Navigating Open Adoption Q&A
An open adoption is an adoption where the birth parents placing a child for adoption maintain contact with the adopting parents and/or the child after the adoption through letters, emails, phone calls and/or visits. Open adoption has been shown to be healthier for all members of the adoption triad (adoptive parents, birth parents and adoptee). However, navigating the boundaries of an open adoption can be challenging. What do you tell the adoptee about his or her birth parents? How much contact works best?
To find out, I had a chance to interview Bailey (a birth mother who placed her child for adoption four years ago) and Evie (the adopting mother who adopted Bailey’s child) about how they’ve navigated their open adoption. It’s a rare glimpse at both sides.
(the birthmother’s perspective)
How did you decide that adoption was the right choice for your daughter, Elizabeth?
Bailey: The adoption choice was the hardest decision I have ever made. To fully answer that question I need to clarify the circumstances. I was seventeen and a senior in high school when I found out that I was pregnant. I was in a dead-end relationship; my daughter’s biological father cut off contact after I told him that we were expecting. Socially, I was ostracized. Emotionally, I felt abandoned. I was subjected to so much humiliation and shame during my pregnancy. People told me that I was not ready, my child deserved better than me, I could not be a good mom, etc. There was an overwhelming pressure to abort my daughter. I personally did not feel that this was an appropriate decision. I chose to carry to term and planned to raise my daughter myself, other’s opinions be damned.
During all of this, I was so in love with my daughter that I was willing to sacrifice any future I had previously imagined to raise her. I tend to be a strong-willed (read: stubborn) individual; if someone tells me that I cannot do something, I will do anything to prove them wrong. The moment of truth came suddenly one night. I realized that this was never about me. Those people — as hurtful as they may have been — did not matter. I did not matter. The one important aspect of this entire situation was the gift I was carrying: my child.
At that point, I began searching for any option that provided her with an ideal home. I realized that I could never provide that home in my current situation. The small town I was in would label her and I. She needed to grow up away from the shadow of my decisions. Could I have fought to keep her and done a good job raising her? Absolutely. Would she have been loved and taken care of? Absolutely. Would she have the wonderful life she has now? No. As her mother, my job was to give her the best chance at success.
How did you choose Elizabeth’s APs to raise your daughter?
Bailey: Choosing a family to raise my child was a daunting task. Many traditional mothers are terrified to pick a babysitter. Birth mothers pick an entire family! It is frightening, overwhelming, and the maternal side of me kept saying that no one would ever be good enough.I am an organizer; without my planner I would be absolutely lost. Just like any other project, I began my process with a list. I wrote down everything I wanted to be able to give my daughter. The list contained roughly 50 items including financial stability, a large family, a solid education, a fun life, healthy parenting and discipline styles, a mental and physical health-conscious family, two parents, and a Christian upbringing. I also knew that I wanted to be involved in my daughter’s life. I decided to look for a family that closely resembled this list and wanted an open adoption.
I was choosing to entrust someone with the most valuable thing I could ever give. I started researching adoption, birth parents, placement/relinquishment, open adoption, and any other topic I could think of. I found that while many adoptions start as “open,” the ties to the birth family are later severed. Legally speaking, there are not many protected rights for birth parents. I also realized that recent data on the mental health of birth mothers post-placement is hard to find. All of this information scared me.
I began searching for a family. I looked through an agency. I did not connect with their method of matching in the least; I was handed a few scrapbooks and told to look through them before making a decision. A scrapbook, really? A whole host of unsavory people could have made nifty little scrapbooks, I am sure. How am I supposed to decide if someone is a good parent based on their scrapbooking skill. I needed more intimate and honest knowledge of these people who wanted my child. I realized that I could never trust someone I did not know.
How have your feelings about adoption evolved over time?
Bailey: My opinions on the institution of adoption evolve constantly. I know that adoption is not the best decision for everyone. I have been lucky enough to experience a wonderful adoption relationship that shares responsibility. We all acknowledge that every party in the adoption triad is compromising in some way. Some people are not so lucky. Adoption can go horribly wrong for all parties. Adoptee’s can grow up feeling out of place with their adoptive parents, be harassed by biological parents, or be denied honest information about their birth. Adoptive parents can have pressure from biological families to parent a certain way, be made to feel like “less of a parent” for not birthing their child, or spend exorbitant amounts of money on domestic adoption. Biological parents can be denied access to their child despite previous agreements, have their character defamed to the child, or be isolated by their decision. Regulation of adoption is a necessity and all people involved in adoption need protection for the institution to exist.
Tell me a little bit about the beginning of your adoption journey with Sam and Evie (the adoptive parents).
Bailey: The decision fell into my lap. I did not want to place my daughter for adoption. I wanted to raise her and provide her with a perfect home. When I realized that this was not possible I began looking for people who I could trust to raise her with the same goals in mind. Sam and Evie fit this description perfectly (I knew them personally). I wrote them a long letter that detailed my feelings about the adoption. I explained that I held them to a high standard, I was excited for them, and that this child was the most precious thing I had to give. I also explained that the adoption was never my first choice, it would never be what I wanted to happen, and I acknowledged the extreme grief I would live through.
During the pregnancy, Evie and I commiserated. She sent me pictures of the thousands of pages of paperwork, I send her pictures that showed how I could not see my toes. As Elizabeth’s birth approached, we all began getting ready. They flew from California to Georgia. They were at the hospital when I had Elizabeth. I had some time alone with my daughter and they respectfully waited until I called them into the room. We were able to share some beautiful moments during labor and after. I was able to spend some time with my daughter before Sam and Evie left for California with her.
Watching Elizabeth leave and the weeks that followed made up the most difficult period of my life. I was beyond heartbroken and I was not prepared. I was not prepared for what my body would be going through during postpartum recovery and I was not prepared for the grief I would feel. Sam and Evie were wonderfully supportive during the period immediately after and remain supportive today. I do not know how I would have survived that period without them. I received pictures, phone calls, emails, facebook messages, and texts all the time from them. They send me pictures detailing their trip home with a week old child. They sent me a video-tour of their home with a sleeping Elizabeth in their arms.
(the adoptive parent’s perspective)
Tell us a little bit about how you decided on adoption for your family.
Evie: When I was 19 years old I had a surgery that left me unable to have children. At such a young age children were not high on my list of priorities, so I took the news in stride and moved on with my life. At 27, when I met Sam, the realization that I could not provide children for this wonderful man, grieved my heart. Suddenly, the thought of having a child that was similar in nature to him; with potentially dreamy blue eyes and a soft gentle smile, became very appealing. It was then that the reality of my inability to conceive children began to rip at the fabric of my soul. However, we were just beginning our life together and I was willing to sit and wait on God’s best for us as a couple.
Sam was unbelievably gracious. He never made me feel like I was “less than” or like he was somehow missing out on life at its best. We knew that God had brought us together for a special purpose and we intended to live passionately for Him as a pastoral team. We had intermittent conversations about children. They always ended with, “If God wants us to have children then He will miraculously provide”. We built our life around other people’s children; helping families heal through brokenness and thrive with a renewed focus and realization that Jesus brings newness of life.
When we moved to GA we began to open up our home to foster children and to those needing a fresh start. Being people of intentionality and purpose, we turned our spare bedroom into what we fondly called, The Jesus Room. In this space we offered the caring and compassionate presence of God to meth addicts, women seeking to leave domestically violent relationships, college students needing a respite from difficult family situations, a handicapped young man longing for community, etc. Coupled with our youth ministry, this ministry to the hurting of the world gave our life great purpose and meaning.
Being in such close contact with hurting and broken individuals brought us several opportunities to walk alongside women struggling with unwanted pregnancies. During our 12 years in GA, several women approached us asking if we’d please take their babies at birth. As it turned out, each opportunity provided heartache, as the 8th month seemed to be the proverbial change of mind month. None of these women came to us to discuss their change of mind; they simply disappeared from our life. Granted, these young women were incapable of healthy “exit” conversations. One woman was a prostitute, and the others were teenagers from severely broken families. And while this “change of mind” may be typical for those within a book on a table of an adoption agency facility, we met each experience with bewilderment. We were not sitting with a coach, a counselor, or any advocate who was guiding us through the rigors and heartbreak of adoption.
Concurrently, since we were not a couple walking the conventional adoption road, this meant we were not searching for a child, nor feeling like we were somehow missing out on the best part of life because of our childless state. Because of this, we found ourselves set apart in a somewhat awkward and isolating way at times. It was difficult for me because I did not share a drive like most of the women I encountered who were pursuing IVF and other means to ensure that they became mothers. We had accepted that God’s best for us just may not include children. Being people committed to His plan allowed us to be okay with potential childlessness because our lives were making an incredible difference in the lives of so many. It was not that our hearts were indifferent, or that we did not experience moments of sadness, but we were able to be content and at peace.
Finally, in 2009 I received a dream come true opportunity. Fuller Theological Seminary offered me a full ride scholarship to obtain my Masters degree. With one miracle after another leading us on, Sam and I packed up our things and headed to California. Sam was to be the new Family Pastor at a church and I was going to school. I was elated. With this new trajectory, a change of heart transpired deep within. I was turning 40, getting my Masters degree, launching new and exciting young adult and women’s ministries, and truly embracing the gifts that God had given me to lead. It was at this point that I had a conversation with God that went something like this…”Okay God. I’m 40. I’d really like to be done with the whole ‘I’m open to adoption’ game. I’ve been faithful to keep my heart open, but at this age, I’m ready to close it off and be done. I would prefer not to have children at this late stage of life. Okay?” Well He didn’t give me the okay, but I shut my heart down anyway. I became very closed and unwilling to even entertain the idea of adopting a child. Sam, however, is 5-1/2 years younger than I am so did not share my desire to close the door on adoption. Ultimately, it was my love for him, commitment to us, appreciation of his kindness toward my barrenness, knowledge of what an incredible father I knew he’d be, and desire to be faithful to God’s call, that brought me out of my resolute stance of “no” as a 44 year old woman.
Was there anything unexpected that happened throughout the adoption process?
Evie: The most unexpected happening was the uprising of the birth father’s family near the end of the adoption process. The birth father’s Mom determined that she alone would have the child. Her streamlined focus on securing her grandchild turned a straightforward adoption into a rather complicated and expensive one. As the birth grandmother pursued her claim to the child, God began to do some incredibly unexpected and amazing things. I could never have predicted the outpouring of love, generosity and encouragement from our community as they rallied around us to ensure we were able to stay the course with the adoption.
One way this community outpouring was most surprising was the way God used all of these people to provide for us financially. As this grandmother fought to win the baby, our legal bills grew exponentially. We were counseled to secure a $300 an hour big time lawyer if we truly hoped to win our case. We followed this advice, completely unsure as to how we would ever be able to pay for the legal expenses.
I could never have anticipated the money showing up miraculously in the mail or the people walking up to our door with envelopes in hand simply saying, “the Lord told me to give you this money”. Each time a legal bill arrived we pinned it up on our bulletin board and prayed. And true to His Word, God provided through people from all over the the United States who somehow felt they owed a debt of thanks to us for the ministry we’d had to their family. It was an unexpected delight of affirmation of how we’d loved others well over the years and of God’s confirmation to us that He was going to fight this battle on our behalf.
How did you handle the unexpected?
Evie: Our way of handling the unexpected is to pray and trust God. One thing that our church family did for us was to host a prayer shower instead of a baby shower. People from Fuller Seminary, our neighborhood, and the church gathered together to hear Elizabeth’s story, how the adoption was progressing, and to cry out to God on behalf of our little family. We believe that when God calls us to walk into something that He will carry us through and provide for us emotionally, spiritually and financially every step of the way. He has never failed us!
Tell us a little bit about the beginning of your adoption journey together.
Evie: Bailey, who we’d known since she was 4 years old, contacted me, Evie, via Facebook to let me know she was pregnant. She was delighted about the pregnancy and extremely contented with the thought of being a Mom. She asked me for advice as to how she could begin this journey well and stay the course. I was honored that she’d reached out to me, trusted me with this news, and desired my input into her life during this important new season.
I responded to her Facebook message with my congratulations, yet also with some reservations as to what this news meant for her life at home, school, in town, etc. However, I knew Bailey well enough to know that what she needed most from me was a listening, nonjudgmental ear and some wise advice aimed at helping her sort this out for herself. I encouraged her to do several things; make a budget, find a good support system, and determine what were the most important things for her to do and/or have going forward with a child. I sought to help her determine what college would look like, what it meant to have childcare available when tired or stressed from school, etc. I wanted her to be secure in her decision so she’d be able to answer anyone who questioned her desire to keep the baby.
A few months before the due date, Bailey realized that what mattered most to her, the support of those around her, was unavailable. Forced to endure the stares of unfamiliar faces in adoption agency books, she realized that if she was unable to keep her baby, then the only people she could trust with this precious little girl, would be me and Sam. Under great duress, Bailey wrote us a letter telling us that she wanted us to adopt her baby. It was a bittersweet moment for us all. We knew that Bailey did not want to give up her child and yet we knew that we must say “yes” if she were to have any peace of mind. It was our love for and trust in one another that made the beginning of the difficult journey more bearable.
Our Adoption Story, Together
Open adoption can mean many things to different people. What kinds of communication have you had with each other and Elizabeth over the years?
Bailey: Elizabeth and I do stay in contact consistently. Evie does a great job keeping my Facebook buzzing with new pictures or videos. We speak on the phone or webcam. I have received beautiful crayon covered papers from Elizabeth. I try to send her gifts when I find something that she would enjoy. My favorite form of contact is visiting. I fly out to California or they fly to Georgia. These visits are so special to me. Sam and Evie get to go have time for themselves: they go on dates, go visit friends, or get caught up on work. Elizabeth and I get to play, giggle, talk, and just develop our relationship even more.
Sam and Evie and I keep in touch as well. We text or Facebook message regularly. We discuss anything from Elizabeth to my education. They are investing in my life just as they invest in Elizabeth.
Evie: Sam and I are lavish lovers of people. We embrace and welcome into our home people from every walk of life; from every tribe and nation. So for us, open is a liberal word encompassing a sacred space of doing life together. It means fully embracing and respecting Bailey as Elizabeth’s mother.
In terms of our communication with Bailey, before Elizabeth’s birth, Bailey and I were picking out her name together and deciding on how I should decorate her nursery. At Elizabeth’s birth we stood outside of the delivery room door, recognizing this moment as a beautiful, yet profoundly painful moment. We told the nurses to give Bailey as much time as she wanted with Elizabeth before allowing us inside. We wanted her to know that we respected her need to begin the journey of coming to terms with her transitioning relationship with Elizabeth. Even before Elizabeth graced this world, we sought to help Bailey understand that while Elizabeth might not address her officially as Mom, she would be celebrated and honored as a sacred presence in her life throughout the years.
Beginning at birth Elizabeth began to hear of her adoption story. When she was finally able to speak,she fondly called Bailey her BeBe. In fact, the only picture that Elizabeth keeps on the nightstand in her room is the one of Bailey holding her right after her birth, while Sam and I lean in close to Bailey on either side. It is her favorite picture. Elizabeth has known since she was old enough to speak that she is adopted. She knows it means chosen. She also knows and tells anyone who asks, that she was inside of BeBe’s tummy and that BeBe gave her to us as a gift. We have sought to communicate the adoption in terms that honor Bailey’s place in her life.
How has your relationship with each other and with Elizabeth evolved over the years?
Bailey: We all want to work together to allow Elizabeth to develop into a healthy adult. That shared goal has allowed us to grow closer. Sam and Evie have always been involved in my life, but now they are even more important. I have a responsibility to show Elizabeth that she is wanted, loved, and that I am always going to be supportive of her. As Elizabeth has gotten older, our relationship has changed. I am no longer a stranger. She knows who I am and we have memories together. I cannot wait to see how our relationship continues.Sam, Evie and I have gotten closer as well. I come to them for relationship advice, emotional support, and general companionship. We have an honest relationship that makes navigating this strange sea together much easier.
Evie: Elizabeth adores Bailey. When they see one another it is as if a home going of the heart occurs. They are bonded in an intimate way that can only be understood as a biological connection afforded to a mother and her child. This connection has simply grown over the years and manifests in varying ways. At first Elizabeth was unable to reach out and intentionally connect with Bailey because of her developmental stage. Yet, even at that stage she would smile and move her head toward Bailey’s voice if we were Skyping. However, as she grew in her verbal skills and ability to reach out toward those she desired a closer connection, it became apparent that she reached for Bailey and found loving connection in more significant ways. Intentionally choosing Bailey was last seen on our recent trip to Georgia. Bailey took Elizabeth to stay with at her apartment with her for several days. Elizabeth did not cry for us, nor did she insist on coming home. She was content and having a wonderful time. She does not feel this way with everyone. Sam and I celebrate this closeness as we know that it will provide a safer environment for Elizabeth to ask questions and know she will be heard.
Our communication with Bailey, from the beginning, has been open, honest and raw. We have sought to hear her heart, even when it was painful. We knew she did not truly want to give up Elizabeth. We could not have prepared fully for the difficult conversations, but our love for Bailey keeps us present with her and available to hear her process the difficulties of being separated from her child.
Bailey and I, Evie, have had the greater relational evolution. Sam and Bailey are steadily growing together, yet he has always been a less threatening presence. Through the years, I have had the more difficult conversations with Bailey because we share the role of mother. Sam’s position as Dad affords him a somewhat removed space from the emotional tension.
Bailey and I have sought to understand the others hardship of being Mom, yet not being Mom. We know that neither one of us carries the full title; and that fact is grievous for both of us. Bailey and I have had to come to terms with the heartache we each experience, sometimes on what seems like a daily basis, as we seek to hold on and let go at the same time. We are continually figuring out how to celebrate the other while being true to our individual and differing grief. We have committed to walking that tough journey together, not formally, but through our ever evolving conversations. Often we find ourselves in tears together, expressing to one another what no one else could possibly understand. Bailey and I have grown to love and respect one another in a deeper way over the years as we have shared our hard realities and been honest with one another. It has truly strengthened our relationship.
How often are you able to coordinate visits with each other?
Bailey: We visit each other usually once or twice a year. These visits usually last about a week. We always try to do memorable things for Elizabeth so that the visits remain special and memorable for her. If we could, we would visit more. Sam helps lead a church in California, Evie is busy with our little whirlwind of a child, and I am pursuing a doctorate in clinical medical psychology from Mercer University. Making time for visits is challenging, not to mention traveling as a graduate student is expensive. When we are able to visit each other, we make the most out of every second. I absolutely live for the moments that I get with Elizabeth.
Evie: All of us wish it could be more often, but we see each other at least one time per year. When it can be more, we are delighted! Sam and I do not have the financial means to fly 3 people to Georgia, so whenever Bailey or her family come close to California, we find a way to drive to where they are staying. Bailey’s parents have visited multiple times
because of job training in California so we’ve actually seen them the most. Because we lived in Georgia for 12 years, we have many families that we are still very close to who desire to see us or have us active in their lives. We are asked to come back so that Sam can officiate weddings for instance. The most important thing about visits is that we prioritize Elizabeth and Bailey having special time together.
What have you told Elizabeth about adoption and her family as she’s grown up? Do you think she understands what it means to be adopted?
Bailey: Elizabeth is growing up with “full disclosure.” She knows that Evie is her Mom, but I carried her in my tummy. We answer any questions she has. She understands that she and I have a special relationship. Recently, she gave me “the talk.” She explained that babies come out of vaginas and that she came out of my vagina before I gave her to her Mom. I love how open everything is. Sam and Evie keep a picture of me in Elizabeth’s room and include me in their nightly prayers. At four, I think she understands more than we give her credit for.
Evie: Ever since she was old enough to speak, which she did very early, we talked to her and had her repeat, what it means to be adopted. Elizabeth has grown up under this simple, yet profound teaching as one of us states, “Elizabeth, what does it mean to be adopted?”, and she replies, “I was chosen”.
Elizabeth understands adoption on 2 levels. We taught her first about how God adopts us as His children. Elizabeth knows and loves Jesus. She talks about Him all the time. We teach her about the beauty of being His creation, His beautiful daughter. She sees being adopted as a beautiful gesture of a God reaching out to her and choosing her to be His own. Therefore, when we began to teach her about her physical adoption, it was very natural for her to understand. We explained to her that Bailey carried her in her tummy, and then gave her to God, and then they gave her to us as a gift. We tell her that we chose her. One of Elizabeth’s favorite stories that I, Evie, tell her goes like this; “Elizabeth, if you were standing on a playground, or playing in a field of flowers, running around with all of the other little girls in the world. I would run right over to you, scoop you up, twirl you around, and exclaim, ‘You are Elizabeth Esther Joy Knottnerus. I choose you. I choose you all over again!” Elizabeth bursts into the biggest smile and says, “Tell me again” or she changes the location to have it be somewhere she’d rather be playing when I find her.
However, we understand that there is need for a continuing dialogue with on her adoption. She is 4 years old and she currently understands adoption as well as a 4 year old is capable of understanding it. What matters to all involved is that she knows she has lots of family and that this whole big family loves her and cares for her deeply. She knows that her Bailey is special; she is her BeBe. And most importantly, she feels the encouragement and freedom to adore her BeBe, spend time with her, and love her back as she feels BeBe’s love pouring over her. Furthermore, she understands that her Granna and Happy think she hung the moon and that time with them is special and life giving.
In regards to Elizabeth’s birth father and his family, it is much more complicated. It has truly been God’s love and pouring through us that has brought a greater sense of peace and stability to that side of the family. Elizabeth knows that side of the family, but she does not feel a strong sense of connection to them. She is very uncomfortable around her biological father and displays little desire to connect with him. When she was younger she would dutifully give him a hug when asked to do so for a picture. However, as she’s grown up, and we’ve learned to read her comfort level, we’ve respected her desire for distance. Interestingly, she allows her biological father’s wife to approach her more readily, and will gravitate toward her when we have family gatherings with the biological father’s family.
Elizabeth has a basic understanding of who her birth father is, but she has less interest in knowing why we spend time with him and his family. It is not something we push on her because it makes her uncomfortable. We are trusting God to bring healing to that family and a level of health so that Elizabeth can one day talk to them comfortably.
How have you decided what to call each other to Elizabeth? e.g. birth mother, mom, dad, etc.?
Bailey: Creating an identity as a birth mother is challenging. “Birth Mother” seems sterile and impersonal. Elizabeth, Evie, and Sam call me “BeBe.” My first name starts with a B and this just seemed to fit. This is more than just a cute nickname; I identify as Elizabeth’s BeBe. That is my role. When I explain to other people, I state that I am her birth mother. I try to refer to Sam and Evie as “Dad” and “Mom.” This is all about respect, nourishing our relationships, and being consistent for Elizabeth.
Evie: Everyone picked their own titles. We did not attempt to assign names to anyone as this seemed disrespectful and impersonal. We are on this journey together as a large family, and everyone needs to find their place and settle in to their ever evolving and expanding role. Therefore, we asked each close family member what they wished to be called.
Bailey chose BeBe, her Mom chose Granna, Bailey’s Dad chose Pappy, but since Elizabeth kept calling him Happy and we all liked that better, he stuck with Happy! Elizabeth’s birth father never stated a true preference so I just asked if he’d like to go by his name and he nodded. Elizabeth’s paternal birth grandparents never really said anything. The one member of the paternal birth family who is very outspoken and desires a close relationship with Elizabeth is her paternal great-grandma. She asked to be called GGV, which stands for Great Grandma Vicky. Vicky then asked that we call her husband Bill, GGB, for Great Grandpa Bill. Vicky then asked that we call her son, birth father’s dad, Pop
Pop, as that is what all the grandkids call him. Vicky is the matriarch of the family and so I’ve learned that for the paternal birth family she is the one to maintain the relationship with for the sake of family unity.
Bailey and I have a continual conversation about the title “Mom”. Sam and I don’t refer to her as Mom with a little m. I know she appreciates that about us. However, for sake of clarity, we use the term “birth Mom” to others when trying to describe Bailey and I in the same conversation. That said, when I am just talking to people about Bailey I often say, Elizabeth’s Mom.Time alone will reveal what title may or may not evolve for Elizabeth’s birth father in Elizabeth’s life.
In the 4 years since you’ve started this journey together, what has surprised you most about open adoption?
