Jewish World Review
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) ST. PAUL, Minn. Sydney Eiselt and Sam Teitelbaum are adopted, but when they grow up, they will never feel the urge to seek out their biological mothers. That's because they'll have known their birth moms all their lives.
Sydney, 3, and Sam, 12, are among a new generation of children being raised in open adoptions, in which birth parents and adoptive parents know each other and, in many cases, view each other as extended family.
"We don't think of ourselves as doing something edgy or daring," said Amy Silberberg, who with her husband, Chaim Teitelbaum, adopted Sam and his sister, Maggie, as infants. "I think all the birth parents and all the adoptive parents adore the kids and want the best for them. How can there be too many people who love a child?"
Open adoptions became standard practice at some large adoption agencies in the early 1990s, out of concern over the effects of secrecy on the adopted children and in response to birth mothers.
A generation ago, unmarried women surrendered their babies at the hospital without knowing who would raise their children. As single parenting became accepted and abortion was legalized, fewer babies were available for adoption and the birth mothers gained more control over the adoption process. What they wanted was contact with their children.
"We're not talking about a third person at your table every morning having a third vote in what this child's life will be," said Jan Mongiat Beebe, manager of the infant and open adoption program at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. "This is another person who cares about your child and who may have some interaction with your child, like an aunt or an uncle."
Most families in open adoptions exchange letters and photographs and perhaps see each other once or twice a year. But a growing number are choosing to embrace each other more closely. In the process, they are forging a new set of family relationships, much as stepfamilies did a generation ago. Here is how two Minnesota families have navigated these new relationships.
KNOWING THEIR ROOTS
Sydney Eiselt shrieked with laughter and ducked behind the garage door at her parents' home in Stillwater. Her dad, Mike, crouched at her hip, helping her aim an oversized water pistol. Her mom, Peggy, stood out of range holding Sydney's 1 ½-year-old brother, Jordan.
Charging up the driveway, shooting off a stream of water, was the source of the merriment: Melissa Oys, the 20-year-old woman who three years ago placed Sydney for adoption. To Sydney, she is simply Lissa.
When Peggy and Mike Eiselt decided to adopt following infertility, they wanted a confidential adoption. But they were counseled that a birth parent would not select them if they wrote that on their profile, so they said they would be comfortable with whatever level of contact the birth parents wanted.
"To be honest, we were pretty nervous about it," recalled Peggy, a bubbly 33-year-old who is one of 11 children and has always wanted a large family. "Gosh, we thought what if they would change their mind? What if they would come and steal the baby?"
Oys had different fears. Pregnant at age 16 and unwilling to consider abortion, she was determined to find the perfect family to raise her unborn child. She had studied descriptions of dozens of prospective parents and even interviewed two couples, but she could not imagine giving her baby to either of them. Then, her adoption agency put her in touch with the Eiselts.
"The minute I met them, there was an instant feeling inside that it was right," she said, recalling how easily they joked around. "I felt relaxed, felt I had known them forever."
Melissa's family_her parents, sister and brother_visited the Eiselts for a July 4 barbecue. Two days later, Sydney was born, and the Eiselts brought their daughter home from the hospital.
At first, Melissa's family assumed they would have little contact with the baby. But at the Eiselts' invitation, they began to visit. It wasn't always easy.
"That first year of openness with her family, even as much as I loved them, it was kind of a struggle," Peggy recalled.
When Sydney turned 10 months old, Peggy felt a tug of relief that their daughter had been with them longer than she had been inside Melissa. After Sydney's first birthday party, Peggy noticed all of the photographs of Sydney opening presents were with Melissa, and she felt the tiniest twinge of jealousy.
But over time, she has grown to cherish the relationships with Melissa and her family, and she believes it is best for her children.
"For the kids not to know their roots. I can't imagine that," Peggy said.
Oys admits to moments of regret when she thinks about how quickly Sydney is growing up and how much she has missed. But she sees Sydney whenever she wants to, usually once every couple of months.
