Laura Gladden is a 20-year-old student at Colorado Mesa University who hopes to become an adoption counselor for birth mothers. And she already has some first-hand experience in the field: she placed her daughter for adoption after an unplanned pregnancy two years ago.
Although Laura didn’t know anything about open adoption at the time, today she looks at her daughter Kinley’s adoption as a blessing. And she hopes to use her experience to educate other women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy about the positive aspects of adoption when they explore their own options.
As the New Year kicks off, Laura has a lot on the go. In addition to going to school, the Grand Junction, Colorado resident plans to get married next month and keeps up with her blog about her journey as a birthmother.
Recently I had a chance to ask her about that journey. In an open and honest interview, she told me about her initial impressions of open adoption, how she came to find adoptive parents for Kinley, and why she is using her positive experience as a birthmother to advocate for open adoption.
Tell me a little bit about the events that led you to choose open adoption?
I was about 12 weeks pregnant when I decided to seriously look into adoption. The birth father had left me a few months earlier and he wanted to sign his rights away so he didn’t have any responsibility. I was going to have to do it on my own. I was only 18 and couldn’t even provide for myself, let alone a baby.
I also know a few birthmothers who had placed their babies one 14 years ago and one four years ago. I asked them lots of questions.
What made you decide that open adoption was the right option for you?
The only way I was going to do adoption was if it was open. I couldn’t imagine never seeing her again or not knowing what is going on in her life. I also didn’t want her to feel abandoned or confused and I feel that open adoption gets rid of that lost feeling adoptees often experience and that worry and wonder birthmothers have through closed adoption. With my open adoption I still have a relationship and I feel I have gained a family instead of losing a child.
How much did you know about open adoption before you started the process?
I had NO idea about open adoption! I just thought adoption was where you have your baby and they wheel it away and you never see it again
What was the scariest part?
Well, being pregnant for the first time was scary. But there were two scariest parts. When I signed my rights away. They ask about 20 times if I was sure I knew that my rights were 100% gone and I have no control or say in behalf of my baby. It tears your heart out knowing you aren’t your child’s legal guardian and also scary you can’t undo it.
Once you sign and it’s filed — there is no going back. The second scariest part was giving her to her adoptive parents. I still get teary and sad thinking about it. You are entrusting someone who was a stranger 6 months ago with your most prized possession and something that is 100% yours. You are trusting them that they will do what they agreed to. That was really scary
What kinds of things were you looking for when you chose Kinley’s parents?
The two biggest things were that they were married and they had financial stability because those were the reasons I placed her in the first place. I wanted my baby to live somewhat close — no more than 2 states away. I also looked for a mother who would be stay at home and of course I looked for a cute family! My baby was going to the cutest family:)
I imagine you had a lot of potential parents to choose from. How did you narrow down your choices?
Well, the agency I went through — LDS Family Services — has thousands of potential parents. There is a search you can do and after my criteria was entered I only had about 7 couples from each state. I ‘favorited’ about 5 families I liked and just kept looking through them and narrowed my search down to two couples. This was when I truly learned what a ‘gut instinct’ felt like
In the end, what was the deciding factor that led you to choose Kinley’s adoptive parents?
I actually chose a different couple at first. I emailed them and never got a reply. My case worker did some investigating and apparently that family had just adopted and their profile hadn’t been taken off the website yet. I looked at it as a sign that my seconnd family, the “C” family and Kinley’s adoptive family, was the right one. And it is so true — I’m so glad I picked them
What advice do you have for parents who are hoping to adopt when it comes to finding an adoption match?
I think being yourself. Being yourself shows the birthmother what kind of people her baby will be entrusted to and that’s the most important. Also being open minded. Birthmothers come from so many different backgrounds and situations but we all have the same goal– finding the perfect family.
To be patient. It all falls into place but all in its own time. Also to keep your eyes on the prize. There are lots of hard things to endure and fight through but always remember that you are doing it all for your child. So many times I wanted to back out and give up but I always kept Kinley’s well being in my mind and had to put my feelings to the side.
Adoption is the hardest thing you will probably ever do in your life. You feel like your heart is being ripped out and you never truly have a whole heart again. But if you are doing it for all the right reasons your life will be truly blessed forever. I also want to let girls know they aren’t alone. There are so many other birthmothers like myself who are willing to give support.
What do you think is the key to a successful open adoption relationship?
The biggest key I have found is communication. A few times I have felt left out or felt they weren’t keeping me in the loop enough and I just had to express my concern, nicely of course, and it ended up they were just a little busy that week. If I want a picture one day I just send a text asking and they are always more than willing to send one.
Many birthmothers have mixed feelings about open adoption. What is it about your experience that has made you such an advocate?
With my open adoption I have felt so involved! I was able to meet the adoptive parent’s extended family and involved in some important religious ceremonies for Kinley. It gives me such a peace of mind that they want me involved in their family and I don’t feel like ‘that girl who gave them a baby’. Like I said before, I see them as an extension of my own family.
Also with the adoption being so open I have been able to see how blessed and happy the adoptive family have become. Knowing this it has given me peace and reassurance I made the best decision. Open adoption clears up so much assumptions and gives the birthmother some peace of mind.
Open adoption has some cons though too. The first few months it was hard seeing my daughter with her family. You get waves of jealousy sometimes but I have had more peace than jealousy. I’d rather feel jealous sometimes than wondering and closed off.