Bailey: The teamwork required never ceases to amaze me. Sam and Evie work so hard to be the best parents to Elizabeth. They are human and mistakes happen. Evie has mentioned that some days are tough with our delightfully strong-willed (stubborn) child. I just cannot imagine where Elizabeth got that trait. Evie has mentioned to me that sometimes she feels like she is not enough, and I remind her that I could not have chosen better parents for Elizabeth. If anyone is going to find fault with how Elizabeth is being raised, it is me. No one could ever be good enough for that child in my mind, but Evie and Sam are as close to perfect as I could ever have imagined.I have come to Evie and Sam with grief about the adoption. They listen to my grief, fully acknowledge that this pain is real, and proceed to build me up. They tell me when they see behaviors or characteristics that are reminiscent of me. They are open about how they discipline Elizabeth, they tell me what she struggles with, and they tell me about her victories. We all rely on each other.
Evie: How beautifully sacred, difficult, painful, and rewarding it is; all at the same time. I could never have imagined how difficult it would be for Bailey and I to figure out how to sit within roles that allowed us to feel completely content and at rest. We love each other, support one another’s role, yet I’m not sure either one of us knows how yet to fully embrace who we are in Elizabeth’s life. I think it has surprised me how difficult it has been to fully grasp that Elizabeth is my daughter because of her close relationship with Bailey and my desire to honor Bailey’s place in Elizabeth’s life. No one could have prepared me for the reality that it is more difficult to share a role than to hold a role all to oneself.
What advice would you give to hopeful adoptive parents who are currently going through the domestic adoption process?
Bailey: Prospective adoptive parents, remember that there are so many other people in your situation; please seek support and companionship from others. There is no reason to feel alone in this journey. Children are the most precious things on this planet and I would recommend investigating foster care first. There are older children that deserve wonderful loving parents too. Investigate what is holding you back from that route.What you are about to read is not meant to be offensive, but a simple reminder. Adoptive parents are not a heroes or saviors for adopting. You are joining a team and the child is the MVP. You are not entering into a trade, a purchase, or charity. You are partnering with another set of parents who want the best for their child. You are investing in a child. You are partnering with the child’s biological family to create a safe environment in which the child can mature into a healthy adult.
Finally, remember that birth parents are people too. Our children are important to us; we are not discarding them. If someone trusts you with their child, you need to be honest with the child and the biological parents. We are strong individuals who are living with one of the heaviest burdens imaginable; we have chosen to know our children will never be “ours.” We love ferociously enough to put our needs aside and help create a new family where one did not exist. We are not flighty, scary, unloving, or cold. We are strong men and women who found that the best way to be a parent was to do the best things for our children. That is what parents do, right? For us, that meant allowing another couple the honor of raising our babies. If adoption is what you are interested in, scout it out! I know that birth parents are not the most common people. A lot of birth parents are still silent. We do exist, and we love a chance to talk about our children and their histories with others.
Evie: The first thing I would let them know is that adoption is not an easy road. I think people have a grand misconception of life as an adoptive parent. Yes, it is rewarding and you have a child you may not have ever had otherwise, but it is not the same as having your own biological children. Adoptive parents must be ready to accept that there will always be someone “out there” who this child belongs to as well.
Concurrently, if a couple is seeking to adopt, it is very important for them to determine beforehand what kind of relationship they are willing to have with the woman or couple seeking to place their child up for adoption. If they choose closed, then I would advise the couple to be honest with their child early on about the adoption. If the couple is leaning toward open adoption, then it is critical that they are informed as to what this entails. My greatest advice would be for them to make sure they talk to couples currently involved in open adoption as well as define what open means for them.
I was recently approached by a couple considering an open adoption like we have with Elizabeth’s family. The wife was incredibly grateful for my raw honestly on how she could best support this young pregnant woman and communicate successfully with her to show her the respect and care she needs as the mother of the child. I know that my words were difficult to hear, yet life transforming as this couple desires to honor God in how they approach adoption. Also, one of the key things to open adoption is understanding that the pain and grief of the mother and father, should they desire to stay involved, does not end magically several years after the child is placed. The pain of placing a child for adoption, no matter how wonderful the adopting family may be, does not diminish over time necessarily.