This guest post is by Leah Outten, a birthmother.
My birthdaughter’s 10th birthday is coming in just a few weeks! As her parents and I have been on this journey with our daughter at the center, here is what I have learned in 10 years of being in an open adoption:
1. Communication is key
Just as it is with every relationship, communication is essential to a positive and successful open adoption. This is key from the first meeting and well into the years later! Both sides need to know about what they are or are not comfortable with openness wise. Both need to know the boundaries of either side.
Will there be letters and pictures twice a year? How often will we visit? What is it okay for your birthchild to call you? Is it okay to share pictures on Facebook? This can mean a lot of tough conversations, but it is so helpful to know where each other stands.
2. Be honest
This ties into communication, obviously, but if you aren’t honest when you communicate bitterness will reside in hearts instead of love and respect.
It saddens me to hear of many adoptions having struggles because a birthmother feels lied to about the openness they will receive based on their conversations during pregnancy, or how an adoptive mom and birth child have been left in the hurt of not receiving a birthday package as promised. Be honest about your feelings and comfort levels. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
3. Openness soothes the heartache
I remember after my daughter was born, feeling like a part of me was physically missing. But I also remember the first phone call I received from her mom giving me the updates from their latest doctor checkup.
I remember the joy it gave me to know that while I was not in a place I could raise her at 16 years old, I could still know how she was doing and be part of her life— even if it was from a distance. I felt so honored that her parents saw how important these little updates were to me. Still, 10 years later, the openness helps reassure my decision to see how happy she is and the life she is blessed to have.
4. Openness does not take away the heartache
While phone calls, visits, and emails absolutely make my day and help to lessen the sadness I may feel about her not being with me, it does not completely take it away. Nothing ever will, to be honest. Though I have found peace in my adoption plan and I know she is where she is meant to be, it hurts to know that she is not home with me and my growing family as I have gotten older and settled down in life.
5. Professional counseling is a must
Besides my faith that was established while pregnant at 16, I attribute the peace I have with my adoption plan to the amazing counseling I had through my pregnancy and post-pregnancy.
Having a non-bias and safe place to vent and a person to help guide in healing wounds within our own family’s heart was a huge part of my experience. No matter what stage you are at within adoption, counseling can be so beneficial! There is no shame in trying to better yourself as a person.
6. Support is crucial
Whether you are a birth parent, adoptive parent, an adoptee, or even a birth grandparent, adoption can be a roller coaster and it is best experienced with someone along on the ride. You need someone who has been on it before, someone with a listening ear and an understanding heart.
I found that support in an online forum when I was pregnant and also discovered my best friend in there. When it was time to give birth, she drove 13 hours to be with me as I signed the papers and cry with me! Find a support group, whether online or local. It will help you to know that you are not alone, and that is a good feeling.
7. Birthdays are hard
Most days I have peace in my adoption plan, most days I am content and happy with how things are. But birthdays are always hard. Why? Because it is a day that I am reminded of exactly what I was doing so-and-so years ago at this time.
It reminds me of all that I was feeling, the weight of my choice, and knowing what was ahead after her birth and so was no longer only mine. It is a reminder of her not being here to celebrate the child I gave birth to.
8. Our child is at the center of it all
In every decision we make regarding our open relationship, we make sure to keep in mind what is truly best for our daughter.
She is why we are connected, she is why we even have a relationship, and both want the very best for her. Knowing that truth helps us both respect each other’s decisions.
9. Embrace your new role
I have found embracing my role as a birthmother has helped me heal because I can take what I have experienced and give support to another or be an example of what a positive adoption can look like..
Being a birthmom does not define me, but it is part of me that I’m proud of.
10. It will change
In our first two years, we had visits every single month if our schedule allowed. I even had sleepovers and helped to babysit! Then, as I become a new mom and married a few years later, life got busier for me and for them.
Over the years, we have had less contact but are still very open when we do. Know that it will change and evolve to whatever the adoption needs to be in that season.
Leah Outten is a birthmom in an open adoption for 10 years. She now is married with three kids, helps support others through Birthmom Buds organization, and is an aspiring author to share her full experience. You can read more from Leah at her blog, The Grace Bond.