Haley always wanted to do something related to adoption. Since February, she’s gotten her wish thanks to Adoption: Share the Love, her popular blog and Facebook page that promotes the joy of adoption through interviews with birth and adoptive mothers.
Haley’s introduction to adoption came early. When she was 10, her mother placed her half-brother with an adoptive family. She says the experience helped her see how wonderful adoption could be. But it also opened her eyes to the other side of the process: the pain and the grieving.
So, five years later, when an unplanned pregnancy led her to place her daughter for adoption, she had a pretty good idea about what to expect. Today, Haley lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and two children.
I recently had a chance to catch up with her via Skype and talk about her relationship with her daughter and her adoptive parents, about what she wants people to know about open adoption and birthmothers, and about her campaign to give birthfathers their own day of recognition. Here’s an edited version of our conversation. If you’re a member of the open adoption circle and are interested in sharing your story, please let me know.
1. On your blog, you describe yourself as the last girl in high school you would think would end up as the “pregnant one.” You were an honors student, involved in your church and had everything going for you. After you became pregnant, did you know right away that adoption was the right choice for you?
I did. I’ve always had this great love for adoption. Seeing my mother’s experience with my brother probably made me think of it more than other people. I was 15 and I knew my whole life would change, especially since the birthfather didn’t want anything to do with it. So when I got pregnant, I knew adoption was the best choice. I had watched what my mom went through so I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy choice.
When I told her about my decision, she sat me down and said “I’m so proud of you but I know how much you’re going to hurt. I know about the pain you’re going to go through because I went through that pain.” So I think that helped me a lot because my mom warned me this wasn’t going to be easy.
So I went into it expecting that. I didn’t expect it to be just a walk in the park. I knew it was right for me and my baby. And it has been. My little girl has been to four different countries. She’s spoiled rotten! And me being a single mom, I would never have been able to give her any of that.
2. You started your search for adoptive parents through an agency. But you ended up finding a family that your aunt suggested. What qualities were you looking for in an adoptive family?
The biggest thing for me was that my baby have a mom and a dad. That’s one of the reasons I couldn’t keep her so I wanted her to have a mom and a dad. I know there’s a lot of same sex parents and single moms who want to adopt, but for for me it was really important that she have a mom and a dad.
I wanted her to have older siblings who were adopted so she didn’t have to feel like the odd one out. And then there also was a list of simple silly things: I wanted them to go camping, I wanted them to go to the beach. I wanted them to be close to their extended family because I’m really close to my extended family. And I wanted the adoptive mom to be a stay-at-home mom. And I found all of those qualities in the family I picked.
3. What type of relationship did you have with your daughter’s adoptive parents before the placement?
During my pregnancy, they flew out a few times from their home in Michigan to see me and they went out for dinner with my family so everyone could meet. I also sent them ultasound pictures to let them know about the pregnancy. I wanted them to be there with me in the delivery room, but my daughter was born early so they just missed her birth by 30 minutes!
4. You wrote that the hardest part was saying goodbye to your daughter. Can you tell me a little bit about your thoughts and emotions directly after the placement?
Sure, when it came time to say goodbye, it was kind of strange because my little girl had to stay in the hospital for a few months after her birth. So I visited her a couple of times and I would feed her and talk and laugh with the adoptive parents. Before they finally got released from the hospital, they asked me if I wanted to have one last goodbye with my daughter. They left me alone in the room and told me to take as much time as I wanted.
I had a camera so I just put her in my lap and took all kinds of pictures. I kissed her and I talked to her and I smelled her. I wanted to remember everything about her. I told her I wanted her to be a dancer and get good grades. I don’t really remember what I said. Her hands and feet — that’s what I remember most. They were so tiny! Then when I was ready, I called the adoptive family back in and I handed her to her mom. We were all crying. It was such a sad time but we were all happy. Just happy.
But once I went away, the happy went away and the sad set in. And I went home and I just laid in bed. That’s the hard part. When you just walk away knowing that it’s final, it’s done, you’re not going to see her again.
So that was really difficult, knowing that after nine months of labor and morning sickness, I was walking out of the hospital with nothing. It sounds bad, but it wasn’t for nothing, of course. But I felt empty. You don’t get anything. You don’t get any instant gratification. But in the long run, you get the gratification of seeing your child grow up and having all the things you wanted them to have.
5. Is that what helps keep you going — getting the updates and the pictures and knowing your daughter has the life you wanted to give her?
Exactly. Because her parents are in another state I don’t see them, but I do get updates and emails. Recently they sent me a picture of her on the beach with a huge grin. And that’s exactly what I wanted, her enjoying herself with her family on the beach. It’s little things like that, seeing how happy she is with her brothers, when I tell myself I made the right choice.
6. You seem really positive about your decision. Do you ever have second thoughts?
I used to think about the “what ifs.” Honestly I think every birthmother does. I thought what if i had kept her, what if I could have made it work? But I’ve learn over the years not to dwell on it. That’s just a dark place to go. I wouldn’t have had the life I have today if I kept her. I look at what my life has become, with my husband and children, and what her life has become, and that’s what I focus on instead of the questions.
7. You have a semi-open relationship with your daughter’s adoptive parents. You receive updates and emails, but you don’t have any physical contact with them. Is that something you both agreed on from the start? And if so, do you ever wish you had more openness?
