Birthmother: Ten years and counting

By Birthmother – My first child turned ten years old in May.  It’s December now, the very LAST day of December.  I’ve been putting this journal entry off for THAT long, not because I’ve had anything better to do, but because I’ve been afraid of addressing my feelings and maybe even more afraid of sharing them.

There’s so little I can do now where my children are concerned.  At the beginning, when I was pregnant, my role was so clear:  Keep the baby healthy.  Find loving parents with all the awesome parenting qualities that my husband and I did not have.  Sign the paperwork.

And now… legally, I have no role and no responsibilities.  My work is done.

The easiest thing to do is disappear from the picture.  I don’t think anyone would blame me, and perhaps it would be easier for everyone involved.  My life goes on and so does theirs.

But, first of all, that’s not what we signed up for.  Open adoption implies a continuing relationship.  The details vary from family to family, but the principle remains that there is value in keeping the channels of communication open.

…and somehow I suspect that the disappearing act is only ACTUALLY easiest for ME.  Because I HAVE been offered channels of communication.  I HAVE been offered pictures and phone calls.  I have not been ignored or neglected.  And when those channels open… and I am offered glimpses of my children… I’m the one who doesn’t always respond.  I’m the one who rarely reaches out.  Why?

I chicken out, that’s why.  I love seeing that my children are ok, watching them grow, but actually TALKING to them?  Talking is terrifying!  What do I say?  What if I’m so happy to see/hear them that I can barely talk?  What if I say something stupid, or say something that upsets them?  What if the emotions are so strong that it becomes hard to say goodbye?

I send my children letters at Christmas and on birthdays.  It’s old-fashioned, I know, but in addition to being something concrete to put in their hands, letters are also very safe for me, the same way emails and blogs are safe.  I can type out each paragraph as slowly as I need to, editing as I go.

At this point in my typing, I’d really like to do a little editing to make myself sound like a better person, but somehow it seems more important to share, honestly, that open adoption can be terrifying at the same time it is rewarding.  Seeing my children grow means seeing what I lost.

I’m not GOING to disappear, as tempting as it might be.  When the children call, I will do my best to answer.  When they ask questions, I will do my best to find something to say.  Because they deserve whatever attention they ask for.  Because they are beautiful and I would be a fool to pass up any chance to get to know them.

Birthmother: Eight years and counting

By Birthmother – Today is May 11, 2015. My first child, Catherine, will reach 8 years of age in August.  My second child will be turning 4 this very month.  These children are both fully and undeniably planted in their families, rooted into their own lives with their own routines, functions and dysfunctions, pains and joys.  Their lives are healthy.  This is what adoption allows us to accomplish!  Amen, praise God, and hallelujah!  I’ve posted my excitement and pride about adoption before, and I will most assuredly post it again.  There is so much uncertainty before an adoption takes place (as I’m sure you know), so many decisions to make.  What a relief to see that somewhere down the road the pieces begin to fit into place.

But as I stop to consider the passage of years I must not hesitate to mention the one person who, by choice, is not necessarily “planted” in these families: me, the Birthmother.  With each year that passes I become more of a stranger, and the process of staying in contact becomes more strange.  My open adoption contracts ensure that I will never completely lose track of these families, but distance ensures that my maternal connection to the children I carried will grow more faint each year.  Distance is the one reality of adoption that each birthparent must truly be willing to face.  My biochildren are very far away.  Our lives are very far apart.

Does this sound tragic?  It isn’t.  It may be painful, but it isn’t tragic.  The important thing to remember is that distance can be healthy for everyone involved.  Distance allows the adoptive parents to grow secure in the fact that they are THE PARENTS.  They need to know that their position of authority is sound.    Distance allows the children to grow up in their own ordinary, everyday lives without being bogged down by their (sometimes very confusing) heritage.  Distance allows birthparents to feel safe their own decisions and to carry on the processes of building their lives.  In fact, I purposefully chose birthparents in far away states to ensure that healthy distance would exist.  As much as I believe that I will never become the tragic biomom stereotype who changes her mind and tries desperately to get her children back, I do not want to be faced with such a temptation!  Hormones are strong, my readers; studies show that frequent interaction with a child can trigger parental behavior in just about everyone.  Don’t worry, folks: the laws of our country are increasingly changing to protect the children and their adoptive families from any such tragedy, hormones or no hormones.

