But it nearly didn’t happen for the North Carolina birth mother. After a few really rough days after relinquishing her parental rights, she wrote them to say she was having doubts about her decision. She was thinking of raising her son, Liam, on her own.
Some adopting parents in their position would have reacted with anger or fear. But “The B’s”, as Renee refers to Liam’s adoptive family, said they understood and would always be there to support her. At that moment, she says, she knew she made the right choice and went ahead with her open adoption plan.
In the three years since then, their relationship has grown to the point where even Renee is surprised at how well things have worked out. Today, the 22-year-old aspiring journalist and birth mother blogger sees her son at least once a month and considers the “B'”s part of her extended family.
Recently I had a chance to connect with Renee to talk about her decision to place Liam (a.k.a. “Little Man”) in an open adoption, how she stays involved in his life, and what she calls “the business of being a birth mother.”
1. You started your blog, “Letters To Little Man,” as a way to explore what you call the “uncharted territory” of being a birth mom. What are some of the things you’ve discovered over the past three years?
I think my biggest discovery was that people don’t know a lot about birth moms! They are obviously essential to the adoption process but their stories are rarely heard. When I was still pregnant and going through my adoption process, it was difficult for me to find stories I could relate to — most adoption books or blogs are written from/for the adoptive parents.
Honestly, I don’t remember because I never really saw myself as a “birth mother.” I just saw myself as a regular mom who wanted the best for her son. It wasn’t until the adoption was finalized and I started working through some of my feelings about the situation that I really started to recognize myself as a birth mother — because even though I’d imagined what it would be like to be separated from him, the reality of separation changes the way you see yourself.
3. What’s been the biggest surprise so far?
The biggest — and best — surprise is how well everything has turned out! As a birth mom, you have all of these fears, one of the biggest being “I’m going to place my child in an open adoption and then the family is going to pull away and I’ll never see him/her.” But my adoptive family, The B’s, have turned into extended family. They’ve been so open and wonderful, more so than I could have hoped for, and believe me, I was hoping for a lot of openness.
4. What was the turning point in your decision to place Liam for adoption?
It was an e-mail that I received from his adoptive mother, J. At this point, Liam was born and I was in the middle of my seven day revocation period, where I’d signed the papers, but I could change my mind and take him back if I wanted to. After a few really rough days of struggling with that choice, I finally broke down and e-mailed her about how badly I was hurting. I even told her that I wanted to keep him as my own. But instead of being intimidated or angry or scared, she said she completely understood and empathized, and she was there for me and always would be. I knew right then that I’d made the right choice.
5. You said that after spending nine months with Liam, “being without him would have been impossible.” Has being with him and watching him grow made things easier or harder for you?
It’s made things so much easier. Getting to be a part of his life is something I’m thankful for every day. This way, he knows me. He calls me “Nay Nay.” He knows which games are his favorite to play with me. And he’ll grow up knowing that I’m a part of his life, that I care about him and love him, and that’s all I wanted. That’s what counts, and that’s why I could never be without him.
I’ll say to them what my adoptive mother said to me in her e-mail: “I understand and I sympathize.” When you’ve been waiting for a child that long, you want them to yourself. You want them to be yours, no one else’s. But as birth mothers, we’re not looking to parent our children. We’ve realized that we’re not ready for that. We honestly just want them to know us, to know how much we love them and care about them. We’re not trying to do your job or take over your role — we just want to be a part of their lives. Plus, I got lucky and gained a whole new family out of my adoption. You could get that lucky too!
7. What about birth mothers — how can they stay involved in their child’s life without feeling like they’re intruding or getting upset over the way he’s being raised?
The way I’ve dealt with it is just to be very, very open with The B’s. When I’m afraid I’m intruding, I tell them so. When I feel like I haven’t seen them or Liam in way too long, I tell them so. These people are raising your child — you can’t be afraid to be honest with them, and vice versa. As for getting upset over the way he/she is being raised, you just have to come to terms with it. That IS a privilege you give up as a birth mom. However, the privilege you DO have is the ability to choose the adoptive family — chances are if you choose one you’re happy and comfortable with from the get-go, they’ll raise your child in a way that makes you happy.
8. Apart from having an open adoption, what else was important to you when you were looking for parents for Liam?
Apart from the necessities — loving, caring, devoted, financially secure — I really wanted parents that seemed fun. I wanted him to go to a family that loved to play and laugh and be goofy. Having that sense of silliness is important to me, and I wanted Liam to grow up surrounded by people who loved to laugh and don’t take themselves too seriously. Life is more fun that way and I want him to enjoy every minute of it!
9. What was it about the B’s that first caught your attention?
Well, there were two things. The first was that they wanted their birth mother to live either in North Carolina, where they live, or in the states immediately surrounding it. It’s not often that you see requests from adoptive parents concerning birth mothers, since technically we make the choice, but I saw this as a testament to their openness: they wanted a birth mother who lived close by so that she could be actively involved in her child’s life. They were the first family that seemed to want an open adoption as much as I did.
The second thing was that they already had a son, Sports Man. The fact that he was still alive at the age of six seemed like a pretty good track record to me. Plus, then Liam would have a built-in big brother and seeing them together now, I’m SO happy he has a sibling.
10. Did they feel “right” right away?
Mostly, yes. My mom came across their profile online back in the early months of my pregnancy, but I didn’t give it much thought because I wasn’t to the “family choosing stage” in the process yet. But when it came time to look at profiles with the agency, nothing really clicked until I came across their profile book. I looked at it over and over again, and even though my social worker tried to get me to look at other books, I refused to put theirs down. I stopped looking and told her to “reserve” them ASAP, and then I called my agency back twice to make sure they’d done it. I knew I’d found the family.
11. You mention that you and the B’s “maintain the world’s best open adoption.” What are some of the things you’ve done to get your relationship to where it’s at today?
We really apply “openness” to every aspect of our relationship. We’re honest with one another, no matter what the topic is. We make an effort to see each other regularly and sometimes we’ll make overnighters out of our visits (every time we do that, J and I girl talk on the couch before we go to bed). Even if we miss a month or two because of busy schedules, we’re always texting and Facebooking and e-mailing. The blog has brought us all closer together as well. We treat each other like family because that’s truly what we are — one big, extended family.
I hope his message will be that he’s happy. I hope that he will feel loved and lucky to have grown up in such a wonderful family atmosphere. I hope he’ll be thankful for his open adoption, because he’ll know where he came from and why he grew up with The B’s. But mostly I hope he’ll be thankful for his open adoption because he’ll know how loved he is by so many different people. He brought us all together and for that, I know we’re thankful for him 🙂
What do you think of Renee’s story? What part of open adoption are you most thankful for? Please leave your comments in the section below.