Navigating Life Events in Open Adoption

ID-10034886Since planning a cross country move, ending a job, and beginning a PhD program aren’t stressful enough, the boyfriend decided we should get married too. So now we’re planning a wedding.

What does my wedding have to do with adoption?

Nothing, I’m just that far into bridezilla land that everything needs to be all about me and my wedding at all times…


Soon after getting engaged I realized I could not visualize my wedding without my son there. I could not have a wedding if he couldn’t attend, I just couldn’t. Due to the upcoming move, the Husband-elect and I are operating on a shortened engagement timeline which means less time for my wrong coast family (also known as my son, his brother, and their parents) to plan and save for a cross country trip. Initially I panicked, cried, and focused on the unlikelihood of them being able to attend and tried to get used to imagining a wedding without them. Then I decided to (pretend to) be mature and have the conversation.

I explained to my son’s mom that I was having a hard time finding the engagement excitement that I was supposed to be feeling, because in part I was upset that they wouldn’t be able to attend. She also responded with honesty, letting me know that the chances of the whole family being able to attend were slim to none, but that she would do everything in her power to get at least herself and our son to my wedding. To help with this she sent me dates for the upcoming months when he would absolutely not be able to attend and my wedding planning began in earnest.

When we enter into an open adoption relationship most of us think about the milestones that will occur during the lifetime of the adopted person. We think about giving or receiving updates about first steps, first words, first days of school. What most of us forget to think about are the milestones for the rest of us.

Birth parents and adoptive parents can earn new degrees, start new jobs, begin new marriages, end old marriages, add more children to the family, the list goes on. How do we incorporate our non-traditional extended family into these events? I don’t have all the answers–I’m obviously still trying to figure out exactly how to navigate this myself–but I do know it starts with honesty.

Honesty about your expectations or desires: I wanted my son at my wedding and I said so. If you’re going through a divorce/break up you might want the other half of your open adoption relationship to know about it, but to stay out of the details. If you’re witnessing a divorce you might want the other half of your relationship to know you plan to stay neutral. It’s graduation season and many of us have wondered if there will be extra people cheering on our adopted person for his or her big day. What’s the protocol for sending out graduation announcements/invitations as an adoptive or birth family member? I’ve earned three degrees since my son was placed for adoption; his family has received announcements each time, but it has never seemed realistic to me that they could have attended a graduation ceremony.

This isn’t to say you have to share all of your life events with the other members of your open adoption relationship, only that it’s a possibility that bears exploring.

What say you, readers? Have you been present at the momentous occasions of other members of your constellation? Have they been at yours? Share in the comments 🙂

About the author:
Kat Cooley, MSW writes here at Open Adoption Bloggers twice a month. She is a social worker providing comprehensive all options counseling to those experiencing unplanned pregnancy and will soon be returning to school to pursue a PhD in Social Work and focus on adoption related research . She is also a birth mom over a decade into an open adoption. She is always open to suggestions for topics; you can leave them in the comments, at the OAB Facebook page, or tweet her @KMCooleyMSW.

Image credit: renjith krishnan @


5 thoughts on “Navigating Life Events in Open Adoption

  1. We were very lucky to get to attend Pennie’s (our daughter’s first mom) college graduation, which was AMAZING and lots of fun. I was so happy to bring both the kids there so they could see the results of all of her hard work. We were also fortunate that Pennie was able to attend my oldest child’s (our bio kid) bar mitzvah. Because I am an idiot, I didn’t take her up on her offer to help cater (she’s a professional chef but she also had a brand new baby and I thought she was offering just to be nice not realizing that something that would overwhelm ME with a new baby she could have done in her sleep) BUT she did help me set it all up and make it pretty and show me how to make the buffet line work.

    It was also just a really big deal to have her there and have my daughter’s baby brother there. It was the first chance that most people had to meet him and congratulate her.

    I am so so so so grateful for those moments especially now that she lives far enough away that we don’t get to take those things for granted the way we could when she lived just across town.

    (Also FYI, I’m having a heck of a time commenting on WordPress blogs that are using Jetpack comments. I sometimes can’t login and it’s driving me crazy. I don’t know if I’m the only one but thought I’d mention it in case anyone else is having problems.)

    • Oh Dawn i remember you talking/writing about the graduation. I remember longing for that type of proximity and involvement in my OA. You are the awesome. So happy for Penny, your daughter, you, and your whole family!

      as far as the technical stuff goes you lost me so hopefully Heather can fix whatever it is. 🙂

  2. We were so excited and honored to attend and participate in our younger daughter’s birthmother’s wedding just 11 months after we all met in July of 2009. I was honored to be her Lady of Honor and both of our girls were flower girls. Although we live near to each other we traveled for her wedding south of where we live to celebrate their new marriage over a weekend…

    Just last Fall my older daughter and I traveled for her birthmother’s graduation from school for her master’s degree. We live in CA and that part of our family lives in MN … it was the first time just the two of us travelled alone to see her family it was a great experience for just the two of us coupled with her time with family.

    On both these occasions it took some effort (travel) on our part, but we wouldn’t have missed being there for these momentous life events!

    And then there are times we all get to participate in each other’s lives less momentous events like during a visit from MN C sees a soccer game that A plays in or comes to school for drop off and pick up. Just like S joining us this Sunday for J and A’s performance in a ballet for their dance school.

  3. My wife’s birth son and his family came to our wedding in 2008. Watching them dance together was a wonderful blessing. Just last weekend, our daughter’s birth family came to my Master’s thesis presentation. Seeing them cheering for me as I presented my life’s work was really wonderful. I love the family we’ve created!

  4. so beautifully written. I hope we are invited to our son’s first mom’s big life events. She has come to our church for his baptism, and was at his first birthday, and those are really his two big life events so far at 20 months old 😉 We send all invitations, Christmas cards etc to the birth family, also. Congrats on the engagement. I am glad you spoke up. I hope it works out for you guys that he can come…

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