It Can Be Later

Alissa column topper

“Mommy” my oldest says to me one evening after we finished her bedtime story. “Mommy, I want to see Mommy Z. When can she come here to our house?”

J has picked her ” J book” as her last book of the evening, the book I made for her that tells the story of her life, from her adoptive parents’ point of view. It has a picture of Z, her first mom, in it and I thought long and hard about just how to talk about Z in the book, and subsequently to J as she began to remember, process, and understand what it says about her origins.  I wanted the book to be be truthful and to reflect a position of openness and respect for where J comes from. And particularly for Z – who in truth is not someone I know a lot about.

One of the bizarre things about the type of adoption that we are in with Z and our girls is the disparity of information type and amount that exists between us. I know a lot of personal things about Z – I know her first and last name, the town she lives in, what the doctor’s wrote in her charts after the girls were born, and other details that most people would consider private. She does not know my last name, where I live, or have access to any of my personal medical information. On the other hand I have never had personal contact with Z – I have never spoken with her on the phone, received correspondence from her, or seen more than one picture of her, the picture that is in J’s book. Z does receive a lot of personal contact from me – I write her letters several times a year and send photos. Once a year I put together a photo album that covers the highlights of our activities – vacations, holidays, birthdays, and other milestones – and send it to the adoption agency, where a social worker forwards it on to Z.  If she is paying attention she knows a lot of things about me – my letter writing style, how I talk about our children, that I chopped my long hair off into a pixie cut when our baby, S, was three months old, and that I’ve put on a few pounds since J came home four years ago.  And she knows that we are open to more.

I think about all of this in the seconds after J asks her question. How the only answer I can give is that I don’t know. And that it might be a very long time. So that’s what I say – and my child is not devastated or destroyed. “Oh.” she says, “Okay. Well I want her to come over sometime. It can be later.”

It’s a fabulous attitude for someone in a semi-open adoption to have. Openness without contact depends on being okay with “it can be later” but being ready for something to happen now. I am open to Z choosing to talk, write, or call. And it can be later.

I wrote J’s book in the first person, as our (Andrew and my) story of becoming parents, and our story of who Z is. It was tempting then and is still tempting now to write my the story for Z- to speculate to my husband or to others about why she doesn’t want contact right now, or why she relinquished, or on her backstory or current situation. But that closes the doors on finding out later, on asking her later, and on respecting Z’s right to reveal herself as she chooses. If she chooses.

That means that unless something changes I’ll be answering a lot of my kids questions with “I don’t know.” My hope is that someday Z can answer those questions herself. In the meantime J and I can wonder and wait together.

About the author:
Alissa is a grad student, future episcopal priest, adoptive mama, working wife, and co-homemaker. She blogs about adoption, race, parenting, theology, urban life and whatever else crosses her mind at

2 thoughts on “It Can Be Later

  1. Oh my goodness, J sounds like such a wonderful and insightful little girl! You are an inspirational mama … I’m just starting to think about how to write our daughter’s story book and I love your ideas. Thank you for this post – it’s hard for impatient people like me to remember that it all doesn’t have to happen or be resolved right now … it certainly can be later.

  2. Thanks for sharing. In similar situation: semi-open, but never have had any contact w/birth family despite our willingness. Have had our daughter with us since 2days old, now 21 mos old. Been thinking of what to say when/if …..

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