Tonight, I’m having Girl’s Night In with my friend, Laura. We sit around my living room in our pajamas and talk about everything from our kids, to our favorite cute actors. We giggle and laugh as we speak of our shared memories and secrets. Drinks and popcorn are involved. We look at photos. The only thing different with this Girl’s Night is that not only is Laura a very close friend, she also happens to be the mother of my child.
I’ll let that sink in for a minute.
Okay, I’m back. Have you figured it out?
We have an open adoption.
It’s not a very common arrangement, but I am excited to say that I just looked up the definition for you, and there’s actually one available now:
Open Adoption – An arrangement concerning an adopted child by which contact between the child’s adoptive and biological parents is maintained
This journey began almost 3 decades ago when Larry and I thought we had some kind of control over our lives. (Oh, foolish youth) Our plan was to start our family after we’d been married for 2 years.
After years of testing and procedures we were told that we were part of the 10% of the population with idiopathic infertility. Basically this just means that they did not find anything “wrong” with either of us, and our inability to conceive is unexplainable.
Miraculously, we finally did become pregnant on our own, with no procedures, no hormones, and no doctor’s visits. It was a huge surprise.
But, it was not meant to be. I miscarried at four months, and we were beyond devastated. I thought my life was over. I really, really did. If not for Larry, I would probably still be in bed with the covers over my head. (Thanks, Dear.) As I type that now, I smile at myself. Not because it was not the horrible, traumatic loss that it was, but because I did not know the joy that was ahead for us.
I now know that we had to grieve the loss of not only this child, but also of our fertility. There is no way to heal and move ahead without living through that stage. As our hearts healed, we became more serious about adoption.
I cringe when I hear people use the words had to with adopt. We chose to adopt. And when we got serious about it, we got serious about it. We read every book we could get our hands on about adoption and making connections to find our child. We put notes in our Christmas cards letting people know that we were looking to adopt. We went through a mandatory Partnership in Parenting course through the state to prepare us for fostering or adoption. (The classes were 3 hours, every Saturday morning for ten weeks. It was emotionally brutal.) We went through a home study, and when we finally had a placement, we had to have another home study because too much time had elapsed. No stone was left unturned. Our case worker knew all about our sex life, our views on religion, and where our fire extinguishers were located. No lie.
We met with a couple of birth mothers and had been matched with some others whose plans did not work out. I will not go into this here, but each failed adoption was a huge disappointment and what we refer to as emotional miscarriage. We suffered more than a few of them.
Around the time of our actual miscarriage, construction began on a new house we were building. We would go out to the site almost daily to check on progress. Eventually, it began to look like a home, and I would go stand in what was to be the nursery and cry my eyes out.
One evening while checking on progress, the people who were building next door to us were also out. The man, Mr. M., asked why we were building such a large home for just the 2 of us. Larry explained to him that we had just lost a baby, but we planned on filling that home with children one day.
No one knows what to say to someone when they lose a baby. I never did. But when people would say, “You’ll have another baby one day.” It made me angry. But that night, Mr. M. pointed at me and with intense eyes, said, “You will have a baby” and I felt like he was delivering a message from the heavens. Or it could just be that he was good at what he did, which was politics. Any way around it, I believed him.
Fast forward five years through the adoption classes, counseling, the procedures, and the emotional miscarriages. Mr. M., the neighbor dude with the message and the intense eyes called to tell us that his god-daughter, Laura, who was only 15, was pregnant and thinking of an adoption plan for her baby.
That child is our Alli.
How about that?
(Here’s the interesting thing…Mr. M. had been rather shall I say, missing in action in Laura’s life for many years. He showed up again during this time, connected us with her, and then they moved not long afterward from our neighborhood and our lives. )
Mr. M. passed our Dear Birth Mother letter (a type of resume’) on to Laura; she was interested in us, and liked the idea of an open adoption. We talked on the phone, and later we met with Laura and her mother, Susan in person.
I remember being struck by how young Laura looked. I also remember wondering what Susan was feeling. Larry and I liked both of them immediately.
