A Birthmother In An Open Adoption: What I Want You To Know

Placing a baby for adoption is one of the hardest decisions a woman can make. Jeanie understands that better than most women. She made the decision twice — placing two children, Kendrick and Taryn, now 10 and 7, with the same adoptive family at birth.

Today, happily married and raising a child with another one on the way, the Salt Lake City mother has no regrets about her decision. Among other things, she wants people to know why birthmothers make the choices they do and why it’s important for birthparents and adoptive parents to share their children’s adoption stories with them.

1. Tell me a little about your story…

I was 19 when I first found out I was pregnant. It the was result of a summer fling. I had moved back home to go to college when I found out. It was scary telling my parents because they were religious. There was a lot of crying and my mother told me I would place the baby for adoption.

I was really confused. Why I would do that? For one, I was an adult. And two, I wasn’t on drugs, I wasn’t in jail, and I wasn’t in some Third World country. When I thought of adoption, that was the type of person I thought placed their babies.

But I agreed any way to talk to our church-run adoption agency. After I came out of that meeting I had no doubt in my mind that placing my baby for adoption would be the right thing. I read the letters they gave me of some hopeful families and the “right” one jumped out at me right away.

There was no doubt in my mind that they were the family. I had a whole list of things I wanted a family to fit into. But that list went out the window when I read their letter.

I was able to meet with them and it was wonderful. They were like family I hadn’t seen for a long time. Back then the agency only did semi-open adoptions so I got letters from the family through the agency. After the baby was born, the agreement was I would only get letters and pictures through the agency till the baby turned two and that would be it.

I was supposed to know their last names or where they lived. But I grew very close to them through the letters we wrote each other before the baby was born and I think we both knew we wanted a more open adoption. We just had to figure out how to do it without disrupting any legal stuff on the agency’s part.

2. What was it about open adoption that convinced you it was the right decision?

As far as the adoption choice itself was concerned, it was the fact that my child would have a mother and a father that loved each other. I know there are others looking to adopt like same sex couples and single people. But a mother and father is what I wanted for my child.

I knew my birth son’s father would be “around” but we didn’t love each other. In fact, the relationship was pretty strained. I saw my friends’ children who had to watch their parents fight over custody and money. It broke my heart. I didn’t want that for my child.

As for the open part, well, the agency at the time only allowed semi-open adoption and I never really knew that open adoption was an option. But when the adoptive family offered it, it just made sense to me. I knew many kids that had been adopted and they longed to know their birth parents.

Some were not sure why their birth parents chose adoption. There were some sad stories. Open adoption allowed me to be able to be a part of my kids’ lives. So if they ever had any questions I would be right there ready to answer anything. It also gave me great comfort to be able to watch my kids grow and know that they were happy.

When my baby boy was born in 2001,  I called the agency and they called the adoptive family. Normally the agency would come to the hospital and pick up the baby and that was it. I was able to get them to let the family come so I could place my baby in their arms so it would all be right in my head. During that time we were able to slyly exchange how to find each other online.

Over the next three years we were able to communicate on our own without the agency. I got to know more about them and their family. I got tons of pictures and letters from them and even letters from their friends and family thanking me for what I had done for the family.

Because of that open communication I was able to easily contact them to tell them I was pregnant again. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to place my baby this time. I was even older now, graduated from college, loved the father even though our relationship was very dysfunctional. I didn’t think I could go through the pain again of placing a baby.

3, So what made you change your mind and decide to pursue a second open adoption?

When I told the father that I was pregnant he said we would need to put the baby up for adoption. I was confused and angry. Over the next six months I talked about what we would name the baby and how we would live together and we would be all happy.

But he didn’t agree. So that’s when I emailed the adoptive family wondering if they would want another baby if I did decide to place. Their email back was very supportive and very loving. They said the were hoping to adopt again soon and had been praying, but if I decided to keep my baby they would totally understand. After that email I knew this baby was meant to be theirs as well.

After I told them that placing that baby with them was my plan, our relationship was even stronger. They told me they felt it was time to start visits. I had not seen my birth son since the day he was born. They came to see me a few months before I was due to deliver. My son was three. The visit was amazingly comfortable and my parents and siblings were there.

Taryn J was born in 2004. We had the same agency help us with the legal stuff. Now they were able to do open adoptions. The adoptive family came to the hospital once again. It was just as hard this time but it was amazing to see my birth son meeting his new sister. Watching the two of them grow up together has been so wonderful!

I am now married, six years in July. My husband has met my birth children. I now have a daughter, Layla, who will be 3 in July. It was such a wonderful experience being able to bring a baby home from the hospital. She has not yet met her siblings but she will and so will her soon-to-be brother/sister.

Both the adoptive family and I have moved so our visits have become harder. My last visit was in December. I flew down to see them by myself. They even allowed me to stay with them. It was so great!

4. What changed in your life since those two placements that made you decide you wanted to parent?

I was married when I had my third baby so that would be the main reason. It was so awesome to be able to tell people I’m pregnant and get a positive reaction. I have an amazing husband who I knew would be and is a great dad. He loves his little girl. We are both excited to have this second baby and raise it together as well.

5. How have you explained your adoption decision to Kendrick and Taryn?

I have written them letters to read when their parents feel is the right time. But with how our relationship is now, they can just ask me. Right now they are a little young and I’m not sure if the question has come up yet. Their parents have been very open with them and I know if Kendrick and Taryn ever ask their parents would be able to tell them the reasons and they would also encourage them to ask me.

6. Do you ever worry about how they’ll react when they’re older?

I do, every day. My birth son is about to turn 11 and I keep wondering when will the day come when he wants to know why? I think his parents have done a great job of keeping adoption subject a part of both their lives since day one. So I don’t think their reactions will be negative, but you never know. The teenage years are always a rough time for everyone. You’re trying to figure out who you are and your emotions are confused so we’ll see.

7. You mentioned to me before this interview that when people ask you how many children you have, you always include your birth children as well as the one you’re raising. What kind of response do you get?

Ninety percent of the reactions are positive. First they are amazed that I would share that kind of a detail about my life with strangers. But then they start opening up about how adoption has blessed their lives or their friends’ lives.

I’ve even ran into many birth mothers I’ve become friends with. For others who don’t have adoption a part of their lives I usually get an “Oh, wow that must have been hard” and “Wow, I don’t think I could be strong enough to do that.”

The other reactions I get are from people who have had bad experiences with adoption or women who raised their children by themselves that think I think I’m better than them for choosing adoption. I try my best in those situations to show that adoption has changed a lot over the years and that most birth parents really just want the best for their baby not because they want to have freedom.

For the single moms I let them know that adoption is not always the best choice for everyone. I also know that single parenting is hard and I know they have to be strong to do it.

8. What advice do you have for birth or adoptive parents who may be uncomfortable talking openly about adoption to their children because of guilt or shame?

Get over it! It’s about the children, not you! I’ve run into so many people who didn’t even find out they were adopted till they were adults. Or people that find out they have other siblings out there but not till they are adults. That messes with people. The earlier, the better, I believe. It’s not good to lie or keep secrets from your children.

9. What’s the one thing you want others to know about your experience?

That most of us birth mothers don’t place our babies so we can have freedom. We’re not looking to have others raise our babies so we can have a better life. It’s about the child. We want what’s best for them.

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