Until recently a child’s birthmother and adoptive parents barely knew each other. The decision to keep their identities secret was thought to be in their — and especially their child’s — best interests. A protective measure designed to shield them from the stigma of adoption.
But today, thanks to open adoption, a birthmother and adoptive parents don’t just know each other. They can meet and have ongoing contact after their adoption has been finalized.
And yet despite the option of increased openness, many adoptive parents still shy away from striking up a close relationship with their child’s birthmother. Either because they harbour movie-of-the-week fears about her peering over their shoulder as they parent or, worse, coming back to reclaim their child.
But try telling that to Angela Norris, a birthmother in Latonia, Kentucky. She and her son Nicholas’s adoptive family couldn’t be closer, literally and figuratively. They live just around the corner from each other, 2 1/2 blocks away to be exact, and Angela describes Nicholas’ adoptive mother as being like “a sister” to her. Visits are frequent and every Sunday morning Angela spends “Sunshine Time” with Nicholas.
Angela found Nicholas’s parents as a result of a series of personal and professional connections. She made her decision while she was at the hospital delivering him, three weeks after she discovered she was unexpectedly pregnant.
Today, Angela remains active in the adoption community. In addition to starting a local birthmother support group. she’s hoping to raise awareness about open adoption through a fundraising walk. Recently I had a chance to find out more about her story, including what’s it like to live so close to your child’s adoptive parents and about what advice she has for women who are facing an unplanned pregnancy and looking at adoption as an option.
1. What was your first reaction when you found out you were pregnant?
I was a complete mess, I cried for days. I was so scared, scared of what people would think. Scared of how am I going to do this on my own. I felt like an idiot too, everyone around me knew I was pregnant and I kept saying no, I can’t have children, it has to be something else.
2. You didn’t have a lot of time to decide what to do. How did you end up choosing adoption?
I knew a family who had two adopted children. The youngest child’s birth mom/family was/is her life. I talked to the birth mom and really decided this was the life I wanted for Nicholas.
3. Did you find that you had enough time to explore all of your options?
I knew adoption was the only option so I never explored other options.
4. Did you ever worry that you wouldn’t be able to find adoptive parents for Nicholas in time?
No, we thought he would be born around Christmas or New Years, so I wasn’t worried.
One, I looked only at Nicholas’s adoptive parents. I believe God leads you where you need to be.
6. What was that like, giving birth and also trying to find a family for Nicholas while you were still in the hospital?
I don’t remember much. Maybe a way to not remember the grief/pain. His delivery was scary for me. I went to the hospital and was dilated 8cm. I received an epidural and his heart rate dropped. Next thing I remember is emergency C-section, there is my sister holding my beautiful sweet Nicholas. Then the tears came! At first I wasn’t worried about finding a family I could put him in foster care and decide then. It wasn’t until I found out he would be going to foster care an hour away from me that I knew I had to find a family.
7. Did you ever feel like you were being rushed?
Yes, I had to make a choice that would impact his life but mine as well.
8. Did you ever consider bringing Nicholas home, parenting him and then making a decision about whether to place?
No, I knew I couldn’t parent him on my own. I couldn’t give him the I wanted or knew he needed.
9. In our pre-interview, you mentioned all the connections you had with his adoptive parents — through his family and also through your church. Is that what sealed your decision?
Yes, because I needed something in the beginning to connect to. Now it is knowing how many people love one little boy.
10. You described Nicholas’ mom as being like a “big sister” for you. In what ways?
She and I don’t keep secrets. We were told less is more, not in our case. More brings us closer together. She picks up on my worries and fears. She knows when to pick up the phone and say “I love you”. I do the same. I feel this brings the relationship to a whole new level. We are showing Nicholas not only what respect is but love and family can be.
11. Some adoptive parents and birthparents want a bit of distance after a placement. They worry about living in the same neighborhood and bumping into each other at, say, the grocery store. Living 2 ½ blocks away from each other, has that ever happened to you and was it ever a concern for either of you when you were making your decision?
Funny you should ask, no, we have never really bumped into each other, unless it was planned. This is something I really wanted and needed. I want people to see that families are different and can work even with their differences.
12. Considering how close you live to each other, how open is your adoption — how often do you see each other?
Our adoption is very open. I see Nicholas every Sunday. He and I spend Sunday mornings together. That will change once he starts Sunday School. Nicholas’s mom has a saying “This is how we roll!” We might see each other a couple times a week. I might just see him on Sunday mornings. Even though we are very close, we each have our own lives and, that’s how it rolls. Although we love our impromptu visits. That’s what makes this so rewarding.
13. I imagine spending time with Nicholas and seeing how well he’s doing must give you a lot of comfort. But it can also be painful. What has helped you adjust to your loss?
It is a great joy to see and spend time with Nicholas. It has never really been hard leaving him. It is sometimes the times in between visits that are hard for me. I have an awesome support system. They check on me, love me and keep me busy. I have also started painting. This helps get my feelings out. I can throw paints on a canvas and my feelings take over.
14. What words of advice do you have for an expectant parent who’s considering placing her child with people she knows or who live nearby and for adopting parents who may be considering a situation similar to yours?
The most important thing is BOUNDARIES. You both need your space. A birth mom needs space to start healing, even though you will always hurt. Adoptive parents need their space to start their new family. Never be afraid to ask. Sometimes unexpected visits are the best. Realize this is all about the child and what is best for her/him. No matter what, keep your chin up. Walk proud and let your community see what a family can be.