She and her brother and sister baby-sit. Oy's parents, Grandma Terry and Grandpa Dave, visit on birthdays and Christmas and give lavish presents to both children.
Next summer, Oys will get married, and Sydney and Jordan will be the flower girl and ring bearer. She hopes to have more children, though she always imagines a special relationship with Sydney.
"I have an aunt who has no children of her own, and she has always treated me like her own," Oys said. "She took me to Disneyland and Mexico. When Syd gets older, I'd love to do that for her, if it's OK with Mike and Peggy."
The relationship with Melissa's family has gone so well that when the Eiselts adopted a second time, they did not consider a foreign-born baby, where there would be no chance of a relationship with the family.
Jordan was born with the dark hair and long black lashes of his birth mother. The young woman had wanted to raise the baby, but her parents persuaded her to place him for adoption.
The chance to see him grow up has eased her loss, said the 23-year-old college senior. (She asked that her name not be used because many people do not know she has a child.) She visited Jordan often during the first year, and Peggy e-mailed updates_his weight, his first words.
"Now, I kind of see him as this nephew," said Jordan's birth mom. "He is a very important person in my life, and he always will be, but I have finally gotten to that point where it's OK if I don't think about him every minute every day."
The Eiselts hope that knowing their birth families will help their children understand who they are and where they came from and also save them from wondering about their birth parents.
"They go from being a dream or fantasy to a real person they know, just like an aunt or uncle," Mike Eiselt said.
TAKING IT FOR GRANTED
Sam Teitelbaum sat at his dining-room table after school and flipped through the well-thumbed scrapbook his birth mother put together for him two years ago. There are photographs from her childhood, pictures of her at 23 when she placed Sam for adoption and current snapshots of her with her husband and Sam's three half brothers and sister.
"Hey!" Sam said, pointing to a picture of his half brother Alex. "He looks like I did when I was in third or fourth grade."
Every July, Sam's birth mother piles her kids in the car and drives from Texas to stay with Sam's family in Afton, Minn., for his birthday week. His brothers fight over who gets to share his bedroom. This year, he will turn 13, and they will attend his bar mitzvah.
Sam has grown up taking this relationship for granted. His second-grade teacher once accused him of an active imagination when he drew a picture of his family that included not only his parents and 9-year-old sister, Maggie, but also his four birth siblings.
"Both of my kids have a ho-hum attitude about adoption, which I think is a good thing," said Sam's adoptive mother, Amy Silberberg. "I think open adoptions tend to do that. I think it cuts down on the existential angst that you carry with you if you are missing some of your information."
Silberberg and Teitelbaum also know their daughter Maggie's parents. Maggie has a theatrical flair and writes poetry, traits Silberberg traces to her birth father, Damian Sheridan, who they see regularly.
Sheridan and Maggie's family go on outings to the museum or theater every couple months and gather for an annual pumpkin-carving party. Maggie, who recently had a poem published in an anthology of children's poetry, has e-mailed poems to Sheridan's sister, a state slam poetry champion. She has stayed overnight with her birth grandmother.
She and her birth father share a love of the outrageous. She gleefully pointed out the Sumo wrestling fan he gave her for her birthday.
"I would be really sad if Damian ...," and her voice trailed off as she rolled around on her canopy bed in her pink overalls, unable to even imagine not knowing him.
As for his part, Sheridan cannot imagine not knowing Maggie and considers himself sort of a favorite uncle. He and his girlfriend decided to place her for adoption nine years ago when he was 24 and felt financially and emotionally unable to raise a child. He assumed his contact over the years would be limited to an occasional photograph or letter.
"It has been more like an extended family," he said. "It really has been a wonderful experience."
Five years ago, the family extended even farther. Maggie's birth mother, who was no longer with Sheridan, called to say she was pregnant again. Silberberg's sister and brother-in-law, who lives just a few miles away, adopted the little girl. They named her Teslin.
Now, Teslin and Maggie have a joke. They tell people that they are half sisters, but full cousins.
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