The Moment I “Got” Open Adoption

Wisdom - Seeds of LightDo you remember the first time you “got” open adoption — the moment when it suddenly made sense to you, when you realized there was actually a purpose to all of your waiting, wondering and worrying?

I do. It happened just over 16 years ago.

As life-altering moments go, it wasn’t particularly special. It was actually kind of ordinary.

There were no lightning bolt or voice calling down to me from on high.

Just two women having a conversation on a couch.

My wife and I had just completed our home study, and after years of trying to start a family the old-fashioned way, we were about to enter the next stage of our adoption journey: sending out our parent profile.

We were moving full steam ahead with our plan to connect with an expectant mother considering adoption.

But truth be told, one of the reasons we were going so quickly was because we knew that the moment we slowed down and stopped to think about what we were doing all of the doubts and uncertainty we felt would pile up and overwhelm us.

We were making it up as we went along. 

The idea of bringing a strange woman’s child into our family and then sharing him with her seemed counter-intuitive and, if I was being honest with myself, kind of weird.

How would it all work out? Would it work out? What would happen if she changed her mind and wanted her child back?

For us, open adoption was a brave new world, and we were still unsure if we were brave enough to enter it.

Until I saw the two women talking on a couch.

One of them, Debbie, I knew. I had met her a few weeks earlier at an adoption support group.

She was an adoptive mother in an open adoption.

Kind, funny and generous, she had become my unofficial tour guide, the person I turned to whenever I had a question.

One fall night after a meeting, she casually mentioned that a TV crew had come to her house and filmed her and her son’s birthmother for a show about open adoption.

“You should watch it,” she said, “you might find it interesting.”

I told her I would, and though I didn’t say it at the time, I remember thinking how odd it all seemed.

Wasn’t open adoption a private matter? Why would she want to talk about it on a TV show? And why on earth would she do it in the presence of her son’s birthmother, in her own home of all places?

I figured Debbie’s son’s birthmother probably knew her name and what she looked like — it was an open adoption, after all — but did she really want this woman to know where she lived? What if she decided to walk off with Debbie’s son after the taping?

That night when I turned on the TV, there was Debbie, sitting on a couch in what looked like her living room. Seeing her, I got a bit of a rush, the kind you get when you see someone you know on the little screen.

But next to her, sitting so close that their knees were almost touching, was a woman I didn’t know. She was plain-looking, in her late 20s or early 30s, in blue jeans and a blue blouse.

When she spoke I realized she was the birthmother of Debbie’s son.

If I hadn’t known any better it could have been a scene out of any living room. Two women, maybe friends or family members, catching up on the latest events in their lives.

And yet this scene was different. One of the women was an adoptive mother and the other was a birthmother.

It was the first time I had seen an adoptive mother and a birthmother together, sitting side by side like that. In fact, it was the first time I had seen a birthmother at all.

I tried to square the woman on the screen in front of me — let’s call her “Fran” — with the one I had pictured in my head.

In my mind, Fran was hardened, angry, maybe even a bit dangerous.

But the real Fran was nothing like that. She was unassuming, pleasant, smart and very articulate.

You could tell, from the way she spoke and the answers she gave, that she had given her decision a lot of thought.

When did she first consider adoption?

When she realized that she couldn’t meet her son’s needs, and that he deserved more than what she could offer.

How hard was it to give him up?

She didn’t think of her decision as “giving up.” She thought of it more as giving him the future he deserved.

Did she regret her decision?

It was the hardest things she had ever done. But did she regret it? No, because she knew her son was loved and cared for, and that she would always be part of his life.

As I watched Fran and Debbie interact, I couldn’t help but notice how comfortable and close they were.

You could tell they didn’t only trust and respect each other, they genuinely liked each other.

They had an easy rapport, smiling and laughing often, with their biggest laughs reserved for their recollections of their first impressions and fears about one another.

For Debbie, it was that Fran would change her mind, leaving her and her husband with nothing but heartbreak.

For Fran, it was that Debbie would say anything to get Fran to pick her and then close the adoption down the first opportunity she got.

And through it all, as they shared their stories, the little boy they both loved, the one who brought them together and was at the center of their world, was sitting by their feet, playing contentedly with his Lego.

It was a remarkable scene, one I’ll never forget.

Up until then, I had only imagined what an open adoption relationship could look like from reading about it in books.

This was the first time I got to see one close-up, in the flesh, as it were. The experience changed and inspired me.

By the time the show ended, I began to view open adoption, and our future, in a different light.

Instead of focusing on the ways it could go wrong, I started to see the possibilities of how it could work and go right.

And I started to visualize what a relationship with a birthmother could look like, feel like, and be like for us.

I came away filled with a new sense of optimism and hope.

I realized it wouldn’t be easy, and it wouldn’t happen overnight. But it would happen. And a few months later, it did.

After connecting with a woman online, we began our own open adoption story, one that continues to this day.

Much has happened since then. Our story, like our family, has changed, evolved and grown.

But when I think back to the starting point, I remember those two women talking on a couch.

And how, at that moment, I knew everything was going to be okay.

When did you first “get” open adoption? What was the turning point in your journey? Share your story in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

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