A child is a marvelous gift. The life carried to term by a mother has limitless hope and potential. If born healthy, the only bounds to that life are the conditions into which he is born. This magnificent gift, if received at the wrong time, can experience a life that is much more difficult and fraught with challenge than he would have under different circumstances.
This was the case with my son.
Emerson came into existence by an act of love. He was never unwanted by his mother or me. Of course, he came to us a point where everything was unstable. Our relationship, our location, and our jobs were not defined. His mother and I were just starting out again after a rough breakup with each other. We didn’t know if it would work out. She had just graduated and was about to start a new job in a new city, half a country away from me. She hadn’t even moved in to her new apartment when she had taken the pregnancy test. Suffice it to say, her career was just starting – and she planned to take a drastic career shift again in a few years anyway. I had a year left of college, and without this degree, I would have zilch earning potential. Hadn’t even started on my career ladder. Adding to it all, her father detested me and my mother shunned her.
Emerson wasn’t to blame for any of this. He, like the rest of us, didn’t choose to be conceived when he was and to whom he was. So, there we were, at a crossroads. The mother and I were both afraid of being trapped; we had seen the consequences of wedlock marriages, and we were both wary of becoming resentful of each other – and at worst – our child.
On the other hand, we both had been privileged. We had family members who would be willing to help take care of Emerson, we were both capable of working good jobs, and her father had offered plenty of financial support for the child. I immediately knew that perhaps the only responsible thing to do was to man up, sacrifice, and make it work. For Emerson.
Then, I decided to think about it. What kind of a man would intentionally expose his child to instability, uncertainty, and guaranteed hardship? What man would bring his child into a situation where that blameless life would be worse off, at least initially, than he himself had been? I had never prepared for being a parent, and I knew that I could not provide Emerson everything he needed from a father to be as happy and fulfilled as I have been in life. I found it unconscionable to choose to raise him, when there was another option.
Who am I to deny a better life to my son?
My parents had been wanting and preparing for a child for years when they had me. They were thus vastly more able to appreciate the gift of life, and less likely to take it for granted. I knew that there were other couples out there who, for whatever reason, could not receive that gift and desperately wanted it. The mother and I agreed on this point, and she decided to start searching for these couples.
Months later, she called me and told me that she found them. A perfect fit. Dedicated, generous, willing parents who only lacked one person to make themselves whole. I flew out to meet them and make our final decision.
Of course, I felt anxiety before the meeting. Who were these two that Emerson might call Mom and Dad? Did they have security? Did they love each other enough? Were they ready? Would this couple sacrifice what I could not for someone none of us had yet met?
I knew within minutes.
With the gracious assistance of our wonderful Adoptions of Wisconsin counselor, Megan, the first conversation I had with the adoptive parents puts all my fears to rest. They expressed everything I wanted – selflessness, hope, joviality, affection, dedication, and preparedness – and expressed it all both explicitly and subtly. They radiated authenticity in addition to, most importantly, a comfortable love for one another. I could tell immediately that this couple would be there for Emerson, through thick and thin.
The adoptive parents were everything I wanted to be for my son, but knew I couldn’t. And that’s why, minutes after finishing the meeting, I gave my blessing.
Although I didn’t know anything about it, I quickly found that the adoption process itself was painless. The only suffering Emerson’s mother and I had was emotional. It is greatly painful to give up someone you love, even to capable hands. The adoption social worker was magnanimous throughout, and the adoptive parents were eminently supportive and reassuring. But, to be honest, Emerson’s mother was my biggest pillar during the ensuing months. We helped one another through difficult moments, rejoiced at good ones, and took care of each other. Rather than tearing our relationship apart, as I may once have feared, the decision to put our son up for adoption brought us much closer. We survive as a strong couple to this day.
The remainder of her pregnancy was basically a get-to-know period with the adoptive parents. They welcomed us into their home and addressed truthfully any questions or concerns we may have had. As time wore on, we all become more comfortable with each other and more confident that this was the right decision for Emerson. We celebrated milestones as a group, from the ultrasounds and first kicks to the harried preparations for labor. We got to know and understand how the adoptive parents would approach parenting in the future, and what role the mother and I would play in Emerson’s life. Altogether, we made sure that Emerson would start his life in the best condition we could provide.
And then, nine months after the decision was made, he arrived.
My son. A bundle of happiness and curiosity. Potential and possibly incarnate. A biological miracle; the sum of generations of humanity. All our cumulative laughter, and joy, and wonder. The best and worst traits of all my ancestors lay nude before me. His mother was overjoyed, and the adoptive parents were enchanted. The room was magic. But. . . after the unpreventable bliss at seeing a new life begin, a great sadness took hold. I realized that I could not take care of my son. I had failed him already. I was not going to be his father. Then I realized something that simultaneously erased the sadness and restored my joy. He wasn’t just my son.
Our son. He was our son. Emerson has a bigger family than most everyone else. His mother and I weren’t going to abandon him. What we gave him, and it was perhaps our greatest gift, was two more people that will love him unconditionally. Emerson will have a life with perpetual support and acceptance, in addition to stability and security. If this child is to know one feeling, that feeling is to be loved. We have four people (and many more) to make sure of that. Open adoption has allowed us to all be a part of his life.
So, while there is sadness and pain at the separation, there is an uplifting solace in knowing we made the best decision. And more than making the best decision, we made the right decision. For us, in our current situation, and for the adoptive parents. And most importantly: