For many adoptive parents, building a family through adoption is the best thing that ever happened to them. But experiencing the joy of adoption is one thing. Sharing it with the rest of the world is another.
Adoption is, for the most part, a private matter, one that touches on a lot of intimidate and sometimes uncomfortable personal details and truths. No wonder so many adoptive parents are content to just go on with their lives and put their journey behind them after their placement.
Not Crystal. This South Carolina adoptive mother of two not only wants to share her story. She believes in encouraging others to come forward and share theirs, too. Only then, she says, will people really understand what adoption is about and that will hopefully inspire others to consider it as an option to build their family.
With Crystal’s story today, our month-long series called A Mother’s Love comes to an end. Thanks to everyone who took part by sharing their story or reading and commenting on them. Starting next week, we’ll be running a series on adoption and fatherhood. If you want to contribute a guest blog post or learn more about how to do it, see the details here.
Crystal, tell me how your adoption story got started…
My husband and I were high school sweethearts who married right after college. We decided that we would both finish graduate school and really get going in our careers before starting a family. After four blissful years of marriage, we struggled through four devastating years of infertility, which included three IUIs, an IVF cycle, a frozen embryo transfer, and a natural pregnancy that ended in early miscarriage.
We had discussed the possibility of adoption even before we were married, and we actually discussed it all throughout our fertility treatments. It was almost as if I knew that the treatments would be unsuccessful. One day, I was having a pity party in my mind about all of the difficulties I had to endure when so many people get pregnant unintentionally. I was thinking to myself, “Why can’t I just be like everybody else?”
And then, I heard a voice say to me, “Why do you want to be ordinary when I want to do something extraordinary?” I had never heard a voice speak to me in that way before, and I have not heard one like that since. As a Christian, I had always heard people say, “God spoke to my heart,” but I never really understood what they meant until that moment.
I am often hesitant to share that story because it sounds crazy, but it was actually THE defining moment in my adoption journey. All of the fears I had about adoption were suddenly gone, and I trusted that adoption was my path to parenthood. We signed on with an adoption consulting group in February of 2008. The months of waiting were very intense.
We received word through an adoption support group (not through our consultant) that a young woman in a neighboring state was looking for a couple to adopt her twins. After a few phone calls, I spoke with her on the phone. The next day, at her request, we made a four hour drive to meet her at an IHOP to see if she might be interested in us adopting her twins.
We met with her, and before we knew it we were in the NICU holding hands with the beautiful babies. After meeting with the hospital social worker, we discovered that we were the third couple she had invited to meet the babies in three days, and that she was trying to pick the couple who would give her the most money.
We also found out that she was addicted to cocaine. We even met with the pediatric neurologist who assured us of the lack of long-term effects of cocaine on the babies. When we told the birthmother that we could not give her any money upfront, she decided that she did not want us to adopt her babies after all.
We were heartbroken. We learned our lesson about doing things on our own, and we decided to be patient and let the consultants do their job. We got the call in June that we had been selected by a set of prospective birthparents, and our first daughter was born July 31, 2008. Once our daughter was eighteen months old, we began the adoption process again. We were matched with a prospective birthmother in May, and our second daughter was born in November of 2010.
You have two open adoptions and yet they’re very different. What’s been the biggest difference for you?
There are actually several major differences in terms of how we were matched and the background of the two birthmoms.
For our first adoption, we worked with an adoption consulting group. They network with many different agencies across the country, and we were selected by a married couple in their 30’s who were represented by an agency in California.
They selected us after seeing our profile, and we began phone contact once we were matched, which was about a month and a half before our daughter was born. Our oldest daughter’s birthparents were high school sweethearts who have been married for 14 years and have four other children.
For our second adoption, we worked with our attorney. His law firm relies on adoption advertising groups and other services across the country in order to match hopeful adoptive couples with potential birthmothers.
We were selected by a 17-year-old prospective birthmom in California (amazingly only about an hour from where our first daughter was born!) She selected us after talking with us on the phone. She did not see our profile until after she’d already chosen us.
Did you find your first adoption helped you prepare for the second one?
We were definitely much more at ease with all of the emotional aspects of adoption the second time around. For our first adoption, we were terrified that things could go wrong. We really depended on our consultant to help us navigate our dealings with the agency, the building of a relationship with the birthmom, and the logistics of our first meeting at the hospital, which entailed the birth/relinquishment/ and placement.
We were absolutely terrified about the hospital meeting, and we were of course afraid that the birthparents would change their minds and decide to parent.
Even though I was very well prepared for the logistics, I was not at all prepared for the extreme guilt I felt when I walked out of the hospital with the baby that someone else walked out of the hospital without. We had to remain in California for a week after the birth, and even though I loved my daughter and completely bonded with her as a mother, I was still overcome with guilt.
We met with the birthparents a week after the birth to say goodbye before we flew back home. The birthmom gave me a letter that said the only reason she was able to walk out of the hospital without the baby was knowing that I would be the one taking care of her. She basically gave me the permission I needed in order to be a mother.
What has your second adoption taught you about your first one?
Our second adoption was so much simpler than our first one. I had no idea that an adoption attorney could basically handle every aspect of an adoption. I did not feel as much guilt the second time because our birthmother was only 17 years old. She was by no means ready to be a parent. She also has a sister who had placed a child for adoption.
She was very well prepared for the relinquishment because she had been through it with her sister. I had also been talking to her for over an hour every week for over six months, so she was very comfortable with me. She was so relieved that I was able to be in the delivery room and I was the first person to hold the baby.
What’s been the easiest part about your two open adoptions?
