Late last year, my wife and I had the unexpected opportunity of spending a few hours with someone who years earlier had changed our lives more than anyone else. We didn't know then if we would ever see her again, but just days before last Christmas, we accompanied our 18-year-old son to meet his birth mother.
We adoptive parents have unique obligations when it comes to sorting out why we want children - the state requires us to discuss these matters of hopes, dreams and values with social workers and commit them to paper. We know that we won't be doing it to pass on genetic legacies. But as my wife says, without adding another thread, we adoptive parents take a thread that already exists and weave a stronger human fabric.
Few adoptive parents from our generation come face to face again with birth parents, especially if the adoption was international, as was the case with our younger child. So those few hours we spent together recently were a rare and precious gift.
Our quiet drive out to the rendezvous, at the home of the same social worker who had been our initial connection, was a form of time travel. We were transported back to the wintry day in 1992 when we drove to meet the young woman who had picked us out from a portfolio of prospective adoptive couples.
Back then, we were caught between elation, anticipation and dread of a last-minute rejection, something we had lived through a year earlier when a birth mother changed her mind after her baby was born. What if she took exception to some small detail? Could we put ourselves through another rejection?
Yet, a few days later, we found ourselves in the hospital nursery, holding our son for the first time with tears flowing. At home, we adapted to this newcomer in our midst while suppressing our unease as the days of the legal cooling-off period ticked by.
This time, we sensed that we were driving toward a profound sort of rendering of account. What would the birth mother think of us? Had we kept faith with what we had told her in the adoption profile? Had we come close to her hopes and aspirations for her boy? Would she leave this meeting with her agonizing decision validated or called into question?
And, indeed, had we been true to ourselves? What legacy had we built over the past 18 years, years that now seemed so fleeting. We had already attended his high-school graduation, dropped him off at driving school and welcomed a serious girlfriend into our ranks.
My wife had a deep inner trust that somehow eluded me. Fortunately, our best evidence and witness was sitting in the back seat, ruminating and worrying. Always having been a seeker of depth and meaning, our son had wanted the meeting, biding his time for years until his 18th birthday arrived. He had worked hard to reassure us that nothing that transpired would alter the simple fact that we were his parents.
My wife was at ease, feeling a sense of kinship with the birth mom. But I was churning. How could any of us be sure what forces were about to be unleashed? How could this meeting possibly fulfill our son's expectations, if indeed he could sort them out from the swirl of emotions? Was he worried about how she would see him? Or by what he might find out about her?
We knew that we had given our son material comfort, a good neighbourhood, good schools and opportunities to learn languages and pursue music and sports. My wife's family in Germany provided him with a second home base in Europe. He often remarks on his privileged upbringing, but in a way that has turned into a commitment to share with others and bring his measure of comfort and justice to the world.
Somewhere in his chromosomes may lie the seeds of empathy. But we think that we did what we said we would - provide constant unconditional love, emotional support and reinforcement of values. Our son has grown into a strong and compassionate young man who will try to make a positive difference.
Over the course of the three-hour reunion, as nerves settled and conversation relaxed around the Christmas tree, we all achieved a measure of serenity and peace. In the eyes and words of his birth mother and her evident pleasure at what her baby had become, we gained reassurance. We could feel her own ease that her choice had been the right one. And as we met her husband, whom she had married years after the adoption, and looked at photos of their young children, we could see that she had moved on to build a good and happy life.
She was accompanied by her own mother, who had been her sole pillar of support in 1992, and we could feel this third mother in the room gain not just closure about her daughter but a door opening to a new grandson. The gift of strength to her daughter was going to be repaid many times over.
For our son, he drew comfort that his birth mother is a lovely woman who was trying to do right by him. True serenity may have to wait - he has much on which to reflect and the gift of a new constellation of extended family to explore. His life has been enriched and complicated. For my wife and me, for the birth mother, her husband and her mom, our journeys as parents will continue with days of joy and sadness ahead. The parents are all right.
Michael Wernick lives in Ottawa.