Laura had a genuine sweet disposition and was very calm. She cared deeply for the child she was carrying, but parenting a child at 15 years of age would not be easy on her, nor the baby. She decided she wanted us to parent her baby, and we began making plans for the adoption. We were elated to say the least.
We got our nursery ready, and stocked up on diapers.
There was a rocky beginning with miscommunication and legal issues, but I choose to not dwell there.
When Alli was 3 weeks old, she was placed in my arms by Laura, and I became a Mom.
Can you even imagine that?
Laura trusted us with the life and well-being of her tiny baby.
Keep in mind that she was not even grown herself. I am not sure that I could have made this most selfless decision as an adult, much less at 15.
On our placement day, Laura, her parents and siblings were with us. There are no words to fully describe the feelings in that small room where we waited together for the foster family to arrive with the baby.
When Alli was brought into the room, Larry and I were struck speechless. She was absolutely beautiful.
She was finally here. Our baby had arrived.
All 7 of us looked at her with sheer amazement. Laura looked proud. Her parents looked relieved. Her siblings looked excited. Larry and I, well, I heard Larry sniffle, and from that point on I was a crying fool.
Laura and I bonded over changing a dirty diaper together, and together we dressed her into the dress I wore when I went home after my own birth.
The day was best summed up by Susan’s words in a letter she gave me that day:
Today, I do not feel like I’m losing a family member. I feel as if I’m gaining a whole new family.
That’s how it’s been for these 18 years.
If our adoption were to have been closed, first off, we would not be together for placement. Our names would be nothing but words to each other, if we even knew each others names at all. Instead, we truly are a family.
Laura went on to be a parent herself. She has 2 sons whom we love like our own. It brings us all joy to see Alli and her brothers grow up knowing and caring for each other.
Not only are we close to Alli’s immediate birth family, but our extended families know and share time together. My parents and Laura’s parents adore each other. They have spent a fair amount of time together over the years. We have been around not only Alli’s grandparents, her aunts and uncles, great aunts and uncles, cousins and 2nd cousins, but Alli has also known her 2 great grandmothers. (One attended her graduation last spring!)
We have done a lot of normal family things together. We get together during the holidays. We’ve played board games together. We’ve been to playgrounds together. Alli has been out-of-town with her birth family to attend a family reunion. She has been to the beach with them, and even went to Arkansas with Susan and her brothers to help her aunt Stacy decorate her nursery.
We had a girls and kids trip to the beach once, with Susan, Laura, me, Alli and the boys. We happened to be there on our 14th family birthday. Laura, Alli and I stayed up late. We watched a chick flick (The Lake House) while Laura sat on one side of Alli, I sat on the other, both of us with flat irons, and did her hair together.
Hair bonding is so much better than dirty diaper bonding.
At Alli’s graduation we had as many birth family members present as we did our regular family. And afterward at the party, we were all together and it’s just so normal to us.
So many people are shocked by our openness. When Alli was younger, we’d get fear filled questions all the time. Some of my favorites are:
Aren’t you scared the birth mother will come back and take her from you? (ummm No. She chose us to parent her child. She knows she can visit any time she wishes.)
What if Alli likes her better than she likes you? (hmmm. This is not a competition. I want them to love each other as they do!)
What does Alli call her? (Laura. It’s her name. And she refers to her as her birth mother)
Do you like the birth mother? (Yes! I love, adore, and admire her. She gave my child life. How could I feel any other way about her? As a matter of fact, I sometimes find myself referring to her possessively as “our” birth mother. After all, she is the one who made us a family!)
And yes, I love Alli as if I birthed her myself. Sometimes we forget that we didn’t become a family that way. When we do, it’s quite funny. People who know us sometimes forget, too.Her friend, Jean, once asked me if I had bad labor pains when I birthed Alli. It was no sooner out of her mouth than she realized what she had asked. It was hilarious.
Miriam’s Promise Pregnancy, Parenting and Adoption Services completed our final home study for our adoption. We love this organization and what they do for so many. We have had the honor of being asked by them to speak on occasion about our adoption.
