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Open Adoption Series: Part 4

I'm thrilled to have Amber sharing her family's experience with open adoption!  If you are on instagram you can following her family @amberhasfavorites

Matt and I have been married for 11 years.  Shortly after we were married, we started trying for a baby. I was able to get pregnant very quickly and we were very excited and naïve when we walked into our first OB/GYN appointment.  Not only did my doctor tell us about a medical condition I was unaware of, he also said that he did not think the baby I was carrying would survive.  I miscarried about 2 weeks later over Valentine’s Day weekend. A short time later I was pregnant again and under the close watch of my doctor, I was able to carry our son to 37 weeks. He was a beautiful and healthy 8 lb 5 oz boy!  He will be 10 just before Christmas this year.

We were unsuccessful in ever getting pregnant again.  I had a hysterectomy about 2 years later and we tried a few rounds of IVF with a gestational surrogate.  The failure of this was devastating.  We tried to tell ourselves that we felt our family was complete with just our son.  The three of our hearts just couldn’t be convinced.  A few calls were made and we landed with the agency that led us to our daughter and her birth family.

Adoption was not a part of our plan. Our plan was that things would be “simple” and “normal”. We certainly don’t see adoption as second best… it was just something so unfamiliar to us both.  Neither of us had any friends who had adopted or knew anyone that had been adopted actually.  We knew some people from back in school that were adopted, but really no one we could talk to.  Moving forward with the adoption agency was very intimidating.  We had no idea what we were in for!
Our first encounter was an informational meeting where we learned about the agency, they briefly described the process, the types of adoption, and gave us some stats.  One of the things I remember being asked is, “What is your picture of a birth mother look like?  Who do you think a birth mom is?”  We didn’t really know actually.  Young? Still in school? Pregnant by a boyfriend or a one night stand? We speculated but really hadn’t ever thought of WHO a birth mom is.  We were informed that the average age of a birth mom is actually quite a bit older than what we had guessed.  Sometimes they are married. Often times they are parenting other children. They could be finishing college. They might be this. They might be that.  We had a lot to learn.

She also discussed with us the types of adoption.  While researching online before this meeting, I had seen the phrase “Open Adoption” a few times.  I really wasn’t too sure about that.  Seemed a little much for me!  After all, I wanted a baby! I didn’t want to share my baby with the birth parent!  She gave us brief info on closed, semi-open, and open adoptions.  It definitely gave us something to think about.

Our agency provides 4 long days of training over 2 months.  We walked in to day one of training after having discussions with each other and more online reading about others with semi open and open adoptions.  We had decided that we were fine with a semi open adoption.  We would like to have information on the birth family and medical history.  We would be fine to meet the birth parents at the hospital and send updates on how “our” (as in “my”) baby was doing.  I could write a letter a few times a year telling about the great things they are doing and stick in a few pictures and call it good.  I might even be up for a meeting once a year with birth parents on neutral ground somewhere.  Yeah… I think we could handle that.  I really never thought that I might like to know how they are doing through out the year.  I just assumed that they would be waiting for my letters to come and would have our annual meeting marked on their calendar as time passed.

And then our training happened. We heard story after story about how GOOD open adoptions can be on day one.  We learned who can benefit from open adoptions.  We listened to and role played some scenarios.  Day two of training was more of the same.  We ended the night with the birth parent panel (which happened to be all birth moms).  God broke my heart for these mothers.  Right then and there. There was no other way I wanted our adoption story to be. 

My husband and I were on the same page after our days of training.  Both of our hearts were in it for an open adoption situation.  Of course, the final say goes to the birth mom if she wants contact, but we prayed that this would be the case.  We had fallen in love with the idea that our baby could know where she came from, how much she was loved, who she looked like, what her history was and more.  Gone was the fear that we would be “sharing” our baby.  We didn’t worry that the baby we were going to parent was going to be confused on who his or her parents are.  We didn’t have a fear inside us that she would want to/ could take the baby back.  We knew that if we embraced open adoption, all of us would benefit.  Our birth mom can see first hand how our baby girl is growing up.  She doesn’t have to live with the pain of wondering how her baby is doing or if she is being taken care of.   Matt and I benefit because we will be able to answer questions that will come up that we might not have known if we didn’t get to know our daughter’s birth family. Since we are now a transracial family, we also benefit from the knowledge they can share with us on issues we didn’t previously have experience with. I don’t hesitate to ask them anything I’m unsure of. Our daughter will benefit because she will grow up knowing who she is, where she came from, and how many people she has that love her. 
One of our favorite parts about our open adoption is that we have a relationship that stretches beyond the little girl that ties us together.  Similar to when someone joins your family through marriage.  We now have a bigger family.  We are committed together and life involves more than just our daughter.  Our conversations are about more than just our daughter.  She shares what she is doing in her life with school, family, work etc.  We share about our extended family is doing, things related to our jobs, and things going on in our town etc.  Because I am blessed to be able to stay home with our daughter, I am often the one to see some of the “firsts”.  Besides my husband of course, the first person I want to share these things with is her birth mom.  I remember when she took her first steps.  I was literally so excited to send the video immediately to her because I knew how excited and proud of her she would be! 