Many people are terrified of the thought of birthparents being “out there somewhere.” I have never worried about them interfering with our lives in any way. These women endured much pain in order to make me a mother, so I am forever bonded to them in a way that people outside of adoption simply cannot understand. I actually enjoy keeping in touch with them and sending them pictures. I want them to know that we take our roles as parents very seriously.
Going through the adoption process is almost like a three-ring circus, with one hoop to jump through after another. Once the adoption process is complete, however, life suddenly becomes very normal.
I think about our birthmothers every single day, but the fact that our family was created through adoption really doesn’t impact our lives that much. If anything, it makes us appreciate our children and even the most mundane aspects of parenthood all the more. We don’t take anything for granted.
What’s been the hardest part about your adoptions?
The most difficult aspect of adoption is dealing with other people who do not understand adoption. I have heard some of the most hurtful comments from “well-meaning” acquaintances, and even from our extended family. Most people do not have to deal with their authenticity as a parent being questioned on a weekly basis. I have grown accustomed to it, but it is still troubling.
One day in the supermarket, a lady I’ve known my entire life said, “Oh, I didn’t know you had gotten two kids now. Are they real sisters?” My very intelligent three-year old daughter looked at me as if to say, “Why is this woman asking you that?” I said, “Yes, they are really sisters. They do not share the same DNA, but they are certainly real sisters.” She then said, “Well, that’s what I meant. I meant do they have the same mother?” This is only one of the many hurtful comments I have heard over the years.
How do you keep in touch with your daughters’ birthparents?
My oldest daughter’s birthmother is actually my friend on Facebook. I did not think that this situation would be problematic, but I was very surprised when some of my “friends” on Facebook started looking at her profile in order to find out more about her.
When my mother was asked at the hair salon, “How in the world could her real mother give away one of her children and keep the other ones?” I decided that I should hide the birthmother’s profile in order to protect my daughter from hurtful comments in the future. We live in a very small town, so gossip is a favorite pastime.
I talked to the birthmother about the situation, and she was very understanding. She can still see everything I post, and I can see everything she posts, but her comments are hidden from all of my Facebook friends. We also text each other quite a bit, and we keep each other informed about things that are going on in our lives.
I keep in touch with our second daughter’s birthmother through text messages and e-mail. We send pictures via e-mail. Since she is so young, this is the extent of contact with which she is most comfortable.
Do you find the visits with your daughters’ birthparents helpful or difficult?
Since we live across country, we do not have visits with either birthfamily. We keep in touch electronically. When we went to California for our second adoption, we met with our first daughter’s birthfamily, and it was a wonderful experience.
Our second daughter’s birthmom has a sister who has placed two children with adoptive families in our state. The birthmoms were very clear before selecting adoptive families that they wanted to make sure the adoptive families would be willing to keep in touch with the birthcousins/siblings.
Our families get together several times per year. At our first meeting, we instantly connected. We all want the girls to know each other and to be able to grow up with some connection to their birthfamilies. It is always amazing to see family resemblances when we meet face-to-face.
Our oldest daughter knows that she was adopted. She understands that she was born from another lady’s tummy, while most people are born from their mommy’s tummy. She has seen pictures of her birthparents, and she knows their names, but since she is only three, that is the extent of her knowledge of the situation. She also knows that her sister was born from a different lady’s tummy, and she remembers meeting that lady when we went to get her baby sister.
What advice do you have for other adoptive parents or birthparents in an open adoption?
I cannot stress enough that birthparents are people who deserve respect. Although I do not see them on a daily basis, their presence is always with us. I know that in the future, they will become a part of our children’s lives.
Some people have asked me how I will feel if our girls want to meet their birthparents one day. I always say that I will welcome that day because “You can never have too many people who love you.” I do not want to seem idealistic; I know that some birthparents (like the birthmother we met with about the twins) make poor choices that would prohibit a long-term relationship, but for the most part, birthparents are people who simply want to provide a better life for their child than they themselves are able to provide.
When I met my husband, his parents became “second parents” to me. They did not replace or compete with my parents’ place in my heart. I was just blessed to have more people to love me. I think our daughters will have similar situations with their birthparents one day.
How has adoption changed your view of motherhood or Mother’s Day?
The fact that I became a mother through adoption has given me a very unique perspective on motherhood and Mother’s Day. I know what it is like to cry, plead, and beg for the opportunity to become a mother, only to be denied the opportunity year after year. During our years of infertility, Mother’s Day was probably the most difficult day of the year for me.
The first two years, I remember thinking, “Surely I will be a mother by Mother’s Day next year.” Then, the third and fourth Mother’s Days passed, and I was still waiting. I remember my eyes welling up with tears as we sang the special Mother’s Day hymns at church. I had to leave early because I just couldn’t take it.
I dreaded the idea of people looking at me and wondering what was wrong with me… why I wasn’t a mother. I tried so hard to be happy and focus on the many blessings in my life, but I felt so empty. Looking back on it now, I realize that those years of sadness were not wasted time.
“Everything happens for a reason” may be just a cliché to some people, but I believe it to be the Truth. Those years of suffering were absolutely essential in order for me to truly understand what a gift it is to be a mother, and to really appreciate even the most difficult aspects of being a mother.
Whether it is lack of sleep, dealing with a grumpy attitude, or cleaning up a great big mess, if I am ever tempted to complain, I just stop and think, “What would my life be like without them? Okay, then… be thankful!” I find myself staring at my girls sometimes just so that I can take in and treasure every little thing about them.
I am so glad that God chose this path for my life. He was not late. His timing was perfect because these two babies were meant to be mine, and I was meant to be their mother. Of course, Mother’s Day also makes me thankful for the two beautiful women who made me a mother. I think of them every single day, but on Mother’s Day especially I reflect on their selfless sacrifice, and I am so honored that they each chose me to raise the child they brought into this world.
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