OK, so I’ve established that the distance between me and the adoptive families is healthy.  What about contact?  Almost every adoption site will list GREAT reasons for keeping an adoption open (the list at includes avoiding the consequences of secrecy, encouraging open communication, and acknowledging the fact that children will always be related to their birthparents).  From what I understand, the benefits of an open adoption are strongest for the children being adopted.  An open adoption makes an adopted child’s heritage more transparent for them, with less feelings of doubt or shame later in life.  But what feelings arise for the parents in the meantime?  That’s what I’m learning about right now!  For instance, I’ve had a few questions on my mind this month.

Question 1: Do I persist in staying in contact when the adoptive families are ambivalent about my presence?  Catherine’s adoptive father explained to me recently that by this point in our journey he “feels like there is a hurdle that has been passed.”  He doesn’t dwell much on the subject of adoption one way or the other.  Catherine is his daughter.  What’s done is done.  (Isn’t his sense of security amusing in contrast to the constant questions and feelings that Karen and I express on this site? Ha!)  So if the metaphorical adoption hurdle is passed… where does the biomom fit in?  To help you understand the feeling, imagine being a far-removed aunt or cousin who insists on sending birthday cards and Christmas letters, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she is nothing but a footnote in the lives of the people she contacts.  I know, I know, I’m more than a footnote in the grand scheme of things, and the adoptive parents care for me very much.  I’m not discounting their attention to me.  What I’m trying to say is: I feel like I don’t belong!  I fear that my very existence might undermine the happy, ordinary lives that my children have found!  As much as I want to keep in contact with Catherine, I have no idea how much contact or what kind of contact to give. But I can’t let my own insecurities (or those of the adoptive parents) stop me from doing what I hope will be best for the children.  So I continue to send presents and letters to my biochildren on their birthdays and at Christmas. Which brings me to…

Question 2: What (if anything) do I say to a child who doesn’t know me? Yes, Catherine and my son know that I exist.  Open adoption helps with this.  But let’s be real – I’m not there every day (or every month, or every year).  From the perspective of a 4 year old child (or an 8 year old child), what is my relevance?  I’m not too concerned about this question right now.  When I was 8 years old, I thought that getting letters was pretty much the coolest thing ever.  I had many pen pals.  I don’t think it would have mattered to me if the person writing the letter was a friend, or an aunt, or a biomom, or a second cousin twice removed.  So, I’ll write about whatever pops into my head and hope for the best.

I will continue to post my feelings and questions here, as will Karen, but our stories are only two out of THOUSANDS.  Our stories will not be yours.  If you have questions about which type of adoption is best for you, I encourage you to connect with an adoption agency or support group for more information.  Ultimately, only you know what your preferences are.  And guess what: your preferences may change over time, long after the paperwork is signed!  How troublesome is that?  At least an open adoption leaves some room for adaptation.

I suspect that no matter what you choose you will eventually find yourself like me, trying to navigate within the reality of your very unique adoption experience.  There isn’t an etiquette book for this (the parents who adopted baby Catherine and I learned this very quickly)!  Sooner or later you will find yourself with questions that no one but you can answer.  Truly, I wish you the best of luck and all the blessings that God can bring.

Birthmother: Fork in the road

By Birthmother – “You came to the fork in the road and you took it.”

A wise therapist once used this line on me.  He explained to me that sometimes it doesn’t matter whether I turn left or right.  Either way, I make a decision; I pick a path and I don’t stop travelling.  Experience tells me that without accepting a chosen path there is no chance of moving forward.  How can anyone survive if they stop at the fork indefinitely, or if they travel down one path without turning their gaze from the path they left behind?  Can’t you imagine the calamity as such a doubtful traveler rides head-first into a cliffside?

