I placed a baby boy almost 8 years ago.
Eight years. The very thought is almost unfathomable.
I can hardly believe that 8 years ago I was making hospital arrangements, calling the soon-to-be parents and preparing to welcome this baby into this world.
I was 26 years old. I was scared to death.
I remember a few conversations about “open adoption” and what that meant. Conversations with my case-worker, other members of the agency and the adoptive couple that I had chosen.
I was very uneducated about the “adoption world”.
It was all a foreign language to me so in ways I am sure I just nodded my head, not really hearing or understanding. There was so much to process, so much that was about to happen.
I sat with my case worker about a week or so before delivery. We went over the termination paperwork in great detail.
She told me that I would not hear a word she said in the hospital at discharge so it was better to go over it before, to give me a chance to ask questions and let the magnitude of signing my parental rights sink in and have time to understand what that truly meant.
She was right, by the way, I didn’t hear a word she said at the hospital.
I had told her in that meeting that I did NOT want to see my son when he was born. I did not think I would be able to get through this if I held him, looked at him, fell in love with him.
Turns out that motherly instinct is stronger than any pre-conceived notions. The second he was delivered I wanted him. I already knew him, I was already in love with him. I had just been living in such denial that I hadn’t allowed myself to feel it during my pregnancy.
After placement I received all my correspondence through the agency. The family went above and beyond with letters, cards, printed pictures, discs of pictures, gifts, keepsakes as he grew through different stages and more.
I was very blessed.
At about the 6 month mark I was feeling better physically, I was back in full swing at work, back to my normal social life and was wanting desperately to move on and forget it ever happened. Really? Again, denial was my best friend for about the next 6 years.
I wrote the family a letter and told them that I didn’t want updates any more. That I knew that they were his family and that I needed to move on and asked if they would please allow me to do so.
I had a few birth moms reach out to me after this telling me that I had made a huge mistake. That I would regret that decision.
Well, nothing was ever legally closed and it was left up to me. If I wanted updates I was welcome to reach out and they would share anything I wanted to know.
Since that time I have been through a great deal. I spent years punishing myself and the past several years healing in ways that I never thought possible. Part of that has been the very sacred and special visits and updates that I have received.
I have an open adoption, yes. But maybe by the standards of the trend of open adoption now, I would be on the semi-open scale of an open adoption. In the 8 years since placement I have been blessed with a few visits, email updates and a few surprise packages sent in the mail.
Let me say that I am in no way complaining about the amount of contact that I have had. I know so many that would give anything for a visit or a package in the mail. And I know others that have more contact in a month time that I have had in 8 years.
I want to share some thoughts with you.
It is very hard not to compare your adoption with another.
It is VERY difficult to not get jealous of other birth moms that are getting visits, and tons of packages and Skype dates, and are FB friends with adoptive parents and extended family etc.
We all would like more, something different, something that we don’t have. Sometimes there are blocks put up by the adoptive family and sometimes it they are put up by the birth mom.
There is only ONE thing that will help make this as easy as possible for everyone — COMMUNICATION.
This isn’t any different than any other relationship. You have to have an open line of communication, you have to trust each other and you have to continue to evolve as the relationship evolves…
Now my thoughts are different from many.
I just feel blessed and consider myself lucky to make a guest appearance every now and then. I fully understand what it means to have signed over my parental rights.
I know that I do not have a right to anything. I know that I am not entitled or owed anything in the life of this amazing boy that is turning 8.
Do I personally believe that promises should be kept between an adoptive parent and a birth parent? Absolutely I do.
Do I believe that a simple picture, letter, update can change the life of a birth mom in a single instant? Absolutely I do.
Do I believe that the adoptive parents play a vital role in the healing of a birth parent? Absolutely I do.
On a grander scale I also understand that it isn’t that black and white.
I do believe that if something is important to you, you will find a way to do it no matter what.
But I also have a deep understanding of the reality of the fears, challenges of adjusting, heartaches and the unknown that a new adoptive couple goes through, especially those first months awaiting finalization.
I understand that very strong and very real parental instinct to protect their child at any cost. I hope and pray one day we as birth moms will not be considered a threat.
My definition of open adoption is simply this:
Open adoption is not about any specific list or contract. It is about truly being open to any and all arrangements that the adoptive parents and the birth parents are comfortable with.
That being said, I chose you. I placed that child in your arms and I trust that you, as the parent, will make the very best decisions for that child.
That is why I chose you. I may not agree with everything but I am open to you and anything that you decide.
Eight years. He will be participating in a very big event in my religious community in just a short time. I received a message a few days ago inviting me to attend this event. I have told very few people about this as I try and process my feelings.
Some think I am crazy if I go and some think I am crazy if I don’t. There are many emotions and people to take into consideration as I decide what is best for me, my family and theirs.
I have not seen these family members since the hospital, I have NEVER seen him in his home town, his own home, his bedroom. The reality of those things scare me.
Will I be the “something shiny” that everyone wants to pet or will I be the huge elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about? All things to consider.
BUT I was invited.
There is so much about adoption that is out of our control.
So much that we don’t understand. More questions than answers.
We have so little that we can cling to. The small victories, the little reminders that we are on the right path, made the right choices, and are going to get through another day.
How do I cope with it all?
I keep reminding myself that I must accept my choices and that I am not entitled to anything. I am praying for them daily.
I am trusting that they are living the life that I always wanted for him and I remind myself daily that I am so lucky to make a guest appearance in his life from time to time.
That is all I can really ask for. To this day they are the most sacred and cherished moments of my life and for that I am truly grateful.
Ashley Mitchell is a thirty something self-proclaimed Big Tough Girl™. She is married to the love of her life in Utah, parenting two children and is a Birth Mother in an open adoption to one. She is nationally known for her speaking, writing and advocacy work for adoption as well as her work in women support and parent advocacy all around the country.
Do you have a birthmother or open adoption story? Email us or learn more about how to share it with our community.
Help us remove the stigma surrounding birthmothers and open adoption. Like us on Facebook.