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The Complications of Open Adoption

The phone rang at eight in the morning. I didn’t answer. I was still sleeping, my little girl blessing me with a late snooze. I barely registered the ring before rolling over and getting another half-hour in.

The message was a surprise. My daughter’s biological grandfather, who I had never met or spoken to before, calling to say he was in town and was hoping for a chance to meet her.

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We are the positive side of the ICWA adoption coin. The media would have people believing lately that native adoptions by non-native families are always messy; that they always stand to go the same direction as the Baby Veronica case and others like it. But there are plenty of families like mine where ICWA never became an issue. My daughter’s birth mother hand-selected me to raise her. The tribes involved easily consented and she was mine without drama just a few months later.

Native adoptions are different though. Perhaps even better; the way it should be if adoption is inevitable. There is an openness there which exceeds what I have witnessed in many other adoptions, and there is a lack of stigma which allows for that openness to exist. When you adopt a native child, if you are doing it right, you also adopt her family.

Her tribe.

Her heritage.

This has always been the plan with my daughter’s adoption, but I have to admit that getting a last minute phone call from someone I had never before met threw me a little. I had always assumed my daughter's other mother would facilitate these introductions; that she would be there to make sure things went smoothly. I hadn’t anticipated random family members calling me out of the blue and wanting an audience with my little girl. I hadn’t prepared for it.

I am the one who will raise her, but they are the ones who look like her, the ones who share her history.

The reality is that I don’t have to comply with these requests. Not legally anyway. Legally, I could pick my daughter up and move 3,000 miles away. I could change our phone number and leave no forwarding address if I wanted to. I could cut off all ties and in the eyes of the law, I would be within my rights. She is mine now, and if I wanted to cocoon her up and eliminate any and all reminders that she was not born from me, I could.

I would be lying to say there isn’t a part of me that occasionally yearns to do just that, if only because the reminders that she isn’t all mine are sometimes painful to swallow.

It would be so easy to pretend.

But it wouldn’t be right.

I rearranged my schedule and made plans to meet both he and his son for lunch the next day. When he called that night to say other things had come up and lunch wouldn’t work, I rearranged again—agreeing to meet them in an hour with my very tired little girl.

It wasn’t easy and it didn’t come naturally to me, all this bending and molding on the fly for people I didn’t even know.

But it was the right thing to do.

Because the second we walked into the restaurant where we had agreed to meet, the smiles and warmth which radiated from those two men became infectious. They were happy simply to hug her, and to get to know me—the woman raising one of their own. They were kind and thankful, sweet and sincere; connections my daughter will always be lucky to have, and pictures I can share with her when the memories have long since faded. I am the one who will raise her, but they are the ones who look like her, the ones who share her history. They are the people who can tell her where she came from, while I am the one who will guide her to where she is going. There is no doubt that we all love her immensely.

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My daughter has another family.

It would be so easy to cover that up and pretend it away.

But we would both lose so much in the process.

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