Occasionally, though, life offers unsolicited visions of what the OTHER path might have been.  As I learn more about the mother, Karen, who adopted my son, I am keenly aware that her path could have been mine.  Karen and I have so much in common.  We are similar in age, and even more similar in our personalities.  Karen is open, honest.  Her emotions are exposed at all times (including her love, which she gives automatically as an extension of who she is).  She enjoys the simple things.  She is open to new experiences and embraces them with enthusiasm.  It comes as no surprise that a person with so much openness and emotion would fall easily into traps of depression.  Again, I can relate.

So as I hear about Karen’s life as a mother I can instantly imagine myself in her shoes.  I cannot help but be aware that her life could have been my life, and vice versa.

Could I be living in a safe and healthy home strewn with a toddler’s toys?  Could I be living in a home where play, learning and make-believe are around every corner?  Could I share the joy of taking a young child on adventures, watching the child’s eyes grow wide with excitement at each new experience?  Could I be the mother trying to soothe the anger of a screaming toddler at the local grocery store?  Could I be the one getting covered in bedtime kisses after reading my child’s favorite story book for the 100th time?

Yes, yes I could have chosen that life, but I did not.  I gave birth, but I am not a mother.  I chose not to be a mother.  The consequences of this choice have only begun for me in that I will spend the rest of my life seeing what I’ve missed.

Moreover, I will spend the rest of my life seeing what my children have missed by not having me.  Did I hurt them by giving them up?  Will they be angry?  Doubtful?  Insecure?  And will I be the one to blame?  The older I get, and the older my children get, the more these questions will keep me up at night…

…unless I find some way to make peace with the choices that brought me to this place in my life and with the consequences of my actions.  ***Does this entry end here?  How DO I make peace?  Is it selfish to enjoy life without my children?  I didn’t give my children up so that I could live a happy, carefree life.  I wasn’t ready to take care of another person.  I was NOT in the secure, healthy place then that I’m in now.  Are my children the ultimate judges of my actions?  Is my peace dependant upon their judgement?  Is it enough to know that my choice, good or bad, gave other people the chance to be parents?  I don’t know.

Birthmother: Myth of the mind changing mother

By Birthmother – The Family Court judge who presides over adoption proceedings in the city in New York in which I live is a wise, wise woman.  She has concocted a speech, a speech which I strongly suspect she gives to EVERY biological parent who enters her courtroom to relinquish their parental rights.  I suspect this because I’ve given two children up for adoption in her courtroom and I got the exact same speech both times.  Both times, the speech was important.

The Judge asked me, “Have you seen those shows on TV, where a mom is reunited with a child she gave up for adoption, and she takes the child back and they live happily ever after?”

Most people would have to answer, “Yes,” and I was in the same boat.  I’m sure we’ve all seen episodes of Oprah or Montel with endings like that.  I recently started watching the show, “Once Upon a Time.”  There are a lot of plot lines criss-crossing through that show, but the whole story starts when a young boy goes in search of his biomom.  He finds her.  She steps into his life.  She saves him from his evil adoptive mother.  He forgives her for abandoning him and, of course, they reunite to become a happy family.  I think of this judge’s speech every time I watch the show.

The judge knew I would relate to the story she described, so she continued making her speech without delay.  She got to the point: In real life, a biomom cannot swoop in and “rescue” her child from the adoptive parents.  In real life a biomom cannot change her mind years later and expect everything to change.

I don’t know that adoption law is the same worldwide, but here’s what I learned from my adoption experiences in the State of New York. As soon as a biological parent signs away their parental rights they have no more legal right to their child than a stranger off the street.  If they DID want to fight for custody later, after relinquishing their rights, they would have to go through the same court battle as any other person trying to adopt a child.