Larry, Alli and I have spoken to a group of waiting parents about transracial adoption. Alli was only about 11 at the time and we were proud and amazed at how she handled some pretty huge personal questions. About 4 years later, we were at a Miriam’s Promise sponsored picnic, when a man came up and reminded Alli that he and his wife were at that meeting where she spoke. He thanked her for making their decision easier, and then whisked her away to the playground to meet his son, a precious little mixed race boy. I think it was then that Alli learned what an impact her young life could make, just by sharing her story.
There was another occasion where Alli was asked to speak solo. She was sitting in a round table situation with a few couples who were thinking of open adoption. She told her story, and then the adults began firing off questions. I was so moved by her maturity, the way she handled the questions, the way she felt so sure of herself. I was in awe. One of them asked if she loved her mother the same way she loved her birth mother. She said something profound, about loving us both the same. That Laura is her birth mother. Mom is her mom.
Laura, Alli and I were also asked to speak together to a group of birth mothers about our open adoption. The women ranged in age from about 14 to 65. Some were pregnant, and the others had all chosen adoption for their children. We went around the room and heard some of their stories, and then the 3 of us told our story. Alli was sitting between us up front and after about 15 minutes, this one older lady in the back of the room raised her hand and said she just wanted to know if anyone else was feeling as in shock as she was from seeing the 3 of us interact together. We just laughed. It feels so normal to us.
Our situation confuses people, too, and it can be very humorous. Introductions are what really do it. “This is Laura, Alli’s birth mother.” It’s always followed by the deer in the headlights look. Sometimes we drop it, sometimes we play on it.
Years ago, when Alli was a toddler, I attended a funeral visitation for one of Laura’s aunts. Laura and I were looking at the photos, our arms around each other, when we came upon this couple she knew. She said, “This is Libby. She’s my daughter’s mom.”
When Anthony was really small, I introduced him to a fellow parent at Alli’s school as Alli’s brother. They said, “Oh, I didn’t know she had a brother!” To which Anthony replied, “I live with our mother. Alli lives with Libby and Larry.”
Last spring, at Alli’s dance concert, there was an older couple sitting behind Laura and me in the auditorium. During intermission they asked if we had children in the show. We told them that our daughter was indeed one of the dancers. We got so tickled when we realized that they must have thought we were a lesbian couple.
Alli had a date with a young man once who didn’t know our story. I don’t know what he was expecting when he came in to visit before they left, but I do know it wasn’t seeing 2 white parents.
I really wish I had photos of the confused, shocked faces.
At Alli’s middle school, the 8th graders had to write and give a speech on something that affected their lives. Laura was with us when Alli gave hers. It was on teenage pregnancy and interracial adoption. In her speech she mentioned how she called Laura while she was writing it, and asked her questions – something that most adopted children cannot do.
As Alli matures, I have no doubt that we did the right thing with our choice to have an open relationship with Laura and her family. Alli is confident, proud of her story, she has a strong sense of who she is and she is loved by so many. Alli has never had to wonder about her birth mother. She knows that Laura loves her and why she chose adoption for her.
We wanted Laura to always know how her child was. Most open adoptions only consist of photos on holidays, and maybe a visit each year. Ours has evolved into something truly unique.
I cannot imagine not sharing Alli with her birth family. I cannot imagine not knowing them myself.
From Alli’s 8th grade speech;
I’m going to leave you with a quote that I think best describes what Laura did for me, “Love is when the other person’s happiness is more important than your own.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
When Laura found out she was pregnant at 15…When the 2 of us lost a child, and it seemed we would never be parents…things just didn’t seem right or good. We were all feeling hopeless in our situations. Let our story be a reminder that everything always works out. It could have ended up so many different ways. Someone else could have adopted Alli. Laura could have parented her. We could have adopted another child, or remained childless. But for some reason, we ended up together. It’s as it should be.
The day we brought Alli home with us, the first thing we did was have what was to be our first annual family dance to Here Comes the Sun. (George Harrison)
Here comes the sun, Here comes the sun, and I say It’s alright
Keep hope! Wait on the sun. It will shine when you least expect it.
P.S. Thanks for reading this very long post. Thanks to Larry for being the best parent partner around. Thanks to Laura for helping me pick out photos. Thanks to Alli for letting me have free range with this whole blog and for using your quote, and sharing what is your story.