Her adoptive parents have told me that when she’s old enough and wants to, she can meet her birthmom. I don’t know what age that will be or if she’ll want to. So for me, it’s just waiting until she’s ready, and I can’t wait. If she said I never want to meet my birthmom, it would break my heart, but I would completely understand.
I don’t want to force that on her because she already has a mom who loves her. If she doesn’t want two moms to love her, that would be her choice. It would be very difficult for me but I would still love her just the same. At the same time, because her family is so open about adoption, I think she will want to meet me and one day we’ll have that reunion.
For me personally, I think the more contact I have, the more painful it gets. If I get an update every month it’s like every month I’ve reliving that hardship. For me, it’s easier to just love her and think about her everyday. I don’t need that constant reminder.
And then when I need that reminder I ask for an update and they send me pictures and I can go through my grieving process all over again. Every birth mom is different. I know of some birthmoms who, when they’re having a bad day, go over and hold the baby and that’s what makes them feel better. I’m not avoiding it. I’m just focusing on what my life is right now.
8. What advice do you have for someone who’s facing an unplanned pregnancy and considering adoption today?
The first thing I would tell them is the same thing my mom told me: I would tell them how much it’s going to hurt. Not to scare them, but to let them know it’s a hard choice. A lot of birth moms think adoption is all sunshine and butterflies until they give their baby away. So I think it’s important to warn them.
After I tell them it’s going to hurt, I would show them the pictures and the joy. I also think it’s really important to have a strong support system. If you have people knocking and criticizing you, it will make everything so much harder than it needs to be.
9. What about hopeful adoptive parents–what do they need to know about creating strong relationship with their children’s birthparents?
I think the most important thing is respect on both sides and communication. You need to ask a birthmother what’s she’s comfortable with. Everyone has their own comfort level. If she wants you to go with her to ultrasound appointments, great. If not and you want to go, you have to meet each other down the middle.
You need to let the birthmom know that you’re thinking about her. Some birth moms say they’re so happy that the adoptive parents aren’t there just to snatch my baby away. That they’re here for me, too. You need to show you’re interested in her. Ask about her life and hobbies. Then get to know the baby, too. A birthmom has to know that you’ll be there for her instead of just focusing on the baby.
10. What do you think makes for a successful open adoption relationship?
The most important thing is open communication. A birthmom at my support group once complained that the adoptive parents weren’t sending her any updates. “Have you asked for one?” I asked. “They’ll send you one.” You need to let them know what you need. It’s important to talk and respect each other and figure out what works. If you don’t, it will eat away at you.
If you’re a birthmom and you need less contact, tell the adoptive parents that you need less contact. If the adoptive parents need to cut back, do it a respectful way. Find out what each side needs to get and don’t get overwhelmed.
I read about one adoptive mother who talked about how, when she was in the delivery room, the nurses were celebrating and congratulating her in front of the birthmother. But she was too scared to celebrate. She didn’t want to offend the birthmom. But later she found out that the birthmother had asked the staff to celebrate because she wanted them to enjoy the excitement of having a new baby. She said that’s why I made the decision I did, I wanted to give you this gift.
11. What have you told your other two children about your daughter?
We have pictures of her in our home so they know what she looks like and her name. We told them there was another couple who couldn’t have baby so we had to use mom’s tummy to give them a baby. We told them one day you may get a chance to meet her but right now she’s with the family that mommy picked for her. As they get older, I’ll tell them more. But right now they’re happy knowing they have a sister out there who’s with another family.
12. You’ve said that people tend to brush adoption under the rug. Is your blog a reaction to that? Tell me a little bit about why you started it and what you hope to do with it.
A lot of people have negative thoughts about adoption so if I can change just one person’s opinion about it, that would be amazing. If I could show them that birthmothers aren’t selfish and I can share their stories, that’s great. I had one adoptive mom who said she was struggling with asking for an update and that my blog helped her see the birthmother’s point of view.
I want to break down the barriers and show people what birthmothers are going through. So far the stories have been healing to me. So it’s all about surrounding yourself with positive support because there are definitely people around who disagree with my decision. But you just have to push that negative aside and focus on the positive.
13. Some see open adoption as a win-win situation. Is that how you see it?
I don’t know if I have that opinion. The pain is still there for the birthmothers and the guilt is still there for the adoptive parents. Even if you’re seeing your children and loving them, it doesn’t go away. Open adoption is better than a closed adoption, but I don’t know if I would call it a win-win. There’s hurt on both sides.
14. Birthmothers have a day of recognition on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. But not birthfathers. Can you tell me about the campaign you’ve launched to establish one for them?
It’s actually been more difficult than I thought since most birthfathers are not involved and the ones that are involved — well, men aren’t like women. They don’t like to get together in a room and chitchat with each other. They’re like “oh, whatever. I have feelings but I don’t want to talk about them.”
So if I can get a list of a few birthfathers and recognize them on my blog or thank them for what they did or send them a letter or anything that would help them feel recognized, even if I had three of them, I would love to do that. I just met with a birthfather last month who was really struggling and it opened my eyes to birthfathers’ pain.
Because I’ve always looked at adoption from the birthmother’s standpoint I didn’t realize that there are birthfathers who are involved. And the hurt they have is just as much as the birthmom has because it was their baby, too. So if I can just let those birthfathers feel recognized and appreciated, that’s what my goal is.
What do you think of Haley’s story? What do you think needs to be done to raise awareness about open adoption, birthmothers and birthfathers? Leave your comments in the section below. And don’t forget, if you’re a member of the open adoption circle and are interested in sharing your story, please let me know.