When you’re thinking about adoption for your baby, there are so many factors to consider: your baby’s future, of course, but also the wants and needs of your baby’s father, your family, his family, the hopeful adoptive family, the adoption agency, the hospital staff, etc.
Camyla knows just how complicated, and crowded, the open adoption process can get. Eight years ago, the 26-year-old birthmother placed her baby with an adoptive family. Today, she’s writing a book to help expectant parents who may be considering adoption to prepare for the road ahead.
As she explains, “It’s so hard to say, ‘yes you should definitely do that,’ or ‘no, you shouldn’t,’ because it’s so bittersweet. I feel like I was never given enough information before I placed and I felt like I wasn’t given all of the options fully. Had someone told me I had options and that I could parent if I wanted, maybe I would have a different perspective on my experience and what my choices were.”
Camyla is currently majoring in social work at a college in Bloomington, Indiana, where she hopes to find volunteer work counseling expectant parents, something she plans to do full-time after graduation.
1. Speaking of counseling, tell me about the counseling you got when you were considering adoption.
I don’t remember getting much “counseling” when I was an expectant mother. I remember several times sitting with the case worker of the adoption agency and having these really long lunches talking about everything under the sun. I’ve always had quite a bond with her considering she is also a birthmother and one of the leaders of On Your Feet foundation, but I guess I’ve just never seen those lunches as counseling sessions per se. Perhaps that’s because I don’t remember there being a lot of guidance in these sessions—and granted, I felt very lost at the time and really needed as much non-judgmental guidance as I could get. I felt very alone.
2. Did you feel it was enough to make an informed decision?
I felt and still feel like the information that I received about adoption and what I could expect came mostly from adoption forums, and the books about open adoption I read. Actually the agency gave me some great booklets that I found helpful at the time by Brenda Romanchik. While I was informed, to answer the question the way I think you intended, no, I don’t think the agency themselves gave me enough information to make an informed decision.
3. Did you feel like you were being forced into making a decision you weren’t comfortable with or weren’t ready to make?
I definitely wasn’t comfortable making the decision I did. I never really felt like I had much of a choice. In my birth plan, I had some very clear cut choices—that I wanted to try to parent my daughter for a week. The adoptive parents respected my decision and actually put me in a hotel room right across from theirs for the week so I could parent alone. My parents, however, were not thrilled with this decision to try to parent. I suppose that in their day, babies were just “given up” right in the hospital. There was no bonding with your child.
4. What was your biggest concern?
Throughout my pregnancy, my biggest concern was that of legality and really, of trust. I knew that open adoption has no legal standing in the state of Indiana and that the adoptive parents could negate their decision to keep the adoption open at any time. It left me in a state of panic and I needed constant reassurance from the adoptive parents that this would never happen. It’s funny how the things that you fear end up coming true in a way—I know our adoption will never be closed, but at the same time, when I was making that plan, I really didn’t know it would turn into what it has.
I guess I’m trying to say that there were all these ideas in my head at the beginning at what adoption would mean and what it wouldn’t mean. I got really used to being consoled when I was pregnant by the adoptive parents. In a way, after my daughter was born, it felt like I had really lost a set of parents to my daughter. A few months after placement, I remember asking them if she had been crying the way she had when I was taking care of her that first week. They said she wasn’t really a fussy kind of baby. I think that hurt my feelings, because I figured, if they were going to parent her, at least they would have to deal with the crying fits.
I guess I would just be more a part of their life, when really, I feel like I’m just a third or fourth ‘fiddle’ as it were. I’m thrown in sometimes for a harmony part, but mostly sit in the corner of the orchestra for when I’m needed.
The picture in my head was shattered when they told me and my mom quite suddenly that they’d found a house in North Carolina and that they were moving there right after Christmas. They were literally on their way to North Carolina when they came through for a Christmas visit. She wasn’t even a year old at the time. When they drove away after that visit, that really felt like a ‘goodbye’, and in a way, it has been.
Then, of course, the adoptive parents got pregnant. I love their son, don’t get me wrong. He’s a fantastic sibling to my daughter. I guess since they’ve had him, however, they no longer drive through Indiana, instead opting to take a plane or a faster route on their way to Illinois or Wisconsin. It stung a little when I found out that they had been just a few hours away in Chicago a few months ago. Had I known I may have been able to meet them there.
