Birthmother: Seeing is believing

By Birthmother – What is it like to see my children grow up with their adoptive parents?  I get this question a lot.

For me, getting information about my children is like getting a breath of fresh air.  When I see that my children are safe and loved and happy and normal, this information relieves a tension that I carry with me subconsciously no matter where I am or what I’m doing.  When I know my children are safe, I can breathe, fully, in and out, in a way I could not do if I was living every day in doubt.

I felt the tension most when I first gave my daughter away, just after she was born.  It was as if I had misplaced the most important item in the entire world and I couldn’t find it.  Do you know that lost, helpless feeling?  I’m not sure if I could have put it into words at the time.  I experienced it as an animal would, pacing and agitated, knowing something was missing but not knowing what or why or where.  I understand it now: I desperately needed to know how my daughter was doing, whether or not she was safe.  So when I saw pictures of her in the arms of her smiling parents, I knew everything was ok.  I knew that she wasn’t lost at all.  She was found.  She was loved.  She was ok.  And if she was doing ok, then I could be ok as well.  Those moments of relief were priceless.  I don’t know how I could have recovered from the pregnancy without knowing that my daughter was doing well.  The pain and fear has gotten less for me over time, but the relief and joy at seeing my smiling children has gotten more and more.

Hearing from the adoptive parents is like hearing from long lost friends.  It would have been impossible for me to choose an adoptive couple without caring for them in some way.  After all, I CHOSE them because I LIKED them.  so of course I enjoy hearing from them.  And going through the adoption process together is quite a bonding experience.   I learned about their struggles trying to have a child of their own.  I learned about their families, their interests, their health.  And they learned everything about me. That’s a lot of emotion and planning to share with someone!  So in addition to wanting to know how my children are doing, I want to know how the adoptive parents are doing.  What’s the latest news?  How are they feeling?  How are they coping with parenthood?

And I don’t ONLY want to hear the good stuff.  After all, I probably wouldn’t believe someone who told me that my children were perfect angels.  I can’t believe how many of my personality quirks got passed down to these children!  And would you believe any parent who told you they did everything PERFECTLY without any struggle at all?  Of course not!  It’s the struggles you endure that prove what an awesome family you are.  My son is allergic to peanuts.  No problem, his adoptive parents love him anyway.  My daughter’s parents got divorced.  No problem, both of these parents still love my daughter and they continue to care for her in every way that they can.

Some adoptive parents feel a certain guilt at showing their smiling child to their biomom, as if they should somehow hide the fact that their child can live happily without the biomom being there.  But I have no illusions that I could have been the smiling parent in those photos.  I don’t believe that if I’d kept my child I could have boasted the same happy, shining family.  I wouldn’t have needed adoption in the first place if I’d believed that I could be a happy parent!  I gave my daughter and son up for adoption because I wanted them to be in loving homes with parents who could provide for them in every possible way.  So when I hear from the adoptive parents it reassures me that I got exactly what I wanted for my children.

And when I see that my own life has gone on, that I am also doing ok and living well, I know that my choice was also the right choice for me.  It is a bittersweet reality that a mother and child can live without each other and still find perfectly happy lives, but that’s exactly the truth of the matter.  If adoption teaches us anything it’s that family is not built on genetics alone.  We can find a happy family anywhere we can find love.

That being said, an open adoption means that the biomom and child are never COMPLETELY without each other.  If a biomom needs to know that her child is ok, she can see it with her own eyes.  If a child needs to know what her biological parents look like, she can see them for herself.  Open adoption maintains that precious, frail connection between biological family members without jeopardizing the strength of the adoptive family.  I cherish that connection and hope that, in time, my children will find value in it as well.

Birthmother: Finding parents

By Birthmother – How do you choose the BEST parents for a child?  Imagine being faced with this task, browsing through profile after profile of responsible, caring people, all of whom are seeking children.  Where do you begin?  What do you look for?  What do you avoid?

Unless a biomom opts to give her child to an agency for closed adoption, this is an experience she will have to face for her child.  She will have to decide which adoptive parents are the best match for her and for her baby.  And every adoptive parent must endure the other side of this experience, putting their information out there in the hopes of catching a biomom’s attention.

When I started out as a biomom, this was one of the most exciting parts of open adoption.  How much FUN to look through all those profiles, all those different lives.  I loved seeing the creativity and caring that went into creating the profiles.  Each couple had unique strengths.  And when I saw a couple whose personalities seemed to mesh with my own, it was so gratifying, so exciting!  It gave me hope that my situation was not impossible and that my child would end up in the hands of someone awesome.

Adoptive parents, I cannot thank you all enough for putting yourselves out there.  If I hadn’t seen your smiling faces in those profiles I’m not sure that I could have endured my unplanned pregnancy.  Each and every one of you, even the parents I didn’t choose, reminded me WHY I was choosing adoption for my child.

So now I want to try giving something back to you all, you adoptive parents of the future, by sending guidance and encouragement for you as you make your own profiles.  Yes, the process feels a lot like a meat market, a lot like online dating or job hunting or auditioning.  And the process is COMPLETELY unfair: Why are YOU begging to be chosen while the bioparents got pregnancies they may not have asked for or deserved?  I have no answer for that one.

Plato, the Greek philosopher, believed that souls use their knowledge from past lives to CHOOSE which body they will be born into.  I told myself when I was pregnant that my baby had already CHOSEN the adoptive parents it would end up with – I just had to find them.  And I did.  But it would never have happened if my baby’s adoptive parents hadn’t been brave enough to put themselves out there.

First bit of advice: Be yourselves.  The goal of the open adoption process is to provide a comfortable match between biomom, baby, and adoptive parents.  How can a prospective biomom feel comfortable choosing you if she can’t sense who you really are?  A biomom is ultimately going to gravitate towards a couple who feels familiar to her, and you never know which random, personal detail is going to spark that connection.  Maybe you like watching Dancing with the Stars, which happens to be a certain biomom’s favorite show.  Maybe you took tuba lessons as a child and you find a biofather who played tuba in highschool.  Don’t neglect to mention the little things, the little bits of life that you have enjoyed and hope to share with your child now.

Second bit of advice: Be parents to yourselves first.  Is your household in order?  Have you been taking care of your own mind and body?  Now is the time to stop and take action if you’ve been neglecting yourself,  not only because a prospective biomom might be wary of unhealthy parents, but because you need to be your own best friend during this process.  You will need to stay emotionally and physically healthy during this process no matter how long it takes to find a child.  Remember this:  You deserve to be living a full and happy life whether you find a baby or not.

Third bit of advice: Don’t wait for a child to start practicing childcare.  If you’re fortunate enough to have nieces, nephews, cousins, or other young family members to spend time with, definitely take advantage of that.  If not, DON’T WORRY.  You don’t have to go as far as being a foster parent.  There are plenty of children around and plenty of parents who could use a babysitter!  Volunteer with Big Brothers & Big Sisters of America, volunteer to do childcare during church services or other local events.  Not only will this help biomoms to see how capable you are, it will give you the satisfaction of being part of a family or community (which is ultimately what parenthood is all about, right?).

Last bit of advice: Remember to take plenty of pictures.  As a biomom, I wanted to be able to imagine my little baby in a loving home.  Seeing pictures of that home, seeing pictures of the smiling adoptive parents, made a huge difference to me.  Some parents went so far as to take pictures of their nurseries, empty and ready for a child.  I can’t imagine how much bravery and hope it takes to prepare a nursery for a child you’ve never seen, but I will say that this was hugely attractive to me when I was looking at profiles.  Do anything you can to help a biomom visualize what her child’s life will be like with you.