Three Types of Adoption
Renee Rongen was trying on shoes in a department store near her home in northwest Minnesota when a slightly built girl named Tawnya called her name.
In a different era, the two women might have passed each other without a second look, never knowing the link they shared. But Renee knew Tawnya at a glance -- the woman's dark hair and eyes mirrored the characteristics of Renee's adopted son, Alexander. And well they should: Tawnya was Alexander's biological mother. The women hugged, then headed to a restaurant to talk. Renee had not seen Tawnya since Alex's infancy, when they had completed the open adoption -- a process where adoptive parents remain in touch with the child's biological family.
Tawnya asked Renee questions about the toddler she had only seen in pictures. Were Alex's hands soft? Were his legs so chubby that they had wrinkles? Was his hair so curly that your fingers got stuck in it when you stroked it? Then, after a silence, Tawnya spoke again. "Sometimes when it is very late at night, I hear him," she said. It was then that Renee truly understood the depth of Tawnya's love for Alex, and her own love for both of them.
Through an open adoption program, Renee and her husband, Tom, met Tawnya when she was pregnant and have maintained contact through the years.
The story of adoption is as swollen with love and emotion as any natural birth. But perceptions of adoption are changing with each passing year. Although there are no reliable statistics on the annual number of adoptions in the United States, census records indicate there are currently 1.5 million adopted children in the U.S. With roughly 65 percent of the population touched by adoption in some way, and years of aggressive campaigns to increase awareness about all kinds of waiting children other than just newborns, adoption in its many forms has become woven into the fabric of American life.
In the case of open adoption, parents create a cooperative agreement to define the adoption's terms, such as whether the adoptive parents will be present at birth (Renee acted as birth coach, and Tom cut Alex's umbilical cord) or whether the child will still see his or her birth parents (Alex won't, until he's 18). As in most adoptions, the home study -- where a licensed agency visits the future home and family -- settles financial questions.
Sound complicated? Depends on how you look at it, says Renee, who runs a Web site called Adoption Resource Group to assist parents with adoption.
"I've always wanted my kids to know where they came from, who they look like, what their birth parents' talents are," she explains. Each of the Rongen children -- Alex is 10, Elizabeth is 7, Grace is 4 -- came home through open adoption. Each birth mother bought the baptismal gown and made a video for her child to view later.
"I feel like I have three older daughters, almost," Renee says. "Those gals shared their whole life with us."