My daughter lately has been sending me letters on her own. I received a letter and an e-mail recently from my daughter and from the adoptive mom– I guess she’s been talking non-stop about how she wants me to visit her. If only it were so easy to just pick up and go.
6. Did you raise your concerns with your adoption worker and if so, what kind of response did you get?
The caseworker was actually quite honest with me in that department and we did talk at great length about open adoption and what it meant and didn’t mean. I certainly got my questions about adoption answered. I just never felt like I was given any education or open dialogue about parenting my child myself.
7. At what point in your decision-making process were you shown prospective adoptive families?
I had been researching families for almost my entire pregnancy. I would say I was probably two months pregnant at the time. I probably waited until month three before my parents, and everyone else, knew. At that point, my mom really started researching families herself and we both got put in touch with an agency at that point that sent me a big package with letters from all kinds of parents in search of an infant. I finally called my future daughter’s adoptive parents when I was 20 weeks, four months, along. I remember this because I’d just found out the sex of the baby.
8. How much information did you get about them — was it enough, and was it the information you needed to make a decision?
I definitely wish I could have done some things differently. The agency gave me little to no information about the potential adoptive parents that I’d chosen. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t even know exactly how old they were until this past year. I know I could have asked anything to them at any time and they would have answered. I guess I was just fearful and didn’t really know what to ask. I would have done everything differently if I were to get pregnant now, as opposed to at 18.
9. How did you decide which one to pick?
Really, I knew what I was looking for. I’d looked at profiles online and the agency had sent me about 12 different letters. I was looking for a younger family that had issues conceiving and did not have other children. I wanted someone who lived in an urban area—someone who was liberal and open-minded, someone who traveled and really someone who was just “together” and was really at a point financially and emotionally to parent. The adoptive parents I chose were really the only ones I found who embodied all of these things.
10. Did you know right away that they were “the one?”
It’s funny to me that the adoption community uses the term “the one” when speaking about adoptive parents. While I did peruse 13 or 14 couples, I don’t feel like I really searched low and high. Maybe that’s the fate of the situation; maybe they were supposed to raise my daughter. I’m not really sure. They were the only couple I met in person. I do know that they really had their stuff together, but they were far from the perfect cookie-cutter family and that’s really what drew me to them.
11. What was your biggest fear as you got closer to your due date?
There was a point in my pregnancy that I remember clearly. I believe it was March—the weather was just starting to get warmer. We had set up a hospital visit to go see the OB floor. The nurse showing us around knew that I was placing and that the woman I was with was the prospective adoptive mom—and the nurse had ignored me through the tour, showing things only to the adoptive mom. It really hurt me and we ended up leaving the tour early. I remember crying about that and wondering if that’s what it was going to be like—which of course spurred even more reassurance from the adoptive parents. While I took what they said to heart, inwardly I always knew that some people just wouldn’t know how to deal with adoption or what the adoptive parents and I meant to each other.
I guess my experience was probably a little different than most other birthmothers. I had braced myself for the fact that leaving the hospital was going to be hard, so I avoided that completely by leaving with them and the baby.
I’d say the hardest parts were in the hospital when I found there had been quite a shift after she was born. The adoptive mom had brought her best friend into the hospital room. I loved her best friend, but between the adoptive mom’s mom, my mom, her best friend, and the adoptive dad and my daughter, I felt… well, forgotten. I slunk away into the bathroom and I stayed in there a good 15 minutes. When I came back out, everyone had left.
The next hardest part was the day I signed the papers. For a few days, I thought maybe I could parent after all, but the week I parented, she had been crying nonstop and nothing I could do would console her. In the end, I wonder if maybe that happened for a reason.
13. What do you think you and your daughter’s life would be like today if you had chosen to parent?
That’s hard to say since I’m not living that life. I probably would not have the friends I have right now. I probably wouldn’t be in school. It’s possible I’d still be living with my dad, barely scraping by—not to mention the fights that would have caused between my parents and I. I’m sure it would be a rough life for me.
She would be well taken care of– if I could somehow have the life I have now when I was pregnant then. If I would have her at 27, I think that things would have been better. Not ideal, mind you, but I’m at least stable enough to handle parenting at this point. After many of years of thinking about it, though, I’ve decided I most likely will adopt an older foster child and will probably not go through a pregnancy again.
What do you think of Camyla’s story? What advice do you have for expectant parents who are considering adoption? Please leave your comments in the space below.