Story Corps Atlanta aired a great audio snapshot this morning well worth the three and a half minutes it takes to listen.
This summer and fall, 41 year old Atlanta attorney Kirsten Widner has been living with her biological son, Alex Locke, for the first time.
Alex is now 19 years old. He was adopted as an infant to the parents he calls Mom and Dad, and he grew up on the other side of the country. At StoryCorps Atlanta, Kirsten told Alex about her decision to put Alex in an open adoption, in which they’d still have the possibility of a relationship.
As I listened to yet another first-person account of how the idea of family has changed during our lifetime, I reflected on my own experience. Mine was a very traditional upbringing. Marriage on both sides meant "til death do you part" and I can't recall even whispers about anybody having to get married because they were "in trouble" (i.e. she got pregnant). The oldest of my first cousins was the first person in the family to dare marry anyone who had been divorced, a woman with three children, and they never had any together. That was in the Fifties, and since then our family, like most, has come to terms with divorce and more, including gender orientation and racial differences.
The difference between today's families and those of the past is more about facing realities that have always been there rather than discovering anything new. Attractions between cultural, religious and racial groups have always been around, and not always limited to young people either. The difference in today's global village is that we can no longer remain in denial because the numbers are simply too big. Those old bad apple and black sheep arguments no longer have credibility.
Following my cousin's example, I married with a divorced woman with two children, one of whom had been adopted by her and her first husband, and we then had two more together, making a blended family of six. In the early years we were also licensed foster parents to several pre-adoptive newborns, one of which was a very promising little boy we hated parting with after more than a year when he was finally placed with his adoptive family.
We persuaded the case workers to do adoptions from our home instead of the usual family services facilities which despite the toys and other stuff seemed too alien. It was a three-day process. The first day the adoptive parent came and met us as a family as well as the baby, and they spent as much time as possible with the baby. Second day any siblings came along and our two families spent a little time together, but the adoptive family might take the baby for a ride to have more time to bond. By the third day the baby would be going to a new home, not with total strangers but with people he had already known a little while.
In the case of our last one we did the third day differently. We took our three girls out of school that day and delivered the baby to his new home where our kids played with their kids for a couple of hours before we left. In fact, they weny back once or twice later to visit before we lost touch. That baby would now be about thirty years old and we still think of him from time to time.
In the meantime, there have been grandchildren and step-grandchildren as the next generation multiplied, with the most recent count being ten, with ages from a few weeks to twenty-six years. The two youngest, aged three and infant, are the result of assisted reproduction because our youngest daughter has no need for a man in her life but wanted to be a mother. She did her homework, found a clinic specializing in these matters, selected a donor from a veritable catalog of candidates, and became pregnant via IUI. Intrauterine insemination or implantation is not the same as in vitro fertilization which most people know about in that there is no deselecting of fertilized eggs. With IUI sperm is injected and timed to coordinate with the mother's natural ovulation cycle.
It's an exciting time to be alive. But it's also a challenge for those of us pushing seventy. When a single mom decides that her firstborn might feel cheated if she doesn't have a sibling, all you can do is pray that all goes well in their lives for the next decade or two. One of the hard lessons we all learn is that you can't tell your adult children how to live their lives. The reassuring part is that we get to watch the drama unfold daily on Facebook where there are literally scores of supportive online contacts, many of whom may never have known each other except on line. It turns out there is a voluntary online registry of siblings for parents who want to compare pictures and experiences! Our two youngest grandchildren (who have the same donor father, by the way, so they are true biological siblings) have at least forty-plus other half-siblings with the same donor/ father. (They are geographically widespread and the donor has been "retired" because the clinic restricts the number of donations from any one donor.)
Now you know why this morning's Story Corps feature caught my attention.