Last week we heard from Eliza, the 19 year old college student who grew up in a very open adoption. This week we learn about what adoption looks like from Eliza’s adoptive mothers perspective. This is her experience, and while it may be different from other adoptive parents this is what she experienced living in this very open adoption.
In the early 1990s Jennifer Eastman, a Philadelphia kindergarten teacher, was approaching 40 and longed for a child of her own. Jennifer thought that her only option as a single woman would be the foster care system. A friend of Jennifer’s had recently adopted through AFTH and called to tell her that AFTH helped single women adopt as well. Jennifer contacted us, attended a meeting, filled out an application and started her journey to motherhood through adoption.
Jennifer was chosen early in her adoption process by a woman looking to make an adoption plan but the placement fell through. Staying positive, Jennifer kept moving forward with her adoption process and within a few weeks Jennifer got a call from her social worker that another woman wanted to meet her. An 8-month pregnant Tammy met Jennifer and there was an immediate connection and friendship. As Tammy approached her delivery she asked Jennifer to come to the hospital and accompany her during the delivery. Tammy and Jennifer got to know each other more while in the hospital and Jennifer was there when baby Eliza had arrived.
After Eliza was born, Tammy started having second thoughts about the adoption and Jennifer was there to support Tammy in whichever choice she made. For two months Jennifer and Tammy kept in touch and Jennifer and her then boyfriend, Chris, (Later to be her husband and Eliza’s father) made multiple trips from Philadelphia to Allentown to visit Tammy and baby Eliza. Two months after Eliza was born Tammy concluded that she was not able to provide for Eliza the way she wanted to. Tammy decided she wanted Jennifer to raise Eliza. The adoption was finalized 6 months later and Jennifer officially adopted Eliza.
At age 3, Eliza was the flower girl at her parents Jennifer and Chris’ wedding. Around that time, Eliza started asking Jennifer and Chris questions about Tammy. When Jennifer told Eliza that she had an older birth sister and a younger birth brother, Eliza “collapsed on the ground and wailed, ‘She only gave me away!’” Jennifer hadn’t realized until then just how powerful it would be for Eliza to realize that she had birth siblings. Eliza was so upset no matter how many times Jennifer tried explaining that the situation was different when Tammy was pregnant with Eliza. After Tammy had another daughter, Eliza still had some feelings about it not being fair that she was placed for adoption rather than the other children. When Jennifer took Eliza to visit Tammy, Eliza was happy to see that photos of herself were displayed throughout the house along with her other siblings photos. Tammy also kept a scrapbook especially for Eliza and had created a special collection of Precious Moments figurines for Christmas and Birthdays. “Tammy made it clear that she treasured Eliza as her child, even though I was raising her.” Eliza has dealt constructively with her adoption as she grew up and is so grateful for her extended birth family.
Chris and Jennifer discussed Chris formally adopting Eliza but it was not of high importance until Eliza as about 13 and started asking why Chris hadn’t adopted her. Chris had always been Eliza’s father but they saw how important it was to Eliza for Chris to be her father in the eyes of the law. Chris adopted Eliza at the age of 14 and she chose to add his last name, giving her the full name Eliza Eastman-Jepson.
I asked Jennifer how she feels about open adoption and she replied that it is a gift to everyone. Tammy is able to see how much Eliza is loved while offering her love and advice. Eliza never has to question or search for answers because Tammy is only a phone call or a short drive away. Jennifer said that she is so grateful for the support that Tammy and her family has offered Jennifer and Chris as well. The adoption Triad has stayed strong even through a few years when Tammy and her family had moved to Florida. Jennifer and Tammy have a strong relationship and have many conversations about Eliza and her siblings. Eliza has her own independent relationship as well with Tammy and her sisters and brother.
There was a few years when Eliza was faced with addiction issues in which she stayed with Tammy and her family. Tammy talked to Jennifer and Chris, explaining some similar traits and issues that have been known to run in her family and offering help. Eliza found it easy to talk about her problems with Tammy because Tammy really understood. Eliza staying with Tammy for up to a week at a time was helpful for everyone, especially Eliza. The relationship grew stronger between Tammy’s and Jennifer’s households.
Since Eliza has gotten back on her feet the relationship between Tammy and Jennifer’s households has grown so strong. They often visit each other and spend birthdays together. When asked about Jennifer and Tammy’s relationship, Jennifer replied, “Tammy is more than a friend to me, more than Eliza’s birth mother. She is family — I can best describe the relationship as a sister.”
See the third part of this story, The Adoption Triad: The Birth Parent Perspective 2 weeks from now on December 18, 2013