So the State of New York does everything possible to make sure that a biological parent is of sound mind and body when it comes time to face this moment in court.  For one thing, a biomom cannot relinquish her parental rights immediately after having the baby.  There’s a waiting period, and several steps in the process before the final paperwork is signed.  Why?  Because every biomom must be given time to consider her options.  True, she may have had 8 or 9 months to consider these options BEFORE the baby was born, but it is a well-known fact that a mother’s thoughts and feelings can change dramatically once she’s held her baby in her arms for the first time.  In every way a biomom is to be respected and protected during the adoption process.  The courts and the adoption agencies make sure that she knows her rights.  They offer her everything she needs, whether she decides to raise the child herself or go forward with the adoption as planned.  In New York they make especially sure that the biomom is not being bullied, bribed or coerced into giving her child up.  It was truly a beautiful thing, the way I was looked after during my pregnancy, and it often occurs to me that the world would be a better place if ALL mothers were shown that kind of support.  In any case, the idea is that an adoption will be safer and healthier for everyone involved if the biomom can give her child up in the safest, sanest, most consensual possible scenario.

Because once the biological parents have made their final decision the attention of the courts shifts to an equally important part of the process: protecting the adoptive parents and the newborn child.  How could a family be expected to thrive if they were living in fear that some unknown blood relative would sweep in out of nowhere and tear their lives apart?  How would any adoptive parents be willing to take on the responsibility and burden of raising a child if those were the conditions?  I am so thankful, SO THANKFUL, that the system protects these families.  I like knowing that even if I lost my mind tomorrow and, in some fit of hormones, tried to reclaim my children, that I would NOT be permitted to disturb their lives.  I like knowing that I would NOT be permitted to take my children away from their REAL family, from the parents who have REALLY taken care of my children for all these years.

Birthmother: What is a birthmother?

By Birthmother – I asked my daughter’s adoptive Daddy whether or not she’s started asking about her biological parents.  She’s 6 years old now which is certainly old enough to start wondering, to notice that something isn’t quite ‘normal’ about her family.  She does ask questions, but is she old enough to understand the answers?  What do these mysterious bioparents mean to her?  After all, she doesn’t see us with her own eyes.  We are not a part of her regular experience.  I would imagine that, to a child, a bioparent would be like a mythological creature, something you hear about and imagine but never really know.

So I thought, “What would I want my children to know about me?  How would I want them to imagine me, if they think of me at all?  I focused on the simple details.  I didn’t want to get lost in the confusion & frustration of being a biomom (birthmother).  Instead I focused on the best parts of being a biomom, the best things a biomom can be.

  • A Biomom is a very special lady.
  • A Biomom carries a baby in her womb (a womb is a special part of a lady’s body, near her tummy).
  • A Biomom feeds her baby and takes care of it while she carries it.
  • A Biomom feels her baby grow and move and kick.
  • A Biomom finds a good doctor to help her baby be born.
  • A Biomom makes plans for her baby.  She finds a perfect home where her baby can live.
  • A Biomom gives her baby to a loving family.
  • A Biomom can watch from far away while her baby grows up.
  • A Biomom is her baby’s biggest fan.  She collects pictures and stories and letters about her baby.
  • A Biomom and her baby have the same genes – this means that they have lots of things in common.
  • A Biomom will always love and remember her baby.

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.

Birthmother: Reasons

By Birthmother – My choice to give my baby up for adoption was met with an abundance of positive feedback.  I get the impression that not everyone has this experience.  Maybe it depends on your upbringing.  I am an educated white woman from a middle class background; my friends and family mostly fall into the same category.  So at least in the population of people who surrounded me when I got pregnant there was an instant understanding of my choice to give my child up.  They had heard about adoption, not just the negative stereotypes but the full truth about it.  Incase you haven’t heard the truth about adoption, here it is.

A healthy, normal woman can choose NOT to be a mother.  This choice isn’t as rare as you might think!  Do you think that a woman must be poor or desperate to give up a child?  Do you think that a woman must be stupid to give up a child?  Do you think that a woman must be sick or addicted to drugs to give up a child?  I know these assumptions exist, but they are simply WRONG.  Rich women can choose not to be mothers.  Old women can choose not to be mothers.  Married women can choose not to be mothers.

