Getting to know you

Someone once said that “ninety percent of life is showing up.” This is particularly true in open adoption – something I learned from my son’s birth dad, William.

We met William, and his very pregnant girlfriend Sierra, four years ago. He was late, and we were nervous. Sierra’s mother had blown into the room like a tornado, talking non-stop. When William arrived, after three bus rides, lugging a giant track bag, he politely addressed his girlfriend’s parents. We stared at him as he sank into his chair. We had never seen a person so stunning. Like Sierra, he was 15 years old with a smooth, unblemished face the colour of espresso. He sat without uttering a word for the next hour.

Birth day

Between that wordless first meeting, and Victor’s birth two months later, we had a movie date with his birth parents that played out like a French farce. Crossed text messages left us at one theatre, them at another. The movie choices were Borat and Ice Age 3, so we opted for the kids’ movie, only to discover it had an adoption theme. During the movie, William ran out to top up his popcorn and candy supply. My husband Kevin and I sat red-faced. We’d chipped in for the movie but failed to realize the appetite of a growing teenaged athlete. Finally, we got kicked out of a pub for bringing in minors.

The next time we saw William was on a sweltering August day for Victor’s birth. We were bewildered, the birth grandparents were relieved, the birthmom was an emotional wreck. But William was a rock: quiet, caring and strong. He left with Sierra, arm slung across her shoulder, wiping her tears as they walked out of the hospital empty-armed.

After Victor’s birth, we had many chaotic visits with Sierra’s family. William never missed a single one. He was there for giddy summer visits, for big family feasts, for emotional Christmas gatherings, and for over-the-top birthday parties. He was frequently pointed to as the “perpetrator” of the pregnancy. He’d sit dead quiet, implacable, while emotion and awkwardness swirled around him and us. And still, he showed up.

Growing up together

William and Sierra were 17, and Victor was two, the first time they took care of him on their own. We left them with phone numbers, snacks, toys, and elaborate TV instructions. Kevin and I returned home to William, with a diaper in his hand, madly looking for a garbage pail. The next time they visited, we came home to an empty house. We stood on the back deck, which overlooks a schoolyard, and saw William kicking a soccer ball with Victor, while Sierra videotaped the whole thing, and everyone laughed their heads off.

On these days, we’d sit afterwards and talk like adults. William was taller, more filled out; he had facial hair and glasses. He spoke with confidence about his new high school, about sports, about race, about university, about family, about the future. Those were my favorite visits. They came during the brief moment between youth and adulthood. They seemed happy. Victor loved it. Kevin and I got to go out alone during a time when parenting was at its most tiring.

Then, suddenly, high school was over. Sierra and William had split up but were still friends. And still William didn’t miss a visit.

Changing connection

The summer Victor turned three was the last time we saw his birthparents in person, together in one place. As if to remind us of his birth – one of the hottest summers on record –i t was a scorcher. We gathered at a marine park, sweating and snapping photos while William played baseball with Victor on the shell-packed beach.

In the blink of an eye, William was off to university in the US on a track scholarship. Then, silence.

We arranged Skype calls with both of them, but at the last minute, he’d be unable to attend. We understood. The first year of college is a time of monumental upheaval and change. We still sent monthly photo updates to Sierra, but gave William some breathing room.

Then one day, on a whim, I included him in an update, and he responded enthusiastically. Several weeks later, we had him and Sierra on a video conference call, which brought three separate cities together. He was as calm, cool and collected as Sierra was bright, enthusiastic and engaging – perfect opposites.

He’s back.

I can’t look at Victor without thinking of his birthfather. While they each have distinct personalities and temperaments, Victor has inherited a carbon copy physique from his birthfather, and there’s a look he gets in his eyes that makes the invisible thread visible.

Charlotte Taylor is a mother in an open adoption with her son’s birthparents.