovered I had been born with a congenital heart defect. How ironic is it that I was adopted by a nurse?! My family went through so much with me that year, but it was all worth it.

Growing Up as an Adoptee

People often ask if there is a difference between the way my parents treated my brother and I, because he was biologically their child. I always tell them the same thing: “No! My parents actually liked me better!”

We were honestly treated the same. I was daddy’s little girl and he was a momma’s boy. He treated me just like any other annoying younger sister (he is 10 years older than me). Now that we are both older, we are very close, and I have enjoyed being a part of his family!

Growing up, I didn’t know much about my birth mother. I was adopted in a time when adoptions were closed. She was able to hold me briefly at the hospital, and then she left without having met the adoptive family. She didn’t get to have that communication with my parents to know what they were like or what my life would be like with them. She had no closure — and I had little information about her until much later in my life.

While I didn’t know much about my birth mother for many years, I was always thankful for the other gift she gave me when she placed me for adoption — a personal letter that I continue to cherish. In the letter, she explained to me in detail our nine months together, how she said goodbye to me and all the hopes that she had for me.

My parents have always made me feel special because I was adopted, but I do admit that I had a lot of questions growing up. From a medical standpoint, my health history ended when I was born. I didn’t have anything else beyond that for most of my life.  Like all adoptees, I had questions about my birth parents and feelings of shame over not being wanted, especially because I had no information about my birth mother’s adoption decision.

Because of the large role adoption always played in my life, I became an Adoption Specialist. I found my social worker’s name on some paperwork when I was younger, and I knew I wanted to do for someone what she did for me. I felt (and still feel) strongly that adoption is a great gift to give, and I think sometimes people think that gift is just for the adoptive family and the baby. And it is a great gift to them; they’re becoming a family!

But it’s a gift for the birth mom too, especially if you can give her comfort in a time that must be very painful. That’s why I’ve been honored to work with birth mothers, helping women who are in similar situations to that my birth mother was in when she placed me for adoption.

Making Contact with My Birth Mother

For most of my life, I was comfortable with my closed adoption. Like many adoptees, I had questions that went unanswered, but my adoptive parents gave me all I could have asked for. I respected and loved my birth mother for her decision, even if I didn’t have all the information I wanted.

When I became a mother — both for the first and the second time — it helped me to understand what it means to be a mom and how difficult it must have been for my birth mother to say goodbye to me. She had truly given me the gift of life, and for that, I will forever be thankful.

However, other things also changed when I became a mother. I wanted my children to have a full health history, especially after a long process of unexplainable health issues with my youngest son. So, I made the decision to find and reach out to my birth mother.

Thanks to a change in laws, I was able to successfully open up my sealed adoption records in Colorado. Soon after, I received my original birth certificate in the mail. It was a weird and surreal experience, to finally have the name of the woman who had placed me for adoption. I ended up making contact with her through email.

My birth mother said she was shocked when I first reached out, especially because it was unexpected in her closed adoption. Today, she is married and the mother to four other children, three of them triplets born after a struggle with infertility. Through emails and phone calls, she explained to me her adoption choice, including that my birth father did not want to be involved and she had considered other options before choosing adoption.

For most of my life, I had wondered about my birth mother. Was she okay? Did she have a healthy adoption process? I got the answers to these questions and those about my personal health history, and we’re tentatively getting to know each other better through our new contact.

It’s been a very slow and healthy process, partly due to my knowledge as an adoption specialist. Neither of us have expectations for our relationship going forward, although we have spoken of meeting at some point. Knowing her better, I can better appreciate the decision that she made, and it’s been helpful filling in the blanks of my personal history and what makes me “me.”

My recent experience only confirms my belief in the positive power of open adoption. While my closed adoption wasn’t a negative experience by any means, knowing what I know now would have helped solve the unknowns and alleviate the feelings of shame I had at times growing up. Having contact with my birth mother now is an unexpected step in my adoption story, but I’m looking forward to whatever new relationship we may develop from here on.

How To Contact Jennifer Van Gundy

If you would like to talk to me please call 1-800-Adoption and ask for Jennifer or e-mail me at jennifer@americanadoptions.com.

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