The best part of all this openness? We are just a family.  We do things that families do together.  We meet for breakfast, lunches, dinners, we go roller-skating, to sporting events, church, plays, parks, music concerts, shopping, etc.  Normal things.  This feels normal.  We love each other.  I am her mom and they are our family.  Once while meeting our daughter’s birth mom and grandma for breakfast I was filling up my drink and I heard someone speaking to our birth mom. They were asking how old my daughter was (she was following her around while they waited for me). As I heard her giving an answer, I didn't even turn around to be part of the conversation.  I didn’t need to be.  It was a normal question that has nothing to do with adoption or who is her “mom”.  Does my daughter look like she would be my daughter?  No.  I'm white and her birth mom is black.  Do I care if these strangers thought they were speaking to her mother?  Absolutely not.  It doesn't matter what strangers think of our situation. She is perfectly capable of answering questions like this without me butting in to help prove my "identity" or role in our open adoption.
Doing African American hair has been quite a good experience for me.  I was overwhelmed with the thought of this so I have read and researched as much as I can.   As soon as I try a new style, I usually send a picture to her birth mom to get feedback.  She has always responded in ways that make me feel so good and tells me often she is so proud of me and that I’m doing a great job.  That has been one of the most rewarding things for me to have her telling me I’m doing good.   I always want my daughter to think she is beautiful. Even though she looks different from the other 3 of us in her family, I want her to be able to see the beauty she gets from her birth family.  Each year we have started the tradition that the two of them will get pictures taken together around our daughter’s birthday.  I know it means a lot for her birth mom to have a set of these pictures, and I hope my daughter treasures these as she gets older and can see how she is growing into a beautiful young woman like her birth mom.

I don’t have fear or stress about our relationship but I know at first I was unsure of how to handle some situations.  I can tell you that every time something came up, I knew the answer from what we had learned at our training.  However, I loved being able to call our caseworker and ask her how to handle it or what to say in a particular situation.  I just needed reaffirmed a few times.  At first everyone wants to be perfect and of course we wanted to make our birth mom happy.  One example of this is when our daughter was about 2 months old she asked me if we could pierce our daughter’s ears at 5 months of age because that was when her and her sister and her cousins got their ears pierced. My husband and I had talked about this before and decided that we didn’t want to do this until our daughter was old enough to decide for herself.  I felt like I hated to say no because I didn’t want to upset her, but we were now in charge of those decisions.  I talked with our caseworker and she reassured me that I don’t have to do everything she requests and that we are her parents.  I practiced my answer in my head and actually never needed it because it was forgotten as quickly as it came up.  I called our agency a handful of times during that first year of other similar examples and holidays etc. and just got my little bit of reassurance on what to say or how to navigate through certain situations. I was proud of myself for organizing her first birthday party with all of our families together again and didn’t need to call for any advice and sailed smoothly through it.  It was so nice to have all sides of our extended families together to celebrate this little girl.

Our adoption journey has definitely taken us through the lowest of lows and highest of highs. It has brought us closer to our Heavenly Father.  I have never felt his love so deep for us even though there were times of heartache along the way.  He has had a plan for us all along like He promised. I have found that by putting my trust in Him I have seen my faith grow.  He has taught me to love others, even when they are hurting you, because we might be the only saving grace they have.  We went through a failed adoption 6 months before becoming parents to our precious baby girl.  Nothing could have prepared us for that.  We were completely heartbroken to have had a wonderful 2 months of attending doctor’s appointments, lunches, dinners, and being in the delivery room the day that beautiful angel was born.  As hard as it was though, we couldn’t hate her when she told us she was going to parent.  We knew that we had to show her grace that has been bestowed upon us time and time again by our Father.  We thanked her for choosing us in the first place and told them they will always be in our prayers as we said goodbye and walked out of the office with a little bit of our hearts left behind that day.   

Expecting moms and birth moms are making this decision with all of their heart. I don’t think you could find one that took this decision lightly. They have given this baby life and are giving this baby love.  I’m asking you to return this love and love big.  You might not like everything they have done or will do, but love them for who they are.  There are many people (from strangers to our own family members) who are often surprised at how much contact we have with each other.  They don’t seem to “get it” on why would we want to have a relationship like this.  I have always wondered if they think people run out of love and that our child won’t be able to love us completely if they also love their birth family.  Open adoption has blessed us in ways we never thought possible.  We never intended to be on this path, and wouldn’t trade one bit of it for a different chapter in our story.

See part 1 of the series here
See part 2 of the series here
See part 3 of the series here

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