A woman may have hundreds or THOUSANDS of reasons for her decision not to raise a child.  A woman’s reasons may be a permanent part of who she is.  I decided at a very young age that I did not want to be a mother, and for the most part my reasons are still the same.  I know many women who feel the same way.  There are so many of us now, in fact, that there is a phrase for us.  We are “childless by choice.”  Look it up on Google.  You won’t believe how many of us there are out there!  We are happy without children, but this does not mean that we have never been faced with an unplanned pregnancy.  Birth control is not perfect.  Life is not perfect.

Most often, a woman’s reasons for choosing adoption are very temporary.  Even a healthy woman who hopes to be a mother SOMEDAY may find herself in a bad situation NOW.  Pregnancy does not wait for a good situation to come along!   The fact that a woman hopes to be ready for motherhood in 10 years does no good for a baby who is coming into the world today.

So in a single specific moment a woman may find herself with a list of reasons why her child needs to be placed in another home.  These reasons are HER reasons, and there is no guarantee that anyone else will understand or approve of them.  In fact, I realized very early on that someone would disapprove of my unplanned pregnancy no matter what decision I made.  But I also realized that the opinions of others were not relevant to what would be going on in MY household with MY child.  If a child is brought into a home where it is not supported, it won’t matter how many people on the outside gave their precious approval!  The approval of others does not automatically create a good situation for a baby.  The approval of others is not enough to make a woman ready to be a mother.

The sad truth is: people who are very ready for a baby might be stuck without a child while unplanned or unwanted pregnancies pop up all over the world.  But do you see how this doesn’t need to be a SAD truth?  Women who choose adoption can balance the scales.  And guess what!  This choice doesn’t mean that a child has been “abandoned.”  Quite the opposite: adoption means that a child has been placed in a loving home with people who HAVE chosen to be parents.

Birthmother: Seeing me

By Birthmother – Passing on my genes

One of the blessings of choosing open adoption is that I get to see and hear some of the details about my children as they grow. Each year I take a look at the latest set of pictures and marvel at the newest changes in their features or their personalities. What still surprises me, though, is when I look at the pictures and see a little piece of me shining through. This family resemblance is something that many adoptive parents envy – they wish they could see their own genes passed on to another generation.

Ironically, one of the reasons my spouse and I didn’t want children was the fear of our genetic background. True, we don’t have any major genetic diseases, but no one’s heritage is perfect. Our ancestors had their share of alcoholism, mental illness, heart disease, etc… and we certainly have our own struggles with that they’ve passed down to us. Frankly, we don’t like ourselves very much, so why would we ever want to reproduce?!?

When we did get pregnant, we carefully selected adoptive parents with healthy lifestyles in the hopes that positive nurturing would outweigh any genetic factors we might pass on. In my mind, nurture was so much stronger than nature. How could a child raised thousands of miles away, a child who I would only meet a mere handful of times, bear any resemblance to me?

Well, one way or another, those resemblances do shine through and no one will let you forget it. It starts as soon as the baby is born. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, who sees the baby becomes an amature geneticist. “Isn’t that your nose?” “Isn’t he the spitting image of your uncle Don?” If a particular trait cannot be categorized or easily referenced, people are so discomforted! For instance, my daughter has blonde hair. I do not have blonde hair. The biological father does not have blonde hair. Unthinkable! Even if I mention that my mom’s hair was blonde when she was young, people look at me as if major trouble must be brewing. They want to account for every feature on the child’s face, every personality quirk, and every disease.

As I watch my children grow and learn about the imperfections they’ve inherited I find myself experiencing incredible guilt. When I see how tall my daughter is I remember being the tallest person in my grade school, always sticking out, and I remember the frustration of having enormous feet that match my height. I was devastated when I learned that my son has an extreme peanut allergy; I know his allergies must have come from my side of the family. Or, worse, what if something I ate (or didn’t eat) when I was pregnant triggered these allergies? Did I eat too many peanuts? Not enough? The responsibility of having so much influence on another person’s development is terrifying. Yes, there can be pleasant moments (seeing that my son has my soft brown eyes, hearing that my daughter has my affinity for speaking intelligently and empathetically to new people). I hope that, in time, I will focus more on the positive traits and be less terrified of the negative.

I try to keep in mind that every gene is easy to see when looking at young children – nurture hasn’t had time to make an impression upon nature yet. Staring at a baby is like staring at raw genetic material. As my children grow the days and hours and years spent with the adoptive family will make my genetic contribution seem less pronounced. I can’t wait to see the personalities and habits of the adoptive parents imprinting themselves upon the canvas of genetic code. Will my son learn the hands-on skills of his adoptive father? Will my daughter catch some of her adoptive father’s flare for off-color humor? I love the fact that every single person who contributes to the lives of these children has a chance of manifesting in their habits and personalities.

Every person who influences our lives becomes a part of us forever. This is especially true of every single person who shows us love.

The adopted individuals I’ve known were often difficult to identify as being adopted, so great was their resemblance to their adoptive parents. They shared hobbies, quirks, physical features, and a million other smaller details that no gene could ever account for. Their family bond was so strong, I would never have thought to question their origins.

Maybe where we start from isn’t as important as where we end up.

Birthmother: Seeing life

By Birthmother – Pictures on the fridge: Benefits of open adoption

Adoption isn’t what it used to be.  I always had the impression that adoption was a simple formula: a distressed biomom hands her baby away to a social worker, never to see or hear from the child again.  And in this formula, when the adopted child eventually grows up and starts asking, “Where do I come from?” she must become an amature investigator, digging through scraps of information on a daunting quest to find the mysterious disappearing biomom.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that this was NOT a successful formula.  Can you imagine going through your life with so many unanswered questions?

I’m happy to inform you that society has evolved and has created safer, healthier ways to build an adoptive family.  Adoption today is whatever you and your adoptive parents decide it will be.  The options for building an adoption contract are as diverse as the individuals seeking adoption, and I can tell you: this is a very diverse group!  You may choose a closed adoption, where the biological family stays entirely out of the picture.  Or you may choose something completely open, where the biological family and adoptive family interact, exchanging letters and pictures, or even seeing each other in person.

For a biomom, open adoption means watching your child grow even as you know he/she is not your child any longer.  The best comparison I can make is following your favorite celebrity on TV; it’s as if my children are TV superstars and I can’t WAIT to see the next episode.  I feel a fascination with my children even though I’ve only met them once or twice, only seen a glimmer of who they really are.   And I am always curious to learn more.  What is their everyday life like?  What are their favorite things?  I see that my daughter was in a dance recital and of course I wish I could see her dance.  I learn that my son is speaking his first words and I wish I could hear them.  I hear that my daughter enjoys learning about science and wish I could join in one of her mini “experiments.”

Even in an open adoption, being a biomom means never being a full part of your child’s life.  I will always be on the outside looking in.  I will not get to see every laugh, every tear, every accomplishment.  People ask me if this is painful.  Sometimes it is.  Of course it is.  It may always be painful for me to be reminded of what I chose to give up.

BUT, seeing my children and their adoptive families also reminds me why I chose adoption in the first place.  I see the adoptive parents blossoming and smiling as they experience the family they always dreamed of.  I see that my children are in homes filled with love.  I see my children surrounded by opportunity and support that I could never have provided them.  I wouldn’t trade these glimpses of family for anything – they are the moments where I am assured that I made the right choice.

What is the opposite situation, in a closed adoption?  Not knowing anything?  In a closed adoption you could hope that your child was thriving… but you wouldn’t know!  You could imagine what your child looked like, but you wouldn’t see her with your own eyes.  My own curiosity would never permit me to survive in a situation like that.  It’s the difference between missing someone you care about and losing them completely.

What’s best for a biomom might vary depending on her personality and her situation.  But here’s my bottom line: open adoption is for the child’s benefit.  I chose open adoption because I don’t want my children to walk around with the nagging questions of “Where did I come from?  Where are my biological parents?  Why did they give me up?”  When my children have these questions I want them to know exactly where to go for answers.  I spoke once with a woman who had been raised by an adoptive family, in a situation where her biomom was not known to her.  She explained how much it would have meant to her to hear anything from her biological family.  She always wondered if her biomom was thinking about her, if her biomom remembered her at all.

I want my children to know that I think of them every day and that I will always miss them.