I recently opened an email from my youngest son’s birthmother: I’m pregnant. Due in August. And this time I’m going to keep it.
My youngest son is just a few feet away—two-and-a-half years old—playing and blissfully unaware of the magnitude of what I am reading.
It was one of those moments in life when the world seems to swirl and hum busily around you but you are no longer a part of it. I looked over at my son and thought to myself, “How am I going to explain this to you? How am I going to help you understand that almost three years ago your birthmother made an adoption plan for you; and now, just a short time later, she is opting to parent?”
His birthmother is in a different relationship than she was three years ago, one to which she is committed. She is also now well over 18 years old and legally within her rights not only to make her own decisions but to resist and even reject the well-meaning, practical suggestions of parents or guardians. But something tells me these explanations will be small comfort to a child who may wind up thinking, “Why this child and not me?”
I then thought that like everything else in the parent-child relationship, my son is going to take his cue from me and from his father. If we couch this situation as one of loss for him, then that is how he will perceive it. Conversely, if we praise his birthmother for making a selfless, brave decision for him, which happens to be precisely how we do feel, he will come to see it that way, too.
But then that just seemed too simple, too neat, too wrapped-up-with-a-bow perfect—the ending to a Hollywood movie.
So, how will we explain this to our son? To start, we’ll tell him the truth—at every juncture and in answer to his every question in a way that is sensitive to and commensurate with his age and maturity. Much will, of course, depend upon the level of interaction and depth of his and our relationship with his birthmother. Seeing her and his birth sibling on a regular basis may prompt a different set of questions and concerns than a less open situation would.
In this circumstance, so many platitudes seem to apply: Live in the moment. One step at a time. Time will tell. But platitudes become platitudes because they have helped others negotiate life’s difficulties and tragedies, have offered comfort and reassurance. They are perhaps trite only because they have been used so often. But in truth, in this situation, we are going to have to live in the moment and take one step at a time. And like everything else in life, only time will tell how this will impact him.
There is no way to prepare, no way to script what we will say to our son—today, tomorrow, or in ten years. The only thing we do know is that we’ll be there—to listen, to talk, to hold his hand, to stand by his side. It’s the job of every parent in every situation—the simple and the complicated, the mundane and the extraordinary. As parents we often feel that might not be enough; but ultimately—and